Fraternity says sky’s the limit in Red Bull contest
BLACKSBURG — Just outside their fraternity house at Oak Lane, Virginia Tech senior Brian Lusher and four of his friends are building what looks like a giant roll of duct tape.
But the 8-foot-tall wooden structure is actually what the men hope to be a flying machine.
The “roll of duct tape” is scheduled for a Sept. 15 launch at the Camden Waterfront in Philadelphia in front of tens of thousands of spectators.
The machine will be pushed off a 30-foot ramp overlooking the Delaware River and either plummet quickly or fly however far its wings can carry it over the water.
It’s all part of Red Bull Energy Drink’s annual Flugtag event, in which several teams from around the United States create “flying machines” mainly for the entertainment value.
The event dates to 1992, according to the Red Bull Flugtag’s website. The first flugtag was held in Vienna, Austria, in 1992 and made its way to the U.S. 10 years later in San Francisco. Since then, there have been more than 35 of these events around the world.
In order to participate in the Flugtag — which means “flying day” in German — teams must submit an application with the option of including a one-minute video introducing their team. Teams are selected based on information provided in the application.
Of the hundreds of applications submitted, Red Bull selects about 40 teams to participate at each of its events worldwide. Teams participating in the Philadelphia event all come from the Northeast, including Lusher’s team, which also includes Robert Grimm, Matt Cook, Jordan Powers and Nick Pera. Cook is a Tech graduate; the rest are still students.
According to the website, Red Bull usually chooses teams with “lots of personality.”
For at least three members of Blacksburg’s “Duct! and Cover!” team, personality isn’t a problem, and this experience is just another thing to add to their already-extensive entertainment resume.
Lusher, along with Tech seniors Powers and Grimm, is a member of the performance group Fighting Gravity, which made its national debut on season five of “America’s Got Talent.”
The group, according to their website, uses blacklights to perform “gravity-defying” illusions to “unique and energetic music.”
Out of nearly 100,000 entries, Fighting Gravity placed third and went on to tour the country, as well as making appearances on national television shows such as “Dick Clark’s New Years Rockin’ Eve Show.”
Now, they’ll try to fight gravity once again.
For the “Duct! and Cover!” crew, the dream of participating in the flugtag began when Lusher was a spectator at a 2006 flugtag event in Baltimore.
“I instantly knew it was an event I could see myself competing in,” Lusher said. “Lighthearted competition, large crowds and a chance to do something different than your average engineering students led us to the Red Bull Flugtag in Philadelphia.”
Lusher came up with the concept for the “Duct! and Cover!” flying machine and then gathered his friends to turn the concept into reality.
But why the roll of duct tape?
“As college students and engineers, we’ve learned the many uses of duct tape,” Lusher said. “This flight will be a homage to one of the most useful quick fixes that is often under-appreciated.”
The team boasts four members who are currently engineering students at Tech and one biology graduate, Cook. Experience in engineering will come in handy when the team is set to launch their craft.
“The flight is the most difficult part,” Lusher said. “We feel that our design is efficient and should glide somewhat, but with the lack of much speed or power behind it, it will be tough to judge our performance ahead of time.”
The crew has been working for weeks to build the machine, which they’ll fly only once. There are no “test flights,” nor will there be a chance to get the machine back to keep as a memento.
Currently, the team is finishing construction on the craft and will transport it to Philadelphia using a moving truck.
Once their flying machine takes its inaugural flight, there will be a crane in the water along with dive teams to retrieve the machine and any possible pieces it leaves behind. The machine will then be placed in a dumpster floating on a barge in the river.
But for Lusher and crew, the machine itself, or the distance of their flight, isn’t the most important part of the event.
“First and foremost, we hope to put on a good show for the crowd,” Lusher said. “The entire event is goofy and expected to be that way, so why not give the crowd what they asked for?”
On Sept. 15, the team will need their flying machine to travel at least 208 feet to beat the world record, which was set at 207 feet at the 2010 Minneapolis/St. Paul Flugtag.
Yes, there are winners.
In fact, Red Bull’s celebrity judges choose a first, second and third place.
“Winners are selected by being crowd favorites, having a top design, a good skit before flying and a good flight overall,” Lusher said.
Although winning would be nice, the crew looks forward to displaying their engineering skills in front of the crowd of tens of thousands.
“We are excited to share this experience together and see what we are capable of doing as students in the presence of many professionals in the event,” Lusher said.
This year, Red Bull will have American flugtag events in Chicago, Miami, San Francisco and Philadelphia.
The Roanoke Times | 381-8627
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