A Ballistics Test of a Different Sort

Reporter's Notebook: Physics students create a means of safely delivering delicate cargo for a long drop.

McLEAN, Va.—A warm summers day and light breezes made it a perfect day for the experiments that Miss Rashs physics students at McLean High School in McLean, Va., had been assigned.

The task: to create a container or delivery vehicle that would safely carry a raw, fresh egg to a target far below the top seats of the high school football stadium.

The rules were strict: The entire experiment, including the egg, had to have a mass of no more than 160 grams.

Students couldnt use commercial packing material in building their containers, and they couldnt use retro-rockets to slow the fall.

The experiment was conducted by having each student toss their delivery vehicle with enough force to strike a target that was offset from the drop point by about 15 feet.

Students were required to deliver the egg intact, with extra credit if they also hit the target.

While it might sound as if there were a lot of restrictions, those same limits led to great creativity.

When the fateful day came, the devices ranged from simple boxes with some cushioning inside, to boxes with external shock absorbers, to containers being lowered gently by balloons and parachutes.


One student even designed a fanciful rotary-wing craft designed to spiral its way gently to the target.

The moment of truth came when the students climbed to the top of the bleachers and, one by one, cast their packages toward the target.

One student hit the target, and the rest managed to hit the ground. Most of the eggs survived the trip.

(Full disclosure notice: Yes, the teacher mentioned here is related to this reporter. His other daughter is a student in this class, but she requested anonymity because she missed, her egg broke, and she would just die of embarrassment if anyone found out.)


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Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...