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Over the weekend, MAKE’s web producer Jake Spurlock and I headed to nearby San Francisco to watch amateur pilots and engineers test their skills at human powered flight in the Red Bull Flugtag.

Though it first started in 1991, this year’s flugtag (“flying day” in German) marked the 10th anniversary of the event’s U.S. debut in San Francisco in 2002.

A total of 32 teams took the plunge into the waters of McCovey Cove (the same place where all the kayakers rush for home run balls at Giants’ games). The aircraft had to be built by the flight crew with a maximum wingspan of 30 feet and weigh no more than 450lbs with the pilot. Teams were judged on creativity and showmanship in addition to flight distance.

And boy was there showmanship. American flags, Speedos, and 80s hair metal hits seemed to be prerequisite choices for the coordinated dances and skits performed before each launch (“Gangnam Style” was also out in force). The Ptechshop Pteronauts had their pilot hatch from a giant dinosaur egg before mounting their pterodactyl-shaped craft and flying a respectable 27 feet.

For the most part, whimsy won out over aerodynamic prowess. Aircraft shaped like luchadores, high heels, UFOs, Mexican sugar skulls, some kind of chicken themed camper, unicorns, and even a Nyan Cat all took to the air. And more often than not, took a spectacular nosedive. Team Movember won the day with fake moustaches, well-choreographed dance moves set to Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” (in American flag pants!), and the best flight of the day at 54 feet.

No one came close to the U.S. record of 207 feet set in Minneapolis or the world record of 230 feet set in Mainz, Germany earlier this year, but winning was hardly the point, and the crowds cheered for spectacular failures just as much as impressive flights.

For more info, visit redbullflugtagusa.com.

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Craig Couden

Craig is an editorial assistant with MAKE, and among other things enjoys video games and light up clothing.


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