Redbull Flugtag Dragon Takes Flight

Long Beach Red Bull Flugtag

Saturday’s National Red Bull Flugtag human-powered flying competition in Long Beach saw the brave efforts of local Hermosa Beach team ‘Game of Throwns,’ as they pushed local pilot Kirsti Davis off a three-story pier in an effort to clinch a national title and Redbull prestige. The team’s Styrofoam dragon flew 44 feet, just short of the day’s 254 feet record. However, Davis was able to stay atop the dragon until impact, 28 feet below the pier – a feat many of the 27 flying machines were unable to achieve. Photo by Chelsea Sektnan

Five “Game of Thrones” fans walked into a bar on Cinco de Mayo and walked out with an unexpected idea drawn on a napkin. They would design a dragon-shaped aircraft to fly at the 2013 Red Bull Flugtag. Kristi Davis, a Hermosa Beach resident and pilot for Sky West Airlines, would pilot the homemade craft.

An ad for Flugtag on the barroom TV spawned the idea.

“We were sitting around having a good time and we started talking and it came to us that we could do that too,” said Davis. “Anybody can submit an application, and if they think that you can pull off what you say you’re going to do and they like your idea, then they select you. It took them awhile to decide about us.”

The friends had been to the event in Long Beach in 2010 and understood what was involved in the sky-high competition.

“We were watching the crafts go off, and while a few of them actually flew, so many of them went off and fluttered down without really going forward, and a lot of them just fell apart as soon as they hit the air,” said Ryan O’Shea, a team member and bio medical engineer. “We looked at the crafts and thought we could do better than that.”

The group, the “Game of Throwns”, spent countless hours designing and implementing the project in preparation for liftoff at this year’s Red Bull Flugtag in Long Beach on Saturday. They’ll be competing against 32 teams from around the West Coast in an attempt to test their craft by pushing it off the 28-foot high 3-story tall Long Beach pier, or flight deck, with the hopes of gliding safely onto, not into, the water.

“This wacky team will dress up, perform a skit and push their craft, inspired by the dragon in the hit TV show Game of Thrones, off the flight deck in an attempt to fly as far as possible,” a press release for the event said.

Their group happened to have the perfect mix of people to pull off such a feat. Davis hopes that their expertise will keep their “Dragoncraftglider,” the name O’Shea came up for the craft, from just plunging into the ocean without any lift. Davis and her husband Justin, a business consultant, along with O’Shea, graphic designer Evan Squire and aerospace engineer Mike Perrin began working on the plans immediately after getting approved to compete.

“I’m going to sit in the aircraft and the boys are going to push it for 100 feet or so and launch me into the water,” said Davis. “You have to be a little crazy for this; it’s one of the things that qualifies you.”

Squire started making mock-ups of the flying dragon’s design while O’Shea secured a space in his office to build the flying apparatus.

“It’s interesting because I work with a lot of physicists and mechanical engineers and people who have a good understanding of engineering,” said O’Shea. “Most of the aerospace people look at it and don’t really know what we want to accomplish with it – which isn’t to fly really far, but get off the flight deck and catch a little bit of lift so we can glide into the water.”

He added that many of his coworkers have asked him how he expects the dragon is going to fly on Saturday, and that he feels confident in the structural stability of the craft, and hopeful that the specially designed tail will help direct where the craft lands.

“It’s pretty detailed,” Davis said. “The head is made of Styrofoam, and it was carved by hand. It’s pretty amazing. I just saw a block of Styrofoam and Evan somehow saw a dragon head and made it happen.”

The engineers researched previous year’s aircrafts and looked at what worked for the ones that were able to glide safely to the water.

“The thing I noticed that we needed to work on was having a controllable tail,” said O’Shea. “We’re not going to get enough speed – even if we were Olympic sprinters – to get enough lift for what will end up being a 300-lb craft. What you can do is hope for the first few feet of falling that gravity will get enough speed so we don’t nose dive into the water. Whether there’s enough time to build up enough speed is yet to be seen.”

However, O’Shea is confident in Davis’ piloting abilities, and is hopeful that she will be able to stay mounted on top of the 24-foot wingspan of the dragon, like the character of Daenerys Targaryen, known in the show as the “Mother of Dragons.

“I’ve also tried to ensure that she feels comfortable bailing out of the craft if things get hairy,” O’Shea said. “You never can tell until it’s actually out there, but we’re going forward as if it’s going to fly.”

The competition begins at 10 a.m. in Long Beach’s Rainbow Harbor. The local team asks that their supporters wear green.

“It started as a design on a napkin, and I look at our aircraft now and it’s crazy to see how far we’ve come,” said Davis.


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