SK students learn the physics of water-balloon launching

South Kitsap High School juniors Nick Rustad, left, and Travis Hunter prepare their catapult Monday for launching. - Justine Frederiksen/Staff Photo
South Kitsap High School juniors Nick Rustad, left, and Travis Hunter prepare their catapult Monday for launching.
— image credit: Justine Frederiksen/Staff Photo

Normally, chucking a water balloon at your teacher is a sure way to get yourself kicked out of class.

But for Ron Ness’ physics class Monday, it meant you got a passing grade.

The assignment was to create a simple machine — catapult, ballista or trebuchet — that could launch a water balloon into the air.

“You have to get it to fly,” Ness said, explaining that having his students build the “Medieval siege machines” helps them learn basic mechanics. “Hopefully, they gain an understanding of what’s happening. And, have some fun.”

“This class is awesome,” said junior Travis Hunter, who built a catapult with classmates Nick Rustad and Chris Levin, also juniors.

Each contributed items from home: Hunter brought scrap lumber that used to be his backyard tree house, while Levin provided the plastic spatula that the boys used to hold the water balloon in place.

Most of the students built a catapult or the similar trebuchet, but one group chose to build a ballista, which looked like a large, mounted crossbrow.

“My dad and I wanted to do something different,” said junior Brennagh Greene. “It looked so cool.”

Unfortunately, the ballista was not the best balloon launcher, however.

“At least it looks scary,” said Greene, adding that the assignment has made the class very well-known and sought after amongst students.

“I’d like to think they take it for the subject matter,” said Ness, who was now drenched after getting hit by several balloons. “But in reality, probably not.”

Ness said it takes about six hours for the students to build their machines, and though he admitted there have been “some incidents” in the past, no one has been seriously injured during the assignment.

“We talk a lot about safety,” he said.

Set up on the school’s lawn along Mitchell Avenue, the large wooden machines attracted a lot of attention Monday morning. Including that of School Resource Officer Andy Brandon of the Port Orchard Police Department, who joined in on the fun.

Ness said another class would be testing out their machines Tuesday.

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