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Tuesday, October 3, 2023


Leap of faith

In the late 1400s Leonardo da Vinci toyed with the invention of flying machines, and by 1903 the Wright Brothers built the first successful airplane.

Houston-based teams Chupacabra Iditarod Sled and Texas Roach Wranglers will put a new spin on flying aircrafts and "human-powered flying" as they participate in Red Bull Flugtag on Saturday in Austin at Auditorium Shores on Town Lake.

Red Bull Flugtag, German for "flying day," is a human-powered-flight competition in which teams of up to five people work to construct a "homemade, human-powered" aircraft. Only one person gets to be the lucky individual to pilot the aircraft off a 25-foot ramp, and those competing in Austin… well, they will either go over Austin’s Town Lake or into it.

"To me, Flugtag is a wonderful blend of resourceful engineering and raw creativity unleashed," David Sutherland, captain of the Texas Roach Wranglers, said.

In order to claim victory, teams must impress the judges and the crowd in three criteria: distance, creativity and showmanship. Those who take first place will learn how to keep an aircraft from plunging in the water, as they will win a pilot’s training course. Second place will be able to experience real flying and diving as they take home skydiving lessons. As for third place, they will get to have the chance to glide over water, as they will receive paragliding lessons. Red Bull Flugtag also presents a People’s Choice Award.

The first of the unusual flying competitions started in Vienna, Austria in 1991. Since then, there have been more than 35 Flugtag competitions held around the world.

Texas Roach Wranglers and Chupacabra Iditarod Sled both hope to bring home the title of Red Bull Flugtag Champions. The teams will also try to break the U.S. record of 155 feet flying distance held by team Rockey Top Rocket who flew in the Nashville Flugtag in 2007. The farthest flight to date took place in Europe with a flight distance of 195 feet.

Most of all the two teams are just pumped to join all the other Flugtag enthusiasts who think that attempting to fly off a 25-foot ramp is fun.

For his second time competing in the Red Bull Flugtag Texas, captain Sutherland is joined by teammates Rabbit Boyett, Hopie Lopez-Boyett, Alan Hutton and Roddie Shuster under the team name Texas Roach Wranglers. Sutherland’s previous team name was called El Toro Rojo, or "the red bull," in 2003.

"I wanted (the aircraft) to have a Texas theme, so I was thinking of a bronco buster… but I wanted something more out of context," Sutherland said.

Sutherland, a participant of the Houston Art Car Parade known for his human-sized gerbil wheel, wanted this competition’s animal to be more intimidating.

"When I came up with a roach, I wanted the meanest animal from Texas, and if there is one native of Texas which is known for its flight, it is our giant, winged cockroaches," Sutherland said. "I reckon I can rustle-up a big ‘ol roach and ride it to victory – bronco-style."

Hutton, a true roach wrangler, catches bugs live for the use of TV and film productions. The Boyetts are said by Sutherland to have very rich creative minds, and as for Shuster, the crew values her patience because she allowed the 12-foot roach to be constructed in her living room.

While the Wranglers will be bucking roaches, the Chupacabra Iditarod Sled will be out for blood. The team’s unique strategy is to use an urban legend to grasp the attention of the crowd. The chupacabra is a mythological species that supposedly sucks the blood of goats.

"The chupacabra thing is just plain awesome," Shaw said.

The team of Texas A’M alumni hopes the aircraft will work as-is.

"The Chupacabra Iditarod Sled will be pulled to the edge of the Flugtag ramp by four goats," Shaw said. "At which point the goats scatter, and the chupacabra either flies majestically away or plummets like a concrete penguin."

Team Chupacabra is ready for their debut, and while their aircraft may not shoot for the sky, the team is shooting for the People’s Choice Award. Shaw is confident about their human aircraft but realistically doesn’t think it will go far.

No matter what, this team says they’re ready to take on the Flugtag ramp with their urban legend and sports legend, an "Iditarod sled."

"I have always wanted to do this, to hangout with a bunch of people who share our craziness… our team is just really into the ridiculousness," Shaw said.

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