FSHS grad garners highest level certification in rocketry

Tony McLelland

Tony McLelland, one of Franklin Senior High School’s 2014 graduates has gained statewide media attention as the only high school student in Louisiana and only one of five in the U.S. to attain High Power Rocketry Level I Certification by the Tripoli Rocketing Association.
McLelland along with his physics teacher and mentor John Sorrel spoke with Franklin Rotarians recently on the certification process that included building and launching his high powered rocket.
“This is not a normal rocket,” Sorrel said. “What Tony’s doing is building military grade rockets.”
The rocket weighs about 12 pounds and is 7 feet tall.
He said on its first flight March 28 in Winnsboro, McLelland’s rocket reached 2,000 feet at 450 mph.
“But that’s not what it’s designed to do,” he said. Rather it is designed to fly 10,000-12,000 feet at Mach 1 which would qualify for Level II certification that McLelland will shoot for later this year.
McLelland said he started out last year in Sorrel’s class building smaller rockets to gain skill and knowledge.
Sorrel said McLelland used his own funds earned in the National Guard with help from local business sponsors to build the rocket that cost about $2,000.
McClelland said the main reason there are not more certified high school students is that candidates are required to be at least 18 which he turned in October.
“This has required a lot of money, a lot of time and it required me over a year just to research and prepare for it and about six months of actual building time,” he said.
The Winnsboro launch site is the only allowable site in Louisiana, Sorrel said, and McLelland’s launch was TRA sanctioned.
“You can’t fly a rocket anywhere you want and let it land in the dirt,” Sorrel said. “That’s an act of terrorism.”
Having just graduated from Franklin Senior High, McLelland said he will be attending the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to major in mechanical engineering but not until the spring 2015 semester; first, he’ll be deployed for National Guard training. He added that his eventual education goal is in robotics.
McLelland said he hopes that the attention focused on his rocketry will serve as an example to other local high school students.
“Just because you’re from a small town, just because you’re from a poor family or a poor area doesn’t mean you can’t do something with your life,” he said.

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