Anyone who claims atavism and blood lust disappeared from modern America, needs look no further than Red Bull Flugtag (Flight Day) to be proved wrong.
“I’m here for the crashes – the same reason you’d go to a race – you want to see some crashes. People are afraid to say it, but that’s what we’re here for,” said spectator James Freese as he sipped a beer in the VIP Dallas Observer beach just yards from the waterfront.
Red Bull called it aviation history – the first national Red Bull Flugtag Day – 5 U.S. cities, roughly 150 flying machines and over 700 foolhardy heroes who followed their contraptions into the water across the United States. The grand spectacle drew crowds greater than 92,000 to the crowded banks of Lake Carolyn in Irving on Sep. 21. People filled the space between the water and the office buildings on the other side of Las Colinas Blvd., spilling around the edge of the lake and onto the roofs of parking garages and apartment homes to get an unobstructed view of the ‘flights.’
Failure to fly was the expectation, and the crowd was not disappointed. Although some of the machines flew quite gracefully, the vast majority plummeted, and sank to the bottom of Lake Carolyn within a few yards of the 23-foot flight deck. Some even spilled their pilots before take-off. The audience grinned and gasped as the inert flying machines followed the hapless daredevils into the water.
Andy Duncan, who brought three generations of his family to the event, admitted that in his opinion the worse the crash, the more successful the flight.
“I’d rather them – the smaller guys, like the F-16 – jump off and go straight down. Those are going to be the funny ones,” Duncan said.
In a twist of fate, the F-16 (actually an F-14) won first place.
The Texas Tomcats’ Top Gun inspired glider floated 72 feet over the water, making a feather landing a sea plane captain could envy.
Aviation students of LaTourneau University in Longview, TX, the Tomcats, had access to valuable research and development not available to other teams.
“We’ve done structural labs and stuff, so we used some of that…our aerodynamics professor built a small-scale model to test some of the flight characteristics and stuff,” said crew member, ‘Savvy’ Sheldon Bacher.
Being enrolled in an aviation program also afforded them a large, unofficial crew – roughly 25 students and professors – to help build and test their design.
But immersion in the aviation industry presented challenges of its own.
“We’re all full-time students…and a lot of us are taking 18 credit hours, plus trying to do this over the last few months,” Sheldon said.
If some teams seemed to have an unfair advantage due to professional expertise, amateurs simply redoubled their efforts, creating wildly original, if not-so-flight worthy, products. From flying llamas to a papier-mâché replica of Big Tex’s head, these vehicles entertained judges and fans alike. They were what the people had come to see.
One group of barnstormers received significant attention for their craft: the Nooper. These porta potty chucking, office space workers claimed they were raising awareness about people who poop in the nude.
“We’re raising awareness about this. There’re a lot of people who do this, but they’re ashamed to admit that they are Noopers, so we’re raising awareness and saying, ‘It’s OK to come out of the closet or the bathroom, per se., coming out of the stall and say proudly, Yes, I am a Nooper,’” said Travis Warner, Nooper crew member.
A hundred thousand raving fans proved Flugtag has curb appeal. But why?
Red Bull succeeded in creating perhaps the most confusing sporting event known to man (besides curling): part athleticism, part design and all showmanship. Failure takes on a different meaning as teams mount the flight deck’s ramp.
True, the pageantry and the hilarity of one thousand and one ways to crash will always keep people screaming for more – look at shows like America’s Funniest Home Videos or Jackass – but that mentality does not seem in keeping with the seriously competitive image Red Bull has carefully crafted.
Jeff Sayles a member of Red Bull’s Dallas sports marketing team, talked to the Rambler at the Red Bull Curates reception in July and gave some insights into why Red Bull hosts extravagant and sometimes absurd events.
“We try to support the communities that feel the same way about loving life, living on the edge, being anti-authoritarian, so if there’s a group or community that feels the same way about life, you should support them even if they’re the smallest group,” he said.
Sayles’ comments frame Flugtag as the perfect Red Bull event. The ridiculous air show combines the obscene stunts, edgy designs and, above all, the drive to push boundaries. Unlike exhibitions involving professional athletes, Flugtag gives every adventurer, no matter how small, the chance to grab some wings and do a stunt in the international spotlight.
These daredevils might not break world records like Felix Baumgartner’s space jump, but building a glider and pushing it off a cliff fits the bill of ‘living on the edge’ and ‘loving life.’
Team Pegacorn’s crew member, Ryan Mihelich summed up the appeal and challenge of Flugtag when he said, “Attitude is everything. How far I can fly, not how far I can fall.”