On Saturday November 10th, 2012, over 100,000 people gathered at San Francisco's McCovey Cove to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the US debut of Flugtag, a wacky airplane race in which hand built human-powered machines pit against each other to see how long they can 'fly' after leaping off an elevated flight deck.
Flugtag, which is pronounced FlOOG-TOG and means Flying Day in German, was first introduced by energy drink manufacturer Redbull in Vienna, Austria in 1991. It was such a roaring success that the race has been held in over 100 cities ranging from Dubai to Kiev in the Ukraine, and this year of course in San Francisco, to commemorate the event's 2002 US debut.
The rules are fairly simple. Teams of up to five people can enter the race by building a 'flying' machine that has a maximum wingspan of 30ft. and weight of 450lbs. While the airplane can be of any shape, it has to be powered by muscle, gravity and pure imagination only and, since it does launch off a pier and inevitably ends up in the water below, it must be unsinkable, made entirely from recycled materials and have no loose parts.
Teams are judged by three criteria - distance, creativity and showmanship. However, since most of these machines are not really equipped to fly, it is the latter two that are the most important. The longest Flugtag flight record set in Austria over a decade ago, was a mere 195 ft., or about half of what the Wright brothers were able to do with their first prototype.
As the years have gone by, the contraptions have become wackier and more elaborate. The San Francisco competition was no different. Among the 36 wacky flight teams that entered was CAPS Paranormal that did not even make it across the runaway and Frida Lay that did cross the runway but then simply nose dived straight into the water.
Others like Team Skyjackers and their cleverly crafted Jack-N-The-Box Taco aircraft had slightly better luck managing to glide a full 35 feet in the air before plunking into the cold waters of McCovey Bay. The star of the event was Team Movemeber that not only managed to soar a whopping 54ft. but also, raise awareness for prostate cancer.
The most memorable of all however, was the final flight of the day - Constructed from the remains of Oracle's America Cup Boat 'Spirit of 17' that was destroyed in the San Francisco Bay during a trial run, it was not part of the official competition, which meant that Oracle team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill, who also happened to be a judge, could join in the fun. Alas, 'Spirit of 17' did not have much better luck as an airplane. Despite some major last minute ingenuity and repairs, the wing split from the platform just as it took the plunge. Not that it seemed to matter either to the team or the crowd that just cheered with abandon at yet another wacky flight!
source:wikipedia.org, oracle-team-usa, sfbay.CA