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Innovative aircraft come to the beach for Red Bull Flugtag

Team Red Frog member Terry McMahconstructs team's new flying machine for 2012 Chicago Flugtag. | Wes BoltPhoto

Team Red Frog member Terry McMahon constructs the team's new flying machine for 2012 Chicago Flugtag. | Wes Bolton Photo

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♦ 11a.m. (flights begin at 1 p.m.), September 8

♦ North Avenue Beach, West La Salle Drive, Chicago

♦ Free

♦ Visit www.redbullflug

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Updated: September 5, 2012 7:20PM

The hard-working employees at Red Frog Events in Chicago aren’t asking for much. They just want their office kitchen back.

For over eight weeks, the event coordinators have been forced to find their way around a set of 20-foot-long wings — just to get a cup of coffee.

“Yep, the wings are in the kitchen and the actual body of the frog is in the basement of our building,” explains 21-year-old employee Jeff Hardesty. “None of us have had any experience building a giant red frog that can fly. It should be a real trick to figure out how to get this thing down the freight elevator of the building.”


Hardesty is just one member of the 28 teams from all across the Midwest that will find their way to North Avenue Beach on Sept. 8 with one goal in mind — flying. In a manner of speaking.

For the first time since 2008, the event known worldwide as Red Bull Flugtag is coming back to Chicago, uniting thousands of spectators with more than 100 people specifically chosen to build a homemade, human-powered flying machine. Judged on a mix of creativity, showmanship and actual flying ability, the teams and their flying machines, which must be less than 30 feet wide and must weigh no more than 450 pounds, are pushed off a 30-foot deck in hopes of achieving flight.

And just what would be the reason any sane person would be interested in dropping off a 30-foot flight deck while strapped into an unproven flying apparatus?

“Flugtag is a chance to do something amazing,” says 22-year-old Northwestern University mechanical engineering student Matt Dolph, who will pilot the Ms. Fizzle’s Third Period aircraft, constructed solely in the Northwestern University machine shop.

“To me, being a competitor in Flugtag is the pinnacle of creativity vs. function, and a chance at eternal glory. At the end of the day, Flugtag means a chance to harness and display your imagination to the world in a physical way.”

The Chicago event will be the first of four flugtags, with other competitions occurring in Philadelphia, Miami, and San Francisco later this year. And since the first Red Bull Flugtag took place in Vienna, Austria, in 1991, a number of flying records have been made. The current record is 228 feet held by a German team from this year’s competition in Mainz, Germany. The record for the farthest flight in the U.S. currently stands at 207 feet and was set at Red Bull Flugtag St. Paul, Minn., in 2010 by team Major Trouble and the Dirty Dixies.

“None of us really know what we are doing,” laughs Dolph, whose craft is based on the children’s book and TV show “The Magic School Bus.” “Once we launch, we are just hoping for the lift we will get from our wings. Of course, we also made a call to some friends we have at Boeing for some advice. Who knows what will happen? We just basically saw an opportunity and ran with it.”

Unfortunately, many of the crafty aircrafts will find their ultimate fate via the ever-common back flip or nose dive just seconds before they ultimately crash into Lake Michigan.

“Yep, I’m not looking forward to seeing all of the work we put into this thing sink,” said Harvesty, laughing, who hints that his team members just might be dressed up as flies. “But we have high hopes. I put on our application that our biggest challenge will be flying too far. According to our calculations, we should be landing in the Grand Rapids area.”

He’s joking, right?

Tricia Despres is a local free-lance writer.

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