In Arts + Entertainment

Flugtag – An Extremely DIY Flying Machine Competition – Lands In Sydney

Ask any kid – or any adult man – which super power they’d most like to have and the ability to fly is nearly always at the top of the list (personally, I’d go for “being Chris Hemsworth”), because the desire to soar through the skies is one that unites us (or at least those of us without a fear of heights).

Unfortunately, human beings are pretty poorly designed for flying, but even that hasn’t stopped us from doing it. More than 100,000 commercial flights will take to the skies today around the globe, but that’s kind of cheating.

Designing your own magnificent flying machine is one way of making yourself feel a little more like Leonardo Da Vinci, but it’s also a tremendous challenge, and huge amounts of fun if someone then lets you test out your contraption by hurling it, with you inside it, off a six-metre high platform into the ocean.

This, then, is the super simple and supremely silly idea behind the visual feast that is Red Bull Flugtag, which returns to Sydney Harbour on November 10 this year, after an eight-year break. Yes, “flugtag” does sound like something that you might clear from your throat, but it’s actually the German term for “flying day”.

Previous Australian iterations of such events were more sensibly called “Birdman” rallies, but the Flugtag does have history, with the first one held in Vienna in 1992 and more than 150 since, all around the world, attracting as many as 300,000 people to a single event.

Amazingly, despite the staggering weight of physics and past history, a lot of people think they have what it takes to build a non-motorised aircraft that can fly them safely over the infamously shark-filled waters of Sydney Harbour. More than 500 teams applied to take part in this year’s Flugtag, and only around 35 of the  best  entries made it.

Apparently the flying machine you design has to be vetted by engineers as actually being, at least theoretically, capable of human-powered flight (the record is 78m, set in 2013 in California), but even a few metres seems to count as “flight” rather than just “falling”.

It does seem possible, however, that some of the lucky entrants were chosen because of how amusing their team names and designs were.

Easily the most effortlessly zeitgeisty is the Splashed Avo, a family entry from Bendigo in Victoria that looks… like an avocado. With wings. Something in the application from young team leader Josh took the judges’ eyes, though, perhaps the fact that his Mum, Kay, is demanding to be the pilot to take the big six-metre leap.

Avocados, however, are like stealth fighters in terms of their suitability for flight compared to the entry from another team called A Shrimp on the Barbie, which is basically a BBQ, attached to a shrimp. With wings. The fact that it will be “flown” by ex Big Brother contestant Jack Rich might have gotten this one across the line, because the fact that it intends to use barbecue plates for wings does not augur well for its aeronautical abilities.

Far more attractive to look at is the Flamin’ Gal-Air, which looks like our much-loved pink bird and is a tribute to Alf Stewart of Home and Away fame, and his old-school “ya flamin’ galah” catch phrase.

A slightly more serious entry, and one that will attract plenty of eyeballs, is one dedicated to the Aussie lifesavers who keep our beaches safe every day, and will be piloted by a team of them. Between the Flags (zero points for a clever name) will be flown by four actual lifeguards, in budgie smugglers and silly hats, and is based on the design of a zodiac rescue boat. At least it should float when it splashes down.

One group of Jurassic Park fans is at least basing its entry, Flyrannosaurus, on a proven design, as they will take to the sky perched on a pterodactyl.

As befits an event that is far more about fun – with a large does of schadenfreude – than results, achieving an impressively long flight is only part of the contest. Teams are actually judged on three criteria: flight distance, creativity of the craft and showmanship.

Much like the world of motorsport – which will provide one of its superstars, Red Bull Racing V8 Supercar star Jamie Whincup, as a scrutineer – what a lot of people come to see is the crashes. And if the laws of gravity teach us anything, it is that we’ll see plenty of those.

Published 01 November, 2018