DALLAS -- Want to make an empty plastic soda bottle fun? Add a liter of water and pressurized air and you have a rocket, of sorts.Put a small amount of rice for weight in the "nose cone" and tape cardboard wings or tubes to the side and you could have a machine capable of flying 300 feet or more.That was the goal for Whitworth Elementary School fifth-graders Thursday morning as they each designed "bottle rockets" with the hope of their creations being mounted on the school's "2-by-4 of fame" by cruising more than 300 feet through the air.With those hopes in mind, Katya Davis stepped up to the "launching pad" -- a cart carrying a tilted board that holds the rockets in place while attached to an air compressor hose.Her rocket, named "Bottle Rocket Explosion Jr.," was ready for flight.The entire fifth-grade class started the countdown -- "five, four, three, two, one!" and school building engineer Darrel Hiebenthal pulled the cord triggering the launch.Bottle Rocket Explosion Jr. flew high and straight, enough to impress Brian Williamson, the teacher who introduced the now-annual bottle rocket project at Whitworth five years ago."That's beautiful. Yeah!" Williamson said as he watched the rocket fly. "That could have been 300! Look at how straight that was."Katya, all smiles, runs to retrieve her possible champion rocket after the official measuring crew tallies her rocket's distance.Alas, it was just short of the threshold of honor at 281 feet. Katya was a little disappointed, but still impressed. She did have a secret weapon, though."I shoot arrows so this is the design of the feathers on the arrows," she said while pointing to her rocket's wings.That's exactly the kind of ingenuity Williamson wants to see out of the fifth-graders on rocket launch day, which caps the study of Isaac Newton's laws of motion. Photo by Pete Strong "Measuring crew" fifth-graders Ethan Robinson, left, and Seth Asuncion chase down a rocket as it flies over their heads from the launch pad hundreds of feet away. "It's also just more of an excuse for kids to get out and have fun doing science instead of being stuck in class learning about it, which is beneficial, but not quite as fun," Williamson said.In addition to the basic components -- bottle, compressed air, water and wings -- most of the students designed their rockets to fly in style. Some painted them, coated them in colorful tape, or dressed them up in fancy material. Students gave their rockets cool names like "Flyin' Hawaiian," "Camtastic," and "The Dreaded Water Bottle."But in the end, it was those students who put the most "rocket science" into their design that had the highest flying rockets.Like Katya, Gunnar Schmidt wanted his rocket to stand out from the crowd, so he used a creative model for its wings."I wanted them designed so they curve down like that," he said, running his hand over the curved wings. "Then I was thinking about it and saw somebody's with a nose cone, so I wanted a nose cone, too."His thoughtful design paid off as his rocket also had a good first flight, reaching 276 feet."I thought it was pretty cool," Gunnar said. "It would be fun to do it again."May 31, 2013 12:01 a.m. read more..