The UM American Society of Mechanical Engineers team at the 2013 Redbull Flugtag.
On a (thankfully) beautiful Saturday morning, 27 teams from the Southeast literally flew into Miami’s Bayfront Park on Sept. 21 for the National Red Bull Flugtag. Flugtag means “flying day” in German and the National Red Bull Flugtag is the world’s wildest, human-powered flying craft competition. Spectators witnessed a flying manatee, a flying hamburger and even a flying brain, just to name a few. Along with craft and aviation, each team prepared a theme and skit for their flying vessel: a competition that gives new meaning to the term “art” for the 94,000 prospective engineers, loyal college alumni, families and casual spectators alike.
Out of 200 teams that applied for the Miami Flugtag, 27 were chosen, one of which being UM’s very own American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) with “Enalpria: The Backwards Airplane.” These UM College of Engineering students are no novices to this competition. This is ASME’s fourth year on the Flugtag flight deck; last year winning People’s Choice Award and placing second in the 2010 competition. The story line for this year’s plane was a group of crash test dummies (the flight crew) launching the mad scientist (the pilot), who’s kept them prisoner, off the 30-foot pier. “The club determined the theme together. We used this design in the past, so we thought we’d just perfect it and flip it, making it a backwards airplane,” said junior flight crewmember, James Johnston.
Months of hard work go into a fix-winged aircraft that only travels for a few seconds before crashing into the water. Despite the short-lived flight, the team’s engineering prowess is judged on creativity, showmanship and distance. “I’m pretty confident this year. We’ve improved on a lot of flaws and learned a lot of lessons. It was a little hectic this time around because we had six weeks less to prepare than last year. We built the wings in three days and the base in two. It was a lot of work but it came together nicely,” said ASME President Matthew Vautrain. “I think we’ll land when we want to land, hopefully in Key West,” said junior flight crewmember Jon Katzman jokingly. “It’d be nice to keep the pieces to have for memories, but either way the experience is enough in itself.”
It was a great experience for all. Dressed in full crash test dummy morph suits, the flight crew posed for pictures with the crowd and let children in on the skit, maintaining their showmanship throughout the entire event. “We’ve been lying on the ground all day getting hit by kids with inflatable hammers. It’s been tough but worth it,” admitted senior crash test dummy Sarmad Chaudhry.
As for the rest of the school- conjuring up some rivalry heat with FSU and UF teams present as well- UM made it clear that this is our fly zone. In true Miami style, some UM students coming to support ASME arrived at Bayfront in a party bus sponsored by Red Bull, freshly stocked with Red Bull energy drinks, of course. “I’ve never been to Flugtag, but I love the X Games, so I wanted to check it out. Especially since the U is being represented,” said junior Ben Birns. “I’m coming to support the school’s team. And this party bus is a great addition, definitely Miami-themed,” said junior Julie Bravo.
Looking into the crowd of more than 90,000, it was hard to avoid seeing some orange and green gear. “A bunch of us came to watch the flights. It was great- a little toasty and crowded- but overall fun. I’m glad to see UM students participate,” said first-year graduate student Jonny Denis. “This is a worldwide event and it’s pretty cool that UM is up there on the podium,” said freshman Guiseppe Capolino. “I decided to go because I’ve always thought Flugtag looked amazing from the commercials and it’s so close to us. I know UM competes every year and I thought they did great. It was fun hearing everyone cheer for our school,” said senior Andie Cohen.
With U hand signs flashing all over Bayfront when UM ASME took the podium, the flight crew prepared for take off. After a flawless skit and successful push, Enalpria traveled 60 feet with an average judge’s score of 18.25. “I’m very happy with it. Everyone was safe, we reached a respectable distance and it was a significant improvement from last year,” said Vautrain. “I think we were very successful this year, considering we can’t do a test-run before hand. I think Flugtag is overall a great experience, especially for us engineers because it’s a fun way to apply our engineering knowledge,” said senior ASME member Lauren Tarpy.
No flight is complete without a word from its pilot. “I’m still shaking,” said pilot Oliver Doggart after his descent into the water. “But I’m proud of our distance. The impact wasn’t bad; I lost a shoe. The worst part was going over the edge. The best was when I felt the lift kick in, when I was starting to fly.”
Thank you for flying Flugtag, UM ASME. Until next year.
words_rachel kliger. photos_melissa mallin.