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Red Bull Flugtag: Five teams prepare for takeoff

Pigs, dutchmen and more will fly — or at least try to — during Saturday's Red Bull Flugtag competition in downtown Tampa.

About 36 teams, each consisting of four pushers and one pilot, will launch human-powered aircraft from a 30-foot-tall ramp at water's edge behind the Tampa Convention Center.

Each team performs a skit before launching their handmade contraption into the air, or sea, as it may be. A panel of five judges, including Tampa Bay Buccaneer defensive tackle Chris Hovan, will award teams based on distance traveled, creativity of the craft and showmanship on stage.

The winning team will receive a pilot's training course, the second-place team will get skydiving lessons and third place will learn to paraglide. All teams will receive a trophy.

Red Bull began Flugtag (German for "flying day") in 1991. Since then, the energy drink has sponsored more than 40 competitions worldwide showcasing everything from a flying Wonka Bar to a popemobile. The record for the farthest flight — 195 feet — was set in Austria in 2000. The U.S. record, set last year in Nashville, is 155 feet.

This marks the first Flugtag in Tampa Bay. Here are some of the participating teams.

91st Air Refueling Squadron

Pilot: Nickolas Harkness

Crew: Andy Reichard, Omar Ellis, Chris Shaw, Sean McCurdy

Flight plan: Andy Reichard and his Flugtag team aren't strangers to difficult and seemingly dangerous aviation endeavors. As members of the 91st Air Refueling Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, they make a living refueling planes mid-air. Reichard, a senior airman, saw the advertisement on ESPN and thought it would be fun to get a military squadron involved. His team has traveled around the world refueling planes at 18,000 to 35,000 feet. Less than a week after the Flugtag event, Reichard, 27, leaves for Iraq. The team designed their plane to look like a red gas tank with wings because "that's kind of what we are,'' Reichard said. "We're like a flying gas tank.'' Crew members, all of whom live in Tampa, will wear flight suits. The team selected Nickolas Harkness, the smallest — and, therefore, most aerodynamic — member to man the controls. "He's the guy who goes skydiving,'' Reichard said. "He doesn't mind being pushed off in a rickety aircraft.'' The squadron designed the launcher and glider more for looks than flying ability. Reichard assures their real life missions are more reliable than this one. "We don't fly to crash.''

Booty Snatchin' Pirates

Pilot: John Kelley

Crew: Greg Roth, Matt Bush, Jason Montminy, Ryan Stoeger

Flight plan: You'd think a group of brainy engineers would have the edge in a competition about aeronautics. Greg Roth, the team captain, would like to think so, but isn't taking bets. His team of civil engineers specializes in construction work sites, not flying machines. Still, they are eager to test Petey the Projectile Pirate Parrot on Flugtag Day. The team chose a pirate theme in honor of their adopted city. Transplants from Michigan and Ohio, the guys will toss beads and shake their booty before launching their wooden pirate ship and glider. Atwell-Hicks Development Consultants, the employer for most of the team, donated $500 toward construction. Of course, they'd like to break the world distance record. But they aren't counting on it. For them, competing is more about having fun than winning.

Tampa Bay Derby Darlins

Pilot: Brooke Haller

Flight crew: Lisa Ponssa, Kelli Ryman, Maria Smith, Ryan Smith

Flight plan: Brooke Haller isn't afraid to get bumped, bruised or even broken. As a member of the Tampa Bay's all-female roller derby team, she's used to it. The Tampa Bay Derby Darlins are testing their flying skills in a craft shaped like a roller skate. They'll leave their skates at home (swimming with them isn't recommended) but plan to "fight like girls'' during the skit. Maria Smith's husband, Ryan, will serve as referee and lone male teammate. "I'm not afraid of getting hurt,'' said Haller, 26, who goes by Spank Sinatra in the rink. "So what if I break something? I'm just worried about the crowd not liking us or doing a bad job on the skit.'' Win or lose, they hope to raise awareness of their roller derby team. "We're not engineers,'' she said. "It would be great to get the distance, but it's more just for fun and exposure than for winning.''

Team Tampa Baywatch

Pilot: Keith Humphrey

Flight crew: Chris Elmore, Kevin Humphrey, Kevin Riley, David West (that's them on our cover, Page 19)

Flight plan: Keith Humphrey isn't relying on luck and a good breeze to keep his craft in flight. In advance of Flying Day, he took four days of glider training, watched hours of video and even flew in an ultralight. His secret weapon? Mr. X, a glider expert in Central Florida who competed at a Flugtag event in Australia. "We're not in it to crash and burn,'' he said. "We're in it to win.'' When Humphrey heard Flugtag was coming to Tampa, he e-mailed 400 friends asking for ideas and teammates. The first four who responded, including his twin brother Kevin, were in. Most of them met as lifeguards at Adventure Island during college. Big fans of Baywatch, they decided to form Team Tampa Baywatch. Humphrey volunteered to pilot because most of the other guys are married and have more to lose, he joked. The 38-year-old from South Tampa is a sales manager at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. He'll take off in a rescue boat launcher with a glider on top. His teammates, some of whom are members of the Rough Riders krewe, will come on stage to the Baywatch song, acting as "The Hoff'' and Pamela Anderson.

UT Spartans — Flying Minarets

Pilot: Kyle Wright

Flight crew: Noelle Etienne, Josh Neveu, Ryan Shaffer, Cory Stahl

Flight plan: University of Tampa senior Kyle Wright figures he has walked by the minarets thousands of times during his college career. So it was only appropriate that he and his teammates dedicate their Flugtag machine to Tampa's iconic rooftop emblems. Wright and his team of current and former UT students will dress up as Spartans, the school mascot, and do their skit based on the movie 300. Think college kids in togas. Wright, 22, has high hopes for the event, but not their contraption, which was funded by UT's student government. The team has no engineers, which shouldn't be a surprise given that UT doesn't have an engineering school. "We've almost given up on making it fly,'' he said. "We just want to make a great minaret.'' And despite having the same last name as the famous flying brothers, Wright says he has none of their airborne ingenuity. He's an international business and political science major.

Red Bull Flugtag 2008

Tampa's Red Bull Flugtag is Saturday along the Tampa Convention Center waterfront. Gates open at 11 a.m. First flight is at 1 p.m. The last one is at 3:30 p.m., followed by an awards show and jump by the Red Bull Air Force skydiving team. Admission is free. Viewing is from the Convention Center, Jackson's Bistro and along Bayshore Boulevard and the Platt Street and Harbour Island Boulevard bridges. Parking is available in downtown lots, or ride the streetcar in from Ybor City. The event will air live on Catch 47 from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. For more, visit

Other teams in the lineup

Flying Dutchman, The Breadwinners, Red Baron, Los Locos, The Wrong Brothers, Thunder Bees, The Boston Paps, Flintstones Take Flight, Party Fowl, Hargh! Baking Company, The Ground Pounders, Junk Mail, Bovine Bullistics Laboratory, Super Awesome Mario Kart Forever, Ray, Jamon Y Queso, Air Gilligan, Flip Flop Mafia, Big Rubber Duckie, By the Beard of Zeus, Flight Jrunkies, Coyote Ugly Saloon, The Mooneyham "Ruler of the Skies'', Team LoMac, The Little Engine That Could, Music City Mogul, Team Fantastic, Boots Wit Da Fur, Metrocon Tech Crew, Five Fine Flying Fishermen, The Flying Pigs.

Red Bull Flugtag: Five teams prepare for takeoff 07/17/08 [Last modified: Sunday, July 20, 2008 11:02pm]
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