SHPE Boeing Water Rocket Contest

(Featured image: UCF team and two Boeing engineers)

Those of us involved in the engineering industry know that one of the things that make engineering training great is the support we get as students from major companies to develop our skills and put in practice what we learn in the classroom.

Boeing Company Space Coast Operations in Titusville, Florida, invited four SHPE (Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers) Chapters from schools in the area to compete in a Water Rocket Contest.

The schools were:

  • UCF (University of Central Florida)
  • FIU (Florida International University)
  • ERAU – Daytona Beach (Emby-Riddle Aeronautical University)
  • FIT (Florida Institute of Technology)

Besides SHPE chapters competing, they also had an employee competition so there were plenty of water rockets to have fun with. The winner of the competition would be the rocket with the most time aloft. Students got 3 launches and employees 1. It sure was an exciting day seeing how our water rocket performs and comparing it to many of the engineer’s who also built theirs.

Eight members were the maximum per group for schools and here’s how the competition went for us:

We started working on the rocket a day prior to the competition so we finished it at around 10 PM and were able to launch it once on campus for testing purposes. This is how it turned out:

  • Two 2-liter plastic (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles, one holds the propellant (water/air), the other increases the body volume and holds the parachute in the nose cone.
  • The parachute mechanism we used was (no electronics at all) just air pressure differential. This was the simplest yet effective method with some tricks involved.

Test flight:

As you can see in the following video, we failed at choosing a better launch spot, but that’s what happens when everyone wants to go home. However, the rocket was a success!


TRIAL 1: The competition started and we had an OK 1st flight, water/air ratio was not optimal so maximum theoretical altitude was not reached and the parachute took a little longer to deploy. However, all schools did not have a great 1st flight either, some having no parachute deployment at all, others did not launch well. It was a 7 -second flight and there was a tie with Embry-Riddle.

  • Things to notice (lessons):
    • Water/air ratio to reach max altitude needs to be improved
    • Nose cone/capsule separation worked OK but after separation the parachute took too long to unfold (needed better folding method)


TRIAL 2: This flight was the least successful. The video clearly shows there was not separation of nose cone (where there parachute is) so no parachute is seen. Let’s say this landing was tough on the rocket. Nonetheless, we figured out the right amount of water this time.

  • Things to notice (lessons):
    • Why did it not separate? Some areas of the surface were still sticky due to the paint among other materials we used. (more sanding needed)
    • The rocket turned upside down too quickly and air did not get into the nose cone to separate it thus coming down in the same manner it went up
    • Other rockets were still having issues as well, some even worse


TRIAL 3: This was a great launch but after fixing the nose cone separation problem we started having issues with the parachute not coming out of the cone. Unfortunately, this was our last launch BUT there was still a tie between UCF and Embry-Riddle.

  • Things to notice (lessons):
    • Nose cone separated, but the parachute was stuck in the cone. At this time we had to make sure we solved all problems to be ready for a tie breaker if that was going to be the scenario.


TRIAL 4 (TIE-BREAKER) Well, this was our last chance and the rocket that perform better was going to be the winner so we started analyzing data we had by this point. We all contributed to a series of ideas and implemented them effectively with great outcome. Since we had solved our previous problems, we were now focused on the parachute deployment issue. Our goal was to have it deploy as soon as it reached apogee so it would take the longest time to reach the ground. Here’s what we did on the last flight:

  • We solved the stickiness between the parachute (which was a plastic bag and strings) by doing the following:
    • Sanded the inside of the cone to reduce the static coefficient of friction so it was easier to set the folded parachute in motion.
    • Folded the parachute in a much simpler way so it was quick to unfold
    • Positioned the parachute in the nose cone in a way where the least amount of plastic would touch the nose cone, we placed the strings on top.
    • Lastly, as we were getting ready to launch, we inserted a piece of paper in the nose cone to further avoid plastic again plastic contact since, by this time, we were sure that was the problem with the stickiness.
    • Watch the results of these engineering fixes (We certainly put our training to good use)


Another take of the winning flight


UCF Team Won –  with 12.4 seconds of flight time

Go Knights!

Our Trophy


Project Lessons:

  • Planning well is important in order to get products done ahead of time so further testing can be performed before delivering the product, hence reducing failure and/or customer dissatisfaction.
  • Working with team members who have different backgrounds is a very enriching experience, all ideas contribute well, and collaboration and understanding is of paramount importance to succeed in such projects.
  • Testing produces data that becomes an asset to the project and by analyzing it carefully and implementing solutions a near perfect product can be delivered.
  • Quick fixes can move you forward if they are implemented effectively, and even win a Water Rocket Contest!
  • Have fun while creating!