Orville and Wilbur Wright succeeded as the first humans in flight, on Dec. 17, 1903. The participants of Saturday’s Red Bull Flugtag competition in downtown Tampa apparently didn’t get that memo.
The Flugtag took over the Tampa Convention Center on Tampa Bay and drew over 100,000 spectators to the whimsical flight competition.
Flugtag—German for “flight day” or “air show”—is an event where participants attempt to fly homemade, human-powered aircraft off of a pier into the water. The teams and flights are judged on the categories of creativity, showmanship and distance flown.
The rules include restrictions that a flying machine cannot be more than 30 feet wide or over 450 pounds including the pilot. Nearly 40 teams spent up to five months completing their “aircraft” and prepping them for “flight.” The aircraft are launched off of a 30-foot tall runway that juts out into Seddon Channel next to the Tampa Convention Center.
The four-hour long Red Bull commercial started at 12:30 p.m. with opening ceremonies. The national anthem was performed by Bradenton’s own rock band, We the Kings, and was followed by the Red Bull air force making an aerial entrance. The judges were announced and included local celebrities, former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Ryan Nece, the youngest LPGA winner, Lexi Thompson, 93.3 MJ Morning Show host MJ, former NFL cheerleader and Playboy Playmate Jaime Edmonson and X-games gold medalist in motocross, Tarah Gieger.
High winds wreaked havoc on several flight teams as gusts reached over 30 mph.
“The wind just tore up our wings,” said Publix’s Where Shopping is a Pleasure team member, J.R. Lorello. “The wings are made of a Mylar-type material and it’s ruined. We are just going to take the wings off and push the cart off the runway. It will fly just as well.”
St. Petersburg’s own Stay Classy Tampa Bay team had their own concerns about the wind. Their theme was based on the movie “Anchor Man.” The team dressed as news anchors and attempted to ride on a giant mustache that detaches from a replica of the lead character Ron Burgundy’s face.
“Wind is going to be a big factor, but we are pushing off [the runway] balls to the walls,” said pilot Adam Hopkins. “We’re going to ride this thing farther than any mustache before. It will be the longest mustache ride ever.”
“We can’t change anything,” teammate Kelly Weatherby said. “It’s all fiberglass and nothing can be changed.”
The first flight took off at 1 p.m. Some crowd favorites included last year’s people’s choice award winners, Team Big Stuff. The team’s theme featured Marty McFly’s time traveling DeLorean, complete with working gull-wing doors and costumes. The team reenacted the scene where Marty is chased by angry Libyans in a blue Volkswagen bus. The team failed to get their flying machine up to 88 mph like in the movie, but their theatrics gained them a perfect score in the creativity and showmanship categories.
Another crowd pleaser was another St. Petersburg team and reigning Flugtag Tampa Bay 2008 champions, Willy Wonka’s Amazing Flugtag Adventure, were the winners of Flugtag Tampa Bay 2011. They flew their flying machine 50 feet. The team bio claims that their flying machine is “93 percent perspiration, 6 percent imagination, 4 percent evaporation, and 2 percent butterscotch ripple.” The team members—Kevin Riley, Dave West and Christopher Elmore—flew their machine the farthest of the day, reached the 50-foot mark with ease.
The entertainment continued with even more outrageous “flying” machines such as a giant pink bra, a stapler, a cell phone that sprouted wings when it was ready for take-off and a giant guitar.
Winners of the event were awarded a meet and greet with Red Bull Air Race World Champion Kirby Chambliss at his Flying Crown Ranch in Arizona.
Photos by Daniel Mutter