Twenty years ago, Red Bull hosted their first flugtag (German for airshow) competition in Vienna, Austria. It has since grown into a large event held several times a year in different cities around the world, drawing enormous crowds. This year marks the 10th anniversary of Red Bull Flugtag in the United States, where it started in San Francisco.
Simply enough, teams of five people build homemade, human-powered flying machines that must be less than 30 feet wide, weigh less than 450 pounds including the pilot, unsinkable, and made from environmentally friendly materials. They perform a brief skit or dance to music and launch them from a 30-foot high platform above the water and see how far they fly. They are given scores on creativity, showmanship and distance by a panel of celebrity judges. All entries are destroyed, even if they survive crashing into the water, presumably to discourage people from sinking a lot of money into their entry.
After seeing commercial after commercial for Red Bull Flugtag San Francisco, I decided to hop on the train, meet up with my cousin and take a short walk to McCovey Cove to see what all the fuss was about. On a surprisingly pleasant day in the city, an estimated 116,000 spectators showed up for the free event.
Two hours before the competition began, the 32 teams had their flying contraptions on display for everyone to see and appreciate before they were plunged to their demise in the watery grave of McCovey Cove. As I walked by all the contraptions, it quickly became clear that many contestants had no intention of actually flying.
Some didn’t even have wings,
and were clearly just being used as an advertisement.
However, the creativity and work put into some entries was really impressive.
My vote for most creative would have gone to Team Sugar Skull and their groovy design.
And a group of Stanford students with an air-worthy craft and a great name was my pick to win for distance.
After viewing all the entries, we searched the crowds for a decent spot to watch, but didn’t have any luck. Fortunately, the Red Bull guys have some experience accommodating huge crowds, and opened the gates of AT&T Park. They invited people to sit on the field and watch the event on the big screen.
The choice between craning my neck trying to catch a glimpse of the event or sitting comfortably in AT&T Park watching it on a big screen was a no-brainer.
They even sold drinks on the field.
The show began with two skydivers from the Red Bull Skydive Team landing perfectly on the launch ramp to the roar of the crowd.
The celebrity judges on hand were Jimmy Spithill of Oracle Team USA, Live 105 DJ Menace, Ben Flajnik of The Bachelor, musician Sheila Escovedo, and Olympian Alysia Montano.
Watching team after team perform goofy skits and fail horribly provided many laughs, some “oooh”s and “aaah”s, (and far too many guys in Speedos), but I really wanted to see someone fly. To me, none of the 32 contraptions flew, they merely fell – some more controlled than others.
Even the judges got a bit cranky after a while and expressed their disappointment that no one was flying. In the end, Team Movember landed in first place with a distance of 54 feet, a far cry from the record of 228 feet, set earlier this year in Germany.
This was a great event, and opening up AT&T Park for people to watch was pure genius. I had a blast and look forward to coming back the next time Red Bull Flugtag comes to San Francisco.
Photos not taken by me are from this article on sfbay.ca.
See more of my photos from Red Bull Flugtag San Francisco here.