ANNAPOLIS — Before five U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen spend the rest of their careers on water, they’ll be trying to avoid it at all costs.
Five first class mids built a human-powered flying machine for the Red Bull Flugtag in Philadelphia. The Sept. 15 event features 34 teams competing in front of 70,000 people at Flugtag, which is German for “Flying Day.”
The mids’ environmentally-friendly machine, built to resemble a Naval submarine with a missile on top, will be pushed off a 30-foot pier. The missile will detach and glide through the air, coming to a safe landing 250 feet away.
At least that’s the hope, said Midshipman 1st Class Kevin Martin, 21, of Winslow, Maine.
He’ll be sitting in the missile at takeoff.
Martin saw videos of Flugtag on YouTube, most of which show a machine nose-diving off the pier into the water, and applied to be in the Philadelphia competition by sending in a rough sketch of what his flying machine would look like.
Weeks later, when he found out he was accepted, he rounded up four of his good friends in the academy’s 13th company: EJ. Halton, 22, of Hockessin, Del.; Sean LaVelle, 21, of Newton, Pa.; Mike Blochberger, 21, of Alexandria, Va.; and Nick Patitsas, 22, of Brookline, Mass.
The five have been spending weekends at a sponsor’s house in Annapolis building the machine out of wood, shrink wrap — and pool noodles, what they refer to as “linear flotation devices.”
Pool noodles aside, the mids hope to represent the academy well. A past attempt by midshipmen in 2010 at a Miami competition, where they attempted to fly a machine designed to look like an F-14 Tomcat, didn’t end so well. The USNAs Soarin Submariners, as they’ll be called in the program, hope to show their forthcoming Bachelor of Science degrees mean they know a little bit about flight.
“We need to represent the academy in a way that shows we know how to do these things,” Martin said.
The Red Bull Flugtag originated in Vienna, Austria, in 1991 and today is held in various cities every year. The record for the farthest flight of a craft, 229 feet, was recently set in June in Mainz, Germany.
The crafts have to be less than 30-feet wide and, including the driver’s weight, weigh no more than 450 pounds.
The Philadelphia event will be free to the public with gates opening at 11 a.m. The first launch is at 1 p.m. In the past, more than 300,000 people have attended a single event.