Red Bull flugtag gave students wings

Students from the College of Engineering, covered in colored body paint, wings and beaks, pushed an Angry Birds-themed aircraft off a 30-foot pier at Bayfront Park during the third annual Red Bull Flugtag event.

The crowd in Downtown Miami roared as team pilot Thien Tran, who sat on the creatively designed flight machine, flew the craft 36 feet before it took a dive into the water.

Flugtag – German for “flying day” – is an event in which contestants build their own aircrafts or gliders, perform a skit based on their themes and then push their structures off a pier to see if they fly.

November’s competition was the third time that UM’s American Society of Mechanical Engineers team has participated in Red Bull Flugtag. Though the winning team successfully flew more than 100 feet farther than UM’s team, the engine Angry Birds machine won the People’s Choice Award at the event.

The UM students competed under the name “Hurricane Engineers’ Angry Birds” and based their contraption on the popular mobile video game.

“We wanted something that people would recognize, that they liked and is fun as well,” said Tran, who is majoring in mechanical engineering.

The team built a two-story aircraft with a wooden frame, and included a “bad piggie” face on the front along with other designs from the ubiquitous game. Every flight machine in the competition also had to have a seat for the pilot.

Before taking flight, the group simulated the video game, using a slingshot to fling birds toward the “bad piggie” – the aircraft.

Teams were judged based on flight distance, creativity and showmanship by a panel of local and national celebrities. The judges included Adam Kuperstein of NBC 6, Audrina Patridge of “The Hills” and professional surfer Evan Geiselman.

This year’s competitors displayed a wide range of themes. There was a “Wizard of Oz” spinoff with a bearded male Dorothy, and a presidential dance-off complete with characters representing both 2012 candidates and an aircraft modeled after Air Force One.

Although UM’s team predicted the Angry Birds aircraft would fly 60 to 90 feet, it traveled 36.

“There may have been a snag on one of the lines when it actually tipped over, so it pulled the tail down just a little bit and that threw it off balance,” said Tom Knight, team captain and mechanical engineering major.

The craft was running well on the pier but took a nosedive once it actually pushed off. None of that mattered, though, when approximately 6,500 spectators voted for the team via text.

“It was Twitter, Facebook, the backing of the school and, most importantly, the backing of the College of Engineering,” Knight said.

Mitch Phillips, crew member and aerospace engineering major, felt his team did a great job and was satisfied with the People’s Choice Award.

“This is the best award anyway,” he said.