Steve Hammer will never forget the moment he learned he had made the cut.
“I was absolutely blown away. I was incredibly excited when we got chosen. It was unreal.”
Hammer is an art, engineering and design teacher at Louisville’s Mercy Academy, and his team “Mercy- No-Mercy” is one of a select group picked to participate in this summer’s Flugtag competitionat Waterfront Park. Hundreds of groups across the country applied for the chance to soar in this internationally known human-powered flying competition, but only 40 aircraft got the green light to take flight. For Hammer, being part of this event is the thrill of a lifetime.
“It’s amazing. It’s one of those bucket list things for me,” he explains. “To have it here in Louisville and on top of that being chosen to compete, it’s absolutely great.”
“Flugtag” is German for “Flying Day”, and since 1991 this Red Bull-sponsored competition has drawn millions of spectators to cities around the world. On August 27 teams will launch their one-of-a-kind human powered craft from a 22-foot-high ramp into the Ohio River. Teams will be judged based on flight distance, aircraft creativity and showmanship.
Hammer and his crew of Mercy Academy teachers, students and parents are working day and night on their unique flying machine. “We knew we had to come up with something crazy and off the wall so we decided on a whimsical looking unicorn,” Hammer reveals.
FLY LIKE A BUTTERFLY
The Bachelors’ Club of Louisville, a philanthropic and social club for young men based in Louisville, will also try and defy gravity with their aircraft. President Sean Howard says his team will honor one of the Ville’s greatest with their “Thrilla in Lou-villa” design.
“It is going to be a tribute to Muhammad Ali. We’ll have a butterfly, bee, boxers and a ring,” Howard says.
Twenty-eight of the 40 teams competing are from Kentucky. Lexington’s Doug Clarke went retro with his winning entry. His “Dukes of Hazzardous” team is constructing “General Lee Safe” based on the iconic 80’s television show.
“We had a lot of different names, but we definitely like to have some play on words. We live in the South so these two names just went together so well,” Clarke explains.
Clarke’s team spent months in the design phase and will spend the summer and thousands of dollars constructing their creation. But when it comes to Flugtag there’s no length these teams won’t go to make a showing.
“It’s just the competitive spirit of it all, and it’s that wacky, nerdy, geeky type of event we love being a part of,” Clarke says.
It was no small feat bringing Flugtag here to Louisville. The event is usually hosted by major international cities like Hong Kong, Chicago and Vancouver. But Red Bull representatives say Mayor Greg Fischer sent Red Bull a video. It was a “call to action” appealing for Flugtag to come to the River City. Red Bull was so impressed they chose Louisville to host the wild and wacky event. In the past, the competition has drawn more than 100,000 spectators. Red Bull is setting a goal of 80,000 fans who will bring big business to local hotels and restaurants.
Jessica Dillree with the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau says Flugtag is an economic boost that is projected to generate an impressive $589,000. In addition to being a moneymaker, city officials believe Flugtag is perfect for Louisville’s vibe.
“It’s such a great event. Its quirkiness and uniqueness is a great fit for Louisville,” Dillree says.
Competitors believe Flugtag will prove there’s more to Louisville than Derby, and that the Bluegrass State is as much about manpower as horsepower.
“It’s going to shed a lot of light on what Kentucky is all about,” Clarke says. “I hope it shows the beauty of the city that’s around us.”
“I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for the city. We’re just proud to be able to participate,” Howard adds.
These next weeks are busy ones for the teams. They have to take their design dreams and make them a reality.
“It’s quite an undertaking to build a flying machine. For us it’s all about the engineering and the designing,” Clarke says.
For fans those creations should be very entertaining. The outrageous crafts will include everything from a flying toilet paper roll to a supersized blowfish. But while the focus may be on the artistry of the floats, make no mistake, to the teams this is serious sport.
“If you even dream of beating us, you better wake up and apologize,” Howard says, invoking one of Muhammad Ali’s famous quotes.
“It’s fun to trash talk and be a part of that fun, competitive spirit,” Clarke agrees.
With that in mind, the “Dukes of Hazzardous” are making a bold prediction.
“We will be breaking the world record this year for sure. We’re going to try and get over to Indiana.” It’s a lofty goal to stay aloft that long, but for Clarke and other Flugtag competitors going the distance is all part of the dream.