Flugtag: Where aeronautics, insanity and inspiration meet
| September 23, 2013
The fact that the first place winner of the Washington, D.C., Red Bull Flugtag involved a licensed pilot and a fan of aeronautic engineering may not be a coincidence. Sometimes the best man to fly a plane is a pilot — a very crazy pilot.
Team Harvest Bureau, out of New Holland, Pa., pulled off the win in the Sept. 21 event by going the distance against 28 other teams in the first national Flugtag. On one day, there were five different Flugtags in five different cities: Chicago, Dallas, Long Beach, Miami and Washington, D.C.
Flugtag is an event in which man-made aircraft compete to see which can travel the farthest when launched from a 30-foot precipice and into the water below. Teams consist of one pilot and four members who aid in takeoff. Only self-constructed, human-powered gliders with a max wingspan of 28 feet and a max weight of 400 pounds are allowed. The events have been occurring officially since 1992 and are organized by Red Bull.
The aircrafts are judged based on how well they fly, as well as their presentation. This is where the insanity comes into play, because as long as they fit the aforementioned parameters, competing aircraft can look like or be anything.
Harvest Bureau flew a tractor. Allow that to sink in.
Harvest Bureau also had the dubious distinction of being the team that recorded a confusing minus-18-feet score last year when its aircraft was prematurely blown off the side of the pier before takeoff.
"This year was about redemption," explained pilot and aircraft designer Mark Diltz.
Diltz, who has earned his private pilot’s license, drew inspiration from influential American aerospace engineer Burt Rutan. Rutan is noted for his originality in designing light, strong, unusual-looking, energy-efficient aircraft. Diltz explained that it was Rutan’s work with a polyurethane composite that helped inspire his design for Harvest Bureau's flying tractor.
Above all, however, the chance to erase the sour taste of last year's showing was all the inspiration Diltz and Harvest Bureau needed to fuel them.
"My boss' boss asked, 'So, you're actually going to fly [this time], right?' So, no, there was no pressure," Diltz laughed.
Flying for a cause
There were many reasons for pilots to take flight, with few more inspiring than team Red Schlitzen Bull, named after its pilot Mike Schlitz.
The Red Schlitzen Bull is made up of U.S. Army Rangers and two friends, a designer and an All-American soccer player. Schlitz, who is an Iraq veteran Wounded Warrior and a double amputee, suffered burns over 85 percent of his body. According to the team's webpage, "Mike continually demonstrates that his wounds do not define him. As the pilot of our craft and the inspiration for our team name, Mike will lead the way for our crew."
"We're trying to beat the world record,” said Schlitz in an interview the day before takeoff.
At the time of the interview, the record for longest flight belonged to a German Flugtag participant who travelled 229 feet. "What better way to beat that record," stated the team on their website, "than with a badass eagle flying over the waters of Washington, D.C. ... We want to set the record while piloting the symbol of freedom: A screaming eagle with incredibly sharp claws. That's it. Let's get weird!"
Ultimately, the team's eagle design was put aside for a more traditional glider with a soft canopy. They call their aircraft, "Look Ma, No Hands." According to crew member Rich Canning, "We built our entire glider from stuff we bought from Home Depot."
"Am I the first guy to do this with no hands?" Mike asked enthusiastically. He very well might be.
The world Flugtag record was later demolished by The Chicken Whisperers at the Long Beach, Calif., Flugtag. The group of aerospace engineers reached 258 feet in distance.
Pittsburgh's own Cheerleader National All-American Girl team set out to raise money for breast cancer awareness with the plan to donate the proceeds to the The Eileen Stein Jacoby Fund. The group's goal was to raise $10,000 for breast cancer awareness with the motto, "Big or small, save them all!"
According to the team's website, "Brainstorming with our co-workers, we decided to celebrate America and our Pittsburgh business through a Wright Brothers-inspired craft with a bikini clad female torso on top (stars and stripes bikini top, of course). In between the wings, you'll notice the ribbons as the universal symbol for breast cancer awareness."
That's right, pilot Tia Muscarella flew a craft shaped like a pair of breasts.
Just have fun
"At the end of the day, this is just for fun," admitted Vermont Lumberjack crew member Jay "Digger" Clarke.
According to Clarke, Flugtag is an opportunity to have fun and not take oneself too seriously. It's also a great way to market a cause or a company.
"They're averaging 20,000 spectators watching this," he began. "It's about getting into the social network. ... The number of people [that could see us] could reach 5 to 10 million."
The Vermont Lumberjacks, representing New England-based Red Bull distributor g.housen, built their aircraft in Vermont and western Massachusetts. The Lumberjacks decided to play off their name and regional roots by building an aircraft resembling a downed tree with an axe sticking from its back.
In the end, it was the Harvest Bureau who won first place in the Washington, D.C., contest by traveling 54 feet; Viking Army received second place by going 51 feet; and Duck Hunt was given third place by also going 51 feet. The team Made in ‘Murica, who traveled 36 feet, won the People's Choice Award.
First-place winners were awarded an outing to skydive with expert free flyers, the Red Bull Air Force. Second-place winners were given tickets to a Red Bull-titled sporting event from the comfort of the VIP area. Third place was given tickets to a Red Bull-titled music, dance or art event. Meanwhile, the People's Choice Award gave winners a VIP experience at a New York Red Bulls game from one of the luxury suites at Red Bull Arena.
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