Pittsburgh's First Flugtag: Thrills, Spills and Hilarious Chaos

37 teams aimed their flying machines for the skies and all of them got wet, some sooner than others.




photos by renee rabenold

 

Few things are more inherently amusing than watching failure in action. The spectacular, sudden, complete collapse of a well-laid plan — particularly when gravity is involved — is usually hilarious.

Red Bull Flugtag is that, as a sport.


 

The flying-craft competition has taken place all over the world, in many cities drawing gargantuan crowds to riverfronts and beaches. The basic premise: A team builds a human-powered contraption intended to keep a pilot airborne for a few seconds. The team pushes that contraption off of a pier. In most cases, things do not go precisely as planned; in all cases, the pilot is given a quick introduction to the water below, the carefully constructed craft crumpling in their wake.
 



 

Saturday, the first-ever Pittsburgh edition of Flugtag took place in the waters of the Allegheny. A 37-team competition was eventually won by the Flight at the Roxbury team; their craft and costumes were a tribute to the Will Ferrell comedy, dances of which were recreated in the team’s pre-flight skit (each squad is required to dance, flail or otherwise debase themselves during a 30-second routine leading into their flight).
 


 

Flight at the Roxbury did not take the farthest distance; that honor belonged to the Survivor Tractor team of New Holland, Pa., former Flugtag champions, who soared 121 feet (just under half the distance of the world record). The final score, which was not revealed, is based on a mix of distance travelled and judges’ rankings — a sextet of evaluators, two of whom were members of the “Red Bull Air Force” and parachuted into their positions after leaping from a plane high above the Point, ranked every team on presentation and concept — edging the Roxbury team, of McLean, Va., over the more lofty Tractor squad.

The third-place squad was a contingent of PNC Park’s Left-Field Loonies, whose Pirates-themed craft managed a few dozen feet of forward momentum. They were one of several Pittsburgh-themed vehicles; the aptly named Monongahela Decline squad hurtled a mock Incline car off the precipice to the sound of Steelers anthem “Here We Go,” while a Kennywood-themed contingent dubbed the Phantom Flyers presented a pilot dueling with cape-clad phantoms (“That young lady took on the forces of evil,” the Flugtag announcer cried,) before sinking an oversized Potato Patch order into the river as styrofoam fries feebly floated away.
 


 

A team of ScareHouse staffers, all in full zombie regalia, arrived bearing a wooden wing that looked as if it had been plucked from the walls of the Etna haunt. Dripping in blood and cobwebs, the craft looked more like an anchor than a sail. “Whatever it does, it’s gonna do it big,” said ScareHouse owner Scott Simmons. He was correct: the undead aircraft aggressively dove forward before smacking the water with a mighty thud.
 


 

Meanwhile, a team of engineers from Pitt saw extensive research washed away, their intricately designed craft having stuck quickly into the humble waves of the Ohio like a misshapen lawn dart. Theo Schwarz headed the Roc-Ettes, so named for the Pitt mascot (but yes — they did incorporate a kickline into their routine). Speaking to Pittsburgh Magazine before the competition, Schwarz was hopeful: “A lot of teams went for flashy, stylish design. Ours is purely meant to go far. We put a lot of effort into the engineering side and the design side before we started manufacturing.

“There’s definitely a good chance — it might be 50/50 — that we get a nice glide.”
 


 

Sadly, it was not to be; the Roc-Ettes craft pitched to one side immediately upon leaving the flight deck, unable to do much more than arrest its fall as it plummeted to the water with a disappointing splat.
 


 

The crowd, coating a chunk of the North Shore lawn with more spectators gazing on from the Point, was enthusiastic early in the proceedings. A bit of calamity broke the levity midway through the competition, however, when a pilot appeared to be knocked unconscious in a failed attempt. The Back to the Future team, from charity Have Fun Do Good, created a giant replica of that film’s hoverboard design; its pilot stood atop the craft as it was rolled off the pier. He attempted to jump clear of the board in midair, but failed to do so, landing face-first on the plank milliseconds after it hit the water; as EMTs circled in small boats, he remained motionless for more than a minute before being gingerly extracted from the water.

Red Bull did not acknowledge the injury or address the pilot’s condition; WTAE-TV later reported that two competitors were taken to the hospital but both were expected to make a full recovery. Nevertheless, the sight of the motionless pilot slumped over the wreckage of his craft made it difficult to laugh at the remaining teams as they hurtled towards the river; the potential for injury had been made too real.
 


