Suburban teams prepared for today's "Flugtag"
Among the 28 teams competing today in the Red Bull Flugtag at North Avenue Beach, it will be easy to make out Jimmy O'Brien of Palatine. Most likely, he'll be the only one who will attempt to fly a huge mustache.
As you may have guessed, the Flugtag is not a normal flying contest. These pilots don't have a license. What they have is guts: Each of them will pilot his self-made flying machine off a 30-foot high platform built into Lake Michigan — hoping the aircraft will carry as far as possible before crashing into the water.
"We would like to win, but it's mainly about the fun," said O'Brien, captain of the "Shuffling Staches."
And it is about celebrating weeks of hard work with family, friends, and the hundreds of thousands that watch the event live or on TV.
Nonetheless, O'Brien and his team have prepared carefully for this day, O'Brien even losing 10 pounds. One of the hardest parts was deciding how their aircraft should look.
"We started off with some pretty bad ideas," said O'Brien. And then their thoughts turned to Chicago, the upcoming football season and the Chicago Bears, a team that O'Brien has been "obsessed with" all his life.
That is why he is going to pilot a 15-foot mustache — made of cardboard, plastic, PVC, rope, nails and even bamboo — a tribute to football legend Mike Ditka.
The Flugtag — "flying day" in German — is a worldwide event last held in Chicago in 2003 and 2008. Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz organized the first Flugtag in Vienna in 1991. Since then it has been held more than 100 times worldwide.
A jury will decide a winner based on the distance each craft flies before crashing into the water, plus the teams' showmanship, and their creativity.
Aircraft have to be human-powered and are restricted in size. Otherwise, the design is completely up to the teams.
Jim Gollwitzer of Roselle didn't have to go far for inspiration: A drawing of a caged gorilla made by his 7-year-old daughter was all his team, the "Zoo Keepers," needed.
Their aircraft is going to look like a gorilla cage with wings. Mostly, the aircraft is wood and PVC, but they picked up some golf course turf to make the inside of the cage look like real grass.
"A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this," said Gollwitzer. "We worked nonstop."
The "Shuffling Staches" is not the only team with a sports idea: Andy Ottenweller of the "Harry Caray Express" team is going to "fly" a huge baseball bat with an attached home plate. And in honor of Harry Caray, a bubblehead figure of the longtime baseball broadcaster will sit on top of it.
"I always wanted to get in (the Flugtag)," said Ottenweller. The team, consisting of his wife and three co-workers, is based in Batavia.
Ottenweller is confident the Express will fly.
"Our best aspect is the creativity and design part," he said, adding the Chicago motif might inspire the judges.
Getting into the Flugtag is strenuous, as well. Every team has to describe themselves, their idea and their design and include detailed drawings. Jimmy O'Brien said Red Bull representatives invited them to a party, where they had to show up in their costumes and bring more drawings.
For Naresh Nair of Palatine, it will be his third Chicago Flugtag. He did a "Smurfs" design in 2008; now he captains the "Chicago Muppets."
Meaning, that on Saturday morning he will fly a plane that resembles the multicolored "Electric Mayhem Bus" from "The Muppet Movie."
"We have spent lots of hours on it, easily 100," designing and redesigning the bus, assembling, reassembling and painting it, said Nair.
And to give the audience the whole "Muppet" experience, Nair will don a blonde wig and a pink feather boa and will go flying as Miss Piggy.
Nair said his team has a good chance to win. Not only because of creativity, but because their bus will actually fly over a hundred feet.
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