In addition to leaving the official flight count at two, I would suggest one new rule to require the launch device to be a hand-held piece of wood (or other non-metallic material) of 6” maximum length with a 7” maximum length rubber loop attached to one end. The purpose of this suggestion is not to make the event more similar to the AMA event, but to limit the possibility of large launch devices damaging co-competitior’s gliders during practice sessions.
Here is the take from one of those teams with a large floor standing launcher.
In our state the kids get all the settings they needed to fly any ceiling height (as long as the diameter of the glider circle does not change) days in advance. So in other words. They would trim to an approximate bunt height of the ceiling then use the device to gather the roll, pitch and band pull needed to compete for a range of heights above and below the estimated height given by the event supervisors. They then used that data the day of the competition to compete. The kids had all the data they needed to put a glider right next to the ceiling with an amazing drop in just a few minutes at the regional and the state meet.
At nationals they could not, since the difference of lift due to the air density was too great and they had to adjust to the point the data they gathered was useless.
However, for any team in the same altitude and approximate humidity they could use that data and compete with little time needed for trimming. That means any team from either coast could prepare days in advance and be competitive for nationals next year in florida, with just a few minutes of trim to adjust for temperature and humidity.
So while it did not work as planned for us at nationals, during the state competitions it did.
As for the hand held AMA sticks. With us, the majority of the events the kids competed in were AMA. They are just as efficient with the stick as the catapult. However, the stick is not a precise skill but a skill of knowledge, expertise and intuition. More importantly it would be very hard to get more then gross estimations of pitch, roll and turn. Data would be an estimation at best.
No matter how much it frustrates me, Science O is not AMA. AMA is the perfect flight, in perfect conditions with hours to prepare. If it was an AMA event at nationals this year, the kids would have been pushing 30 second flights in that room. With Science O, you get what you get, go for it.
At least with the catapult they can use scientific principles to get close enough. And then it comes down to who is the most prepared team.
So for Science O, not only is the catapult desirable, i will argue that it is exactly what a team needs to be doing for a scientific event.