At Red Bull Flugtag, UM Students Hope To Avoid YouTube Infamy With Flying Ibis

Search "flugtag" on YouTube and the result is a Jackass-worthy montage of gruesome 30-foot plunges into the sea, trapped inside absurd constructions as air-worthy as a Hindenburg-Spruce Goose mashup. It's not a pretty sight.

So it takes a certain hubris to throw your name into this weekend's Red Bull Flugtag, a naive belief that your ridiculous aircraft will sail a little farther than the rest before disintegrating comically into bits and tossing you into Biscayne Bay. 

These eight engineers from the University of Miami say they may have cracked the Flugtag riddle with their aircraft, a hang-gliding Ibis. With a little luck, they say, it might just take them into the history books instead of an eternity of epic Internet fails.

"When you look up online videos, you only see the catastrophic failures," says Randy Schwartz, one of the UM team members. "On paper at least, ours flies."

At the Flugtag, which kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday in Bayfront Park, more than 30 teams will try to fly off a ramp in home-made aircraft built to resemble pizzas, manatees, Mexican wrestling rings and rubber ducks.

They'll be judged on flying distance, showmanship and a fan vote, with the winners taking home a week hanging with Red Bull athletes and a skydiving trip.

Surprisingly, Red Bull has strict standards on what can pass for a Flugtag craft. Contestants have to pass rigid safety rules, and can't build with pre-fab materials or wood.

The UM squad is pinning its hopes on a boxy frame with an Ibis head connected to a 28-foot wingspan glider made from sheet metal, tubing and an old sail. 

If all goes according to plan, the boxy base will drop away when the craft hits the edge of the ramp, and the wing will glide off into the distance.

"The problem is, we're not professional hang gliders and there's really no way to test this thing out," Schwartz says. "We're hopeful we can get 50 or 75 feet on the wing."

Want to help out the Flying Ibis? The fan vote opened earlier this morning. Text the message "team16" to 72855 to cast one in their favor.

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