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Sun, Oct 22, 2006

XPrize Cup: What Homebuilt Aircraft Does Zero To Mach 1.2 In Five Seconds?

PhoeniXL Team's Rocket Is So Powerful, It Can't Be Launched Anywhere In The East Coast!

What's bright red, is partially built from the leftovers from retired rockets and can put a smile on any kid's face? The answer can be usually be found in Whitaker, NC. But if you were present at the XPrize Cup this weekend, that's where you would see the PhoeniXL and its PhoeniXL team leader and designer, Mr. Sterling Edmunds.

ANN caught up with Edmunds at the Tripoli Rocketry Association's (TRA) staging area in a corner of the Las Cruces Spaceport. The jovial, sunburned face clearly showed Edmunds was having as much a blast at the XPrize Cup as the spectators who had witnessed his craft zoom 20,000 feet into the sky at supersonic speeds.

The PhoeniXL, according to Edmunds, was so named because it is the result of an iterative design and construction process which reused many parts from other, retired rocket airframes. His team is officially based in Virginia, but the team members, including engine designer and builder Mark Lloyd, are spread out over Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina, among others.

The rocket took some 18 months to complete, and is equipped with a homebuilt Q-14000 engine that puts out a very healthy 3,000 lbf of thrust. It is six feet long and has a diameter of eight inches. For fuel, it burns a mixture of 75% ammonium perchlorate (or APC for short) and 5% aluminum, with the remainder made up of a binder to keep the two main components together.

The PhoeniXL Team was not the only group of rocketry enthusiasts strutting their stuff and wowing the crowds at the Spaceport. Under the auspices of TRA and the XPrize Foundation, several other teams converged in Las Cruces with various types of rockets. Gates Brothers Rocketry brought their gear to the show, and FLARE (Fellows of Las Cruces Area Rocketry Enthusiasts) put together a very complete display of rockets ranging from simple beginner models to complex level 3 aircraft.

James Basler, Jr. of FLARE explained that their club has 12 dues paying members, and 18 family memberships. They get together two to four times a month to launch their creations, hold business meetings and host rocket building workshops. The goal: "Get kids interested." There's no doubt in Basler's mind as to what the hobbyists need to do their part in promoting space exploration.

"We need to draw the connection to the kids," said Basler. "They are the ones who will be taking the ideas forward. We have to get the ball rolling to hand over the baton to them."

Judging by the number of children gathered around their display, it appears they are well on their way to achieving their goals.

FMI: www.tripoli.org, www.shootthesky.org, www.flyrockets.com

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