Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics using Wright-based design for Red Bull Flugtag
They are hopeful it can stay airborne, if only for at least 258 feet.
Students at the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics have been logging hours inside one of the hangars at the Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin constructing an aircraft to compete in the Red Bull Flugtag event Aug. 5 at the 40th annual EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta.
Red Bull Flugtag ("flying day" in German) challenges amateurs to build human-powered flying machines that will be launched off a 22-foot-high deck parallel to the Fort Pitt Bridge overlooking the Allegheny River. Teams will be judged on three criteria — flight distance, craft creativity and showmanship.
This criteria has inspired flying tacos, prehistoric pterodactyls, winnebagos with wings and even Snoopy and the gang to grace the Flugtag decks. Since the first Red Bull Flugtag took place in 1992 in Vienna, Austria, more than 100 have been held around the globe, attracting up to 300,000 spectators for a single event.
"We believe it will fly," says student Dustin Colella of Castle Shannon, who saw information about the event on social media and approached his instructors and classmates about the idea. "But ... there are so many factors that go into it, from wind speed — a head wind will definitely help us — to the proper weight and balance, to the pilot."
The pilot is 120-pound classmate Turner Kauffman, who was chosen because he weighs the least. Colella jokes they are monitoring Kauffman's diet keeping him on a strict regime of peanut butter, celery and water. They also are working on his vertical leap because where he lands will be a key factor in helping their chances in this competition.
"I was OK with it," says Kauffman, from Minerva, Ohio, who will be wearing a helmet and life jacket. "I wanted to be a part of this project, and I am not big and strong, so a lot of things I wasn't able to do. So being the pilot works for me. I was a little bit nervous at first — basically scared to get crushed by it — but we are making it safe."
Jason Pfarr, dean of academic affairs for the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics, was skeptical at first. His first inclination was, "No."
"A 22-foot ramp into the river? Somebody might get hurt," he says. "I am still a little nervous, but also really excited because they are into it, and it is a wonderful project for our students. It's a trustworthy design, and they feel confident it will fly. It's a direct line to what they are learning in the classroom. They have to think, 'If we do this, then does that affect this?' We really want it to fly. Some of the entrants might just be in it just for the fun. We want to have fun, but we also want it to actually fly."
Their team is called the Wright Burgh'ers. Their school was created from a company named Curtiss-Wright Flight Services. The company, founded by Glenn Curtiss and Orville Wright, offered aircraft sales and service, as well as flight training.
Because of the school's history, creating a plane was a given, Colella says. The teams also will each perform a skit. Colella says they will be in costumes inspired by vintage music and silent films, but wouldn't reveal anything else, because he wants people to come.
The structure is made of pine wood, and it is covered with a polyester fabric.
It weighs 182 pounds without the pilot, and will be decorated with the school logo on both wings. The total weight of the craft and pilot may not exceed 400 pounds. On competition day, there will be four students pushing it with Kauffman on board. It took 25 to 30 students, in addition to the team members, to make the Flugtag craft.
A maximum of 40 teams can compete. The world record is 258 feet. The winner receives the opportunity to go skydiving with the Red Bull Air Force. There also will be a People's Choice awardee given a trip to a music festival in the Northeast.
"You learn that your cool design on paper doesn't always translate into a cool design in the real life design you make," Colella says.
"Heck yeah, it's going to fly," says classmate Isabella "Izzy" Klink, from Uniontown. "We went with the Wright Brothers design and added a few things to make it our own. What is great is we are applying what we are learning in school."
Pfarr has been impressed with the students' commitment to the project and how they have handled the entire process. It's a wonderful real-life learning experience for them, Pfarr says. They've done pretty much everything. He has helped with supplies and offered some advice and guidance.
"PIA is excited to participate in Flugtag," Pfarr says. "We feel that we are unique in the training we provide and this competition allows PIA to showcase the talents and skills that our students develop during their 21 months of training."
Before teams take to the flight deck, spectators can engage with the members and get up-close views of the crafts. They can choose a fan favorite to win an award.
This will be the event's first time in Pittsburgh, and this year is perfect because the regatta is celebrating its 40th anniversary, says Derek Weber, president LionHeart Event Group, the event management company that produces the regatta.
"What better way to honor that milestone than to partner with Red Bull to bring this one-of-a-kind event to Pittsburgh for the first time," Weber says.
He says the teams selected represent the very best Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas have to offer.
"I was impressed at how many of the designs have a Pittsburgh flare," he says. "Some of crafts include a Polish Pierogi, a flying sandwich with fries, a visit to Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and a giant ketchup bottle."
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-853-5062 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Jharrop_Trib.
There are other groups in the area prepping their flying machines for the Aug. 5 Red Bull Flugtag in Pittsburgh. Check out what they're creating on Twitter: