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Michael White, 15, a member of the Newark Memorial High School Rocketry Club packs away a back up rocket that was recently repaired after a crash in Newark, Calif., on Thursday, April 25, 2013. Two of the club's teams Panthers and 2 Fast 2 Furious qualified for a national competition being held in Washington D.C. but don't have enough funds to pay for the trip. The club is doing what it can in the coming days in hopes of fundraising enough money for the trip. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

NEWARK -- Student members of three youth rocketry teams have worked countless hours crunching numbers and designing their miniature aircraft to qualify for a prestigious national competition on the East Coast.

That accomplishment wasn't easy, the Newark teams' coaches say, but it's been even more difficult to fund their upcoming trip.

"We're hoping to raise a few thousand dollars more, but it looks like we might fall short," said Jerry Liang, leader of the two clubs at Newark Memorial High School. The third qualifying club, from Newark Junior High, is led by instructor Tom Collett.

To fill the budget gap, students have scheduled bake sales. A sale Thursday netted about $200. Liang has also planned fundraisers at restaurants, where a percentage of dinner bills have benefitted the clubs. Another fundraiser is planned Wednesday at a Fremont restaurant.

The proceeds will help send the trio of squads, each containing six students, to compete in the Team America Rocketry Challenge scheduled for May 11. The event will be held in The Plains, Va., about 50 miles west of Washington, D.C. Sponsors include NASA, Boeing and the Aerospace Industries Association.

Michael White, a ninth-grade rocket club member, said he enjoys the camaraderie among his teammates. "To see something we all made together work and fly is very gratifying," said White, 15. "I'm learning about teamwork."

This isn't the first time Liang has led Newark students to rocket-fueled glory. In 2007, his students captured the Team America Rocketry Challenge and won a paid trip to Paris. Six years later, they are back to compete in the "fly off" among 100 teams nationwide. The winning team this time will receive $60,000 in cash, scholarships and a paid trip overseas to an international air show.

School board member Charlie Mensinger said the teams' success is a "huge feather" in Newark's cap. "It's not just a bunch of guys going outside and shooting off rockets," he said. "Their launches are based on physics and mathematics; they're academic-oriented."

The students used a computer simulation program to design their rockets, labored over details such as fin design and parachute size, and ordered specific parts and materials, Liang said. They then tested the rockets, using a weather-measuring device to gauge humidity and wind when they're out in the field.

At the competition, the rockets must meet specific criteria, such as reaching an altitude of 750 feet during a flight that must last between 48 and 50 seconds. Parachutes can be no bigger than 15 inches in diameter.

The contest is demanding, but it's a great way to teach science, said Alan Thym, a Newark resident who mentors the teams' members. "There's no better way to educate kids than leading them into having fun by building things with hands-on stuff that actually works," Thym said.

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.

HOW TO HELP
A fundraiser to help send three Newark youth rocketry teams to a national competition will be held 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Sweet Tomatoes, 39370 Paseo Padre Parkway in Fremont. Those wishing to donate can send a check made payable to NUSD Rocketry to: Newark Unified School District, 5715 Musick Ave., Newark, CA 94560.