Only at Red Bull’s Flugtag competition could a giant roll of Duct Tape being pushed off a pier be cheered on by thousands of adoring fans.
On September 15, “Duct! and Cover!,” a team of five Virginia Tech students, will be one of 40 teams participating in the Flugtag competition in Philadelphia. The team includes seniors Brian Lusher, Nick Pera, Robert Grimms and alumnus Matt Cook.
Flugtag is a competition put on by Red Bull in which teams of five, launch homemade gliders off a 30-foot pier in hopes that it will fly. Most creations immediately crash into the water below, but the focus is more on creativity than on aviation.
Lusher, the designer behind Duct and Cover, first attended a competition when he was 15 years old. Inspired by the huge crowd and unique individual crafts, Lusher knew one day he would compete.
“Every team went with a different approach,” Lusher said. “It wasn’t like an engineering competition where everything has to be specific. It’s kind of left up to your creativity, as well as trying to make something that actually flies.”
The design for the glider is inspired by the quintessential tool for a college student: duct tape.
What looks like an enormous roll of duct tape is actually composed of cardboard and wood. The surface however, is covered in metallic, silver cloth and paint.
But the duct tape does not end there. The team will be uniformed in duct tape-clad tank tops, shorts and even shoes. The costume should gain the team a few of the highly prized creativity points.
Additionally, Top Gun’s “Danger Zone” will play as the glider launches — a fitting accompaniment.
“(After hearing 'Danger Zone') everyone is going to think ‘This is going to be awesome; this is actually going to fly,' but really, it’s just going to plummet into the water,” Grimm said. “So there is a bit of irony.”
Behind the fun creative component however, the team must exert a tremendous amount of money, time and energy.
While entry is free, the boys will have had to accumulate over $800 for the creation of the glider and its ramp. Fortunately, fellow Hokies have chipped in.
Fighting Gravity, a black-light dance team, which appeared on “America’s Got Talent,” donated $500, enabling Duct and Cover to afford the necessary materials. All members of Fighting Gravity are both former and current Tech students, with a few members on the Duct and Cover team.
“It was definitely a huge help,” Lusher said. “I don’t think we could have done it otherwise.”
The project has also required a large time commitment. From time spent building and designing the glider, to a recent trip to Lynchburg where the team picked up 12 1/2-foot poles, the boys have made great sacrifices. But seeing the glider launch will make it all worthwhile.
“It’s been stressful, but at the same time really rewarding,” Grimm said. “Just starting off with a bunch of 2 X 4’s and a couple of screws, and now it’s starting to come together.”
Three of the team members are aerospace engineering majors, which gives them an edge. So far they have incorporated their knowledge of the effect of shape on lift, as well as their knowledge of wing ribs and air foils.
Due to time restrictions, they have not been able to make as many calculations as they would have liked, but are still excited to test what they have learned in the classroom.
“That’s the whole purpose of education: to become an educated person and to apply your new knowledge to real world problems,” said Eric G. Paterson, head of the aerospace and ocean engineering department. Paterson fully supports students in employing their studies into competitions.
“Virginia Tech students win competitions all the time,” Paterson said. “They’re doing great things.”
For the team, the competition not only presents an opportunity to showcase its skills, but also a time to bond.
“(We’re) just a bunch of guys hanging out, trying to be creative,” Pera said. “I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.”