 

Did it ruin the event? No; the infectious enthusiasm of each team as they prepared for a moment of chaos was too infectious, and the crowd did stick around for all 37 teams. But there’s an relevant adage you may have heard of — you know, the one about fun and games. Sadly for the first Pittsburgh Flugtag, someone got hurt.
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

More From The 412

The Best Places to Watch the Pittsburgh Marathon

The Best Places to Watch the Pittsburgh Marathon

Thousands will turn out on Sunday for the urban race. Where will you park your chair?
Pittsburgh Pride Expands Events, Adds First-Ever Zip Line

Pittsburgh Pride Expands Events, Adds First-Ever Zip Line

The summer celebration of the region’s gay, bisexual and transgender community, already the fourth largest special event in Pittsburgh, will be even bigger in 2017.
5 Pittsburgh Bands You Need to Know

5 Pittsburgh Bands You Need to Know

Fancy yourself a music snob? Brush up with our list of local musicians who might be flying under the radar.
Sofia Vergara No Fan of Her Hubby’s Latest Outfit Suggestion

Sofia Vergara No Fan of Her Hubby’s Latest Outfit Suggestion

Thanks to her husband, Mt. Lebanon-native Joe Manganiello, Sofia Vergara has become a reluctant Steelers fan. But she drew the line at his latest wardrobe suggestion.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

True Grit: Homestead Mayor Betty Esper Just Won't Back Down

True Grit: Homestead Mayor Betty Esper Just Won't Back Down

Homestead’s first and only woman mayor has worked tirelessly for her hometown during her 35-plus years in public office. As she faces reelection unopposed next month, the 84-year-old contemplates her role as the symbol of a gritty town fighting its way back.
Photo Essay: Silence on the Cell Block

Photo Essay: Silence on the Cell Block

A look inside the now-empty penitentiary on the banks of the Ohio.
Made in Pittsburgh: 5 Great Ideas

Made in Pittsburgh: 5 Great Ideas

Modern-day creation in Pittsburgh doesn’t just involve physical products; we also have a knack for hatching new ideas that can solve problems in innovative, unexpected ways. These locally based thinkers are applying big thoughts to bigger problems.
Restaurant Review: Scratch Food + Beverage is King of the Hill

Restaurant Review: Scratch Food + Beverage is King of the Hill

The Troy Hill neighborhood spot matures into a casual destination restaurant.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Watch: Scarehouse Visit is One These Steelers Won't Forget

Watch: Scarehouse Visit is One These Steelers Won't Forget

Bud Dupree, L.T. Walton, Cam Heyward and Ryan Shazier were among those on the Halloween adventure to the renowned haunted house in Etna.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
TasteBuds Is Returning To Pittsburgh

TasteBuds Is Returning To Pittsburgh

The event pairs the city's top chefs with young adults living with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 5 Best Underrated Fountains in Pittsburgh

The 5 Best Underrated Fountains in Pittsburgh

While we all know and love the grandeur of the fountain at Point State Park, there are many hidden fountain gems throughout the city. These are a few of our lesser-known favorites.

Comments


Madness and Mayhem in the ScareHouse Basement

Madness and Mayhem in the ScareHouse Basement

Visiting the world-famous haunted attraction's adults-only, subterranean experience.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Steelers' Latest Soap Opera is Timely If Not Manufactured

Steelers' Latest Soap Opera is Timely If Not Manufactured

All of a sudden the Steelers have that us-against-the-world mentality many a team has sought to manufacture in tough times such as these.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
#Gottahaveit: Take It To the Hoop

#Gottahaveit: Take It To the Hoop

Robert Hallett, Goldsmith, handcrafts the jewelry in his Oakmont shop.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Celebrate the Life and Work of George Romero This Week

Celebrate the Life and Work of George Romero This Week

A preview of the week-long tribute to the late filmmaker, plus reviews and more movie news.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
The Pick of the Patch: Pumpkin-Themed Proposals

The Pick of the Patch: Pumpkin-Themed Proposals

In honor of fall, we’re showcasing three couples whose proposals involved one of the best things about the season: pumpkins.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Party Time: Outside Inspirations Ready For Holiday Kickoff

Party Time: Outside Inspirations Ready For Holiday Kickoff

The store in Pine Township will close for a week to prepare for the holiday shopping season.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

School trustees voted this week to increase tuition for in-state and out-of-state students.

Comments

Edit Module