Red Bull Gives Boston Wings in 2016 !
Photos by Jim West and the author
John Alcock and Arthur Brown, Louis Bleriot, Charles Lindbergh, Charles Samson, Charles Kingsford Smith, Harriet Quimby, Charles Manly, Amelia Earhart and Hubert Latham were all pioneering aviators with a common interest – that being sustained flight over water. Some were successful with record-breaking journeys, others fell short, but all tried to traverse bodies of water by air – not on or below the surface.
Decades after these aviation pioneers commenced their notable flights, the Charles River basin between Boston and Cambridge Massachusetts became another battleground of man (and woman) versus water. The 2016 Red Bull Boston Flugtag featured twenty-nine teams of five adventurers – four launch crew and one intrepid pilot, that created aircraft which would alight from a twenty-four foot long and twenty-eight foot high platform, and (hopefully) glide a good distance above the calm waters of the Charles to a controlled splashdown. Red Bull Flugtags (German for “Flying Day”) have been held for the last quarter of a century around the world, but this was a first for the City of Boston. One goal of the competition is to be the longest flight of the day, and maybe even break the existing distance record of two hundred fifty eight feet set in Long Beach, California by “The Chicken Whisperers” team in 2011.
From over two hundred entries, the sponsors chose less than three dozen teams, who had only months to design and produce a person- or wind-powered machine that would hopefully transport a team’s pilot to a glorious victory. “Fast is Good, Outrageous is Even Better” is the energy drink’s advice for building a winner. The two of the three benchmarks that each team would be judged against each other were the flight distance and the creativity of each team’s entry. A third quality, each team’s spirit, was demonstrated by a choreographed, minutes-long presentation at the top of the flying ramp for all spectators to see, before each flight attempt.
On a brilliant, warm August afternoon, it was, as Red Bull Sports stated, “Time to Write Aviation History Again”. Unfortunately, a new world’s distance record wouldn’t be written on that afternoon – not even close! But the anticipation of successfully gliding (some managed to pull off flights of dozens of feet, the winner flew almost seventy feet before splashing in) brought cheers from the spectators, some tens of thousands of them watching from the banks of the Charles. Even with failure (some craft fell apart as soon as they left the ramp), laughter and applause followed each attempt. After each flight (or splash), time was taken to pick up all the debris floating in the water; this was an important consideration for the builders who were tasked with, among other rules, to build craft that would be easy to pick up and dispose of, leaving no waste behind.
Some four hours after it began, the final entry dove into the river, and the afternoon’s scoring was tallied up. The winning team was made up of a quintet of aerial drone enthusiasts, named the “Flite-Riots”; not only did they win the competition, but also the overall People’s Choice Award for the spectators’ favorite team, above and beyond the flying competition. Of all those aviation pioneers mentioned at the beginning of this article, nobody would be more proud of all of the participants’ efforts than Hubert Latham. What is Mr. Latham famous for, you ask? Well, history points to Hubert as the first person to successfully ditch an aircraft, as his Antoinette IV monoplane splashed down in the English Channel due to engine failure, while attempting to be the first person in a powered aircraft to cross that body of water in 1909!