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Purdue Flugtag team aims to fly high

Neil Armstrong and Amelia Earhart are two members of the Purdue community known for historic feats of flight.   A current group of Boilermakers is hoping to join them.

WBAA’s Sam Klemet explains.

The World’s Largest Drum is one of the most iconic and recognizable aspects of Purdue.  Its thunderous bass ignites crowds at football games and inspires at parades.

But, one thing it’s never done is take flight. That’s about to change, or so Zach Haley hopes.

"I'm relatively confident, I think.  It's got the potential to fly," he said.

Haley is one of about a dozen Purdue students putting together a replica of the World’s Largest Drum fully equipped with wings. It’s about 75-percent of the actual size.

This weekend, the team is going to Chicago with the goal of getting it to glide off a pier.

It’s part of the Red Bull Flugtag Competition.  What is Flugtag you ask?

"Hmmm.  Well, the Red Bull Flugtag is...I don't know.  It really is hard to describe," said team captain Chris Yamamoto.

But, essentially Flugtag, which is German for “Flying Day,” is a contest to see which team can get its homemade, human powered device to fly the farthest after falling from a 30 foot drop.  Each machine must be no more than 30-feet wide and weigh 450-pounds or less.

Four members push and another is the pilot.  And as Yamamoto describes, they do it in front of a few….THOUSAND people.

“You get up on the platform and you just look out and you see maybe about an easy 50,000-60,000 people," he said.  'Everyone is just hyped up on Red Bull really.”

Winning is based on flight distance, decorations, costumes, and entertainment.  Each team puts together a skit prior to take off.

Yamamoto will pilot the aircraft. And believes the Purdue team, appropriately named 'Droppin’ the Bass,” has a good chance of placing in the top three.

“The main goal is to have fun with a bunch of friends," he said.  "But, the goal to make it fly and make it a winning distance, with winning customs, skit, just overall aura of our team is what we are gunning for.”

Yamamoto, Haley, and Ben Kuttesch have been waking up early and working hard into the night for the past several weeks to design and construct the flying drum.

All three are members of Purdue’s All-American Marching Band and the co-ed Tau Beta Sigma Honorary Band service Sorority.

Kuttesch says using the replica drum is the best way to pay homage to these groups.

"What's something that stands for the Purdue bands?  Something that someone immediately recognizes (about) Purdue is the Big Bass Drum," he said.  "Anywhere you go in this country, if you see the Big Bass Drum, you know its Purdue.”

The Flugtag drum head is made up of tyveck and a two inch garden fence post. 

There is aluminum tubing for the tail and foam insulation board for the wing spars. 

Yamamoto will guide the machine using a lever to move the tail up and down.

But, getting it to take flight is based primarily on the speed created by the pushers like Haley.

“Hopefully (we'll) get enough speed to get the lift we'll need," he said.  "We've got a pretty decent wingspang on the craft planned and the tail should stabilize it.  So in theory, if we get enough speed, it should at least glide if into the water.”

…Which is about what most teams expect. The Flugtag world record is 228-feet, but most devices usually nose dive into the water immediately after being pushed off the platform. 

But, Yamamoto thinks his team’s research and design gives them a good chance of avoiding that fate.

"We're really trying to make sure all the weight is balanced out in every single section. So the tail can push down at a certain amount.  We are getting a certain amount of lift that should compensate for me and the craft," he said.

This is the second time a team from Purdue has competed in a Flugtag contest. Two years ago, they brought a device to an event in Miami.

Even though they didn’t place, Yamamoto says they left an impression.

“Our little bragging rights is we were three feet short of a team from NASA that ended up placing third,” he said.  "We thought that was a pretty good accolade for us."

This Purdue team is hoping to do even better Saturday in Chicago.

The members have a goal of finishing in the top three or getting the people’s choice award.

But, Haley says the contest is mostly about the experience and the bonds created throughout the process. 

"I think it that would be really rewarding to put this together and have it fly the way we hope it will. After you put so much time into something, you hope it succeeds," he said.  "It's good to get a little closer to your friends.  I've known these guys since I came here (to Purdue).  It's been good getting to know these guys better.”

The Droppin’ The Bass Flugtag team is one of 28-participating Saturday in Chicago.  The Purdue community can get a sneak peak at the device Thursday at the Neon Cactus before the team leaves for the competition, Friday.