By Bob Shane,
After a one-year hiatus in 2005, Red Bull’s Flugtag returned to the U.S. on April 29. The sky over Tempe Town Lake, Tempe, Ariz., was inundated with a multitude of unidentified falling objects engaged in perfecting the art of the splash landing. While flying is about generating lift, the Flugtag is more of a practical demonstration of gravity’s triumph over lift.
“Flugtag” is a German word meaning “flying day.” The first Flugtag was held in Vienna, Austria, in 1991. It was the creation of Red Bull’s founder Dietrich Mateschitz. Since then, there have been more than 30 Flugtags held around the world from Warsaw, Poland, to San Francisco. The event has attracted crowds of up to 300,000 people, proving that if you build it, they will come. Red Bull calls their event a “celebration of human-powered flight.”
Applications for Flugtag Arizona were accepted Nov. 1, 2005 through Feb. 17, 2006. The rules provide for a team of up to five people to design and build a homemade, human-powered flying craft, piloted by one person off an elevated flight deck into a body of water. Each craft must be less than 30 feet wide and weigh no more than 450 pounds, including the pilot. A fabricated craft is not allowed. The teams wear outrageous costumes and act out equally outrageous skits before launching their creation off the Red Bull flight deck into the water of Tempe Town Lake.
It’s an opportunity for the human imagination to run rampant. Most craft built fail to demonstrate a theoretical understanding of the dynamics of flight. Their outrageous designs and denial of the laws of physics overshadow engineering ingenuity in favor of style and originality. This may not be all that bad since the judging criteria consists not only of distance, but creativity and showmanship. The U.S. record for distance is 78 feet.
The grand prize was a pilot’s training course or $7,500, the second place prize was skydiving lessons or $3,000, and the third prize was paragliding lessons or $1,500. Additional prizes were awarded for most creative, people’s choice and farthest flight.
Of the more than 200 teams from around the U.S. that applied for the opportunity to be part of Red Bull Flugtag Arizona, 33 were selected (29 were listed on the April 29 program). The Flugtag is a well-organized fun event that promotes an interest in aviation. It’s also effective in creating an awareness of Red Bull and promoting its energy drink.
The Flugtag’s amusing theatrics are reminiscent of the old silent newsreels dating back to man’s early experiments involving human-powered flight. The absurdity of some of the entries such as a flying football helmet, giant taco, and flying toilet—with a support team decked out in costumes representing bathroom accessories including a toilet brush, can of Lysol and a roll of toilet paper—illustrates that insanity has no limits. In summary, a Flugtag is part avant-garde, part Theatre of the Absurd, part gutsy and all fun!
With the Flugtag taking place in the shadow of Arizona State University, and Red Bull’s strong representation on college campuses, several of the teams entered were composed of ASU students.
A group of Arizona State University freshmen, mostly enrolled in engineering curriculums, built the Dipsomaniacal Devil. Their craft was a 30-foot-tall replica of Sparky, the Sun Devils’ school mascot, coupled with a hang glider on top. City-wide Plumbing & Service Co., one of the team sponsors, provided a place to work during Sparky’s construction. An engineering firm in Mesa provided the materials.
The captain of the “Dipsomaniacal Devils” is Christoph Weber. Stephen Breenick serves as pilot and other teammates are Brett LaFave, Mitch Nielsen and Tyler Quinn. The craft was built from plumbing supplies, mostly PVC piping, and 24 skateboard wheels provided its mobility. When the craft was raised for pictures three weeks before the event, the wind caught it and it was destroyed. The team actually built Sparky twice. Their misfortune continued when just prior to launch off the flight deck, the hang glider couldn’t be raised the 30 feet up to the top of Sparky. Consequently, the pilot had to dive from atop the craft without the benefit of the glider.
One of the most intense school rivalries has always been between the University of Arizona and Arizona State University. The “Fork Um” entry is a replica of the pitchfork that Sparky always holds. Members of the all women’s team felt there was no better way to show ASU spirit and pride than by stickin’ it to the U of A.
The captain of the team is Kate Diggelmann. Other members are pilot Katy Powers and Calli Pisel, Klara Macko and Maddi Reignolds. The members are all part of the ASU women’s rugby team. The team’s annual expenses run around $60,000. Since the allotment from the university is less than $1,000, they have to make up the difference primarily through fundraisers and sponsorships. The Streets of New York sponsors the Rugby team and also helped the ladies with their Flugtag entry, giving them $1,000 for construction materials and hosting a building party at one of their restaurants.
“The Flugtag has been a good business experience for the girls,” said Barry Carter, their head coach on the Rugby team. “Having to make a presentation to the Streets of New York to sponsor them was a good negotiating experience.” He added that the girls “can now fly!”
Other interesting entries included “Air Trash,” whose design was inspired by the hurricane season. The team, all from the Cypress, Calif., area, based their design on a mobile home. They noted that anytime there is a windstorm, hurricane or tornado, the part of town that takes the hit is the trailer park. Believing that nothing is more prone to flight than FEMA trailers, their craft was built to look like a mobile home, which changes into a biplane just before exiting the flight deck.
The “Devil Destroyer” team members were all ASU alumni. Their craft was shaped like a football helmet and had the number 42 on the side, as a tribute to the late Pat Tillman. All avid ASU football fans, they attended the school during the same time as Tillman.
The “Mardi Gras Monster,” designed to look like a parade float, was inspired by this year’s 150th anniversary of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The captain, Frank Lamanna, has attended every Mardi Gras but one since 1993. It’s his wish that the “Mardi Gras Monster” will serve as a reminder of what New Orleans was and will be again. The team members are all members of the Scottsdale Blues Rugby Football Club.
The Grand Prize went to “The Need for Speed,” which was based on the movie “Top Gun.” Captain/pilot Sean Serell took on Tom Cruises’ role of “Maverick.” Serell jokingly promised, “In accordance with the rules, absolutely no Scientology will be used in the levitation of our aircraft.”
Second place went to “Air Farce One.” Captain Dave Chapman, from Salt Lake City, is a graduate of the Air Force Academy, with a degree in aeronautical engineering. A former F-16 pilot, he currently flies 767s for a commercial airline. According to Chapman, his wife says he’s a wing nut, which means he’s “nutty” over anything with wings. The inspiration for his entry was the George W. Bush “Mission Accomplished” appearance made on an aircraft carrier back in 2003.
Third place, people’s choice and farthest flight went to “El Vuelo Del Lobo” (“The Flight of the Wolf”). The team members all attend the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
The most creative award went to the “Dipsomaniacal Devils.” The team quickly consumed the prize, consisting of two bottles of champagne.
The next Flugtag in the U.S. will be in Baltimore, Md., on Oct. 21, 2006. Applications are due by July 31.
For more information, visit [http://www.redbullflugtagusa.com].