The Red Bull Flugtag Comes to Boston
I remember watching the Red Bull commercials as a kid and wondering how they could get away with such racy advertisements on TV. I also remember sneaking off to the local convenience store to buy my first can, as well as the manic caffeine rush that followed shortly thereafter (seriously, that stuff should be illegal for children).
Mostly, I remember seeing clips of the Flugtag; Red Bull’s yearly competition that brought together bootstrap ingenuity and jury-rigged gliders in an event that could only have been conceived of by a madman. It goes without saying, but this is something I’ve always wanted to witness in person. Thankfully, 2016 became the year that Flugtag made its Boston debut.
Unfortunately, I was not the only one excited about the spectacle. Outside of the Fourth of July celebration, I have never seen the walkway along the Charles River, where the event was hosted, more densely packed with people. We made the mistake of arriving only one hour early and found a spot with a clear view of the back of hundreds of necks.
Add to this the fact that the temperature was hovering around the high 80’s, and you have a recipe for a sticky, uncomfortable situation. But sweatiness aside, the crowd was ready to be entertained, and the Flugtag flight crews stood ready to glide their way to glory. I walked the line of this year’s contenders, wondering whose homemade craft would reign supreme. What some lacked in viable engineering skills, they made up for in creativity.
Design themes ranged widely; from zombies, to cowboys and dinosaurs, to a group of ancient Egyptian garb-clad guys who dubbed their craft “The Giant Flyin’ Fart Lion”.
My personal favorite was a team dressed as mad scientists, named GusDave and the Whiteheads. They got their name from Gustave Whitehead, a German-born inventor who piloted the first powered flight in Connecticut in 1902; two years before the Wright Brothers’ famous flight. He may not have received the credit he rightfully deserved in his lifetime, but this team was determined to deliver some posthumous notoriety; piloting a glider made partially from the bamboo used in Whitehead’s original flyer.
Finally, the hour was upon us. The competitors made their way to the launch deck one by one. It was around this time that the spectators received some relief from the heat in the form of a cool breeze working its way over the water. Unfortunately, said breeze was blowing in the opposite direction of which the gliders needed to go. The first team took to the stage, introduced themselves, and prepared to glide into the record books.
The pilot boarded his aircraft, the launch team filed into place on either side, and with a might heave, he sailed forth like a glorious eagle.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter which team’s effort I posted pictures of, as they all ended in roughly the same fashion. One even had the misfortune of being blown backwards into the deck after launch. In the end, not even the team captained by MIT scientists could overcome the gentle breeze’s destructive force.
Though they may not have shattered the world record they set out to break, I feel that we as Bostonians proved something to the world that day; that no risk of self-injury is too great to face if it means we’ll be on national TV. Was it the dazzling spectacle I had dreamed of attending as a child? No. But true to its motto, for one brief moment, Red Bull gave people wings. Rigid, inefficient wings. And it was hilarious.