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Engineering Students to Compete in Red Bull Flugtag Event with Their 'Flying' Desk Entry

If you're going to make something "fly" off a ledge, 30 feet into water below, in front of a few hundred thousand people, why not a desk?

Leave it to Old Dominion University engineering students.

A group of five students from the Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology has been selected as one of 30 finalists in the Red Bull Flugtag, a silly contest where devices "fly" into water and are judged on flying distance and aesthetic appeal.

The ODU team, which calls itself "Office Party," is making a flying desk. Even better, the students plan to re-enact the photocopier demolition scene from the 1999 cult comedy "Office Space" before they pitch their desk off the ledge.

"They have hundreds of entries every year, and choose only a few dozen finalists," said Ross Leventhal, a rising junior in mechanical engineering from Virginia Beach and aerodynamics expert of ODU's Red Bull Flugtag team.

"We thought, 'What can we build that'll be interesting and out of the box?' The organizers contacted us and said they love the idea. They told us it should be very popular with the fans."

That's a good thing, because a third of the mark for the Flugtag flying machines comes from audience reaction. That's prompted entries such as the Jamaican Bobsled Team, the Flying Luchadors and the Flying Mullets.

Other Office Party team members are Matt Drake, a rising sophomore in civil engineering from Virginia Beach; Matthew Liberman, a soon-to-be junior in mechanical engineering technology from Charlottesville, Va.; Greg Howell, a rising senior in civil engineering from Chantilly, Va.; and Chris McCutcheon, a former mechanical engineering student who recently transferred to accounting and information technology, from Virginia Beach.

The last Flugtag in Miami attracted more than 250,000 spectators. The competition this year is set for July 10 at Bayfront Park in Miami.

According to its Web site, the Red Bull Flugtag "challenges teams of everyday people to build homemade, human-powered flying machines and pilot them off a 30-foot high deck in hopes of achieving flight! Flugtag may mean 'flying day' in German, but all these crafts ultimately splash into the waters below. They are judged not only on their flight's distance, but creativity and showmanship as well."

Leventhal said the ODU team has tried to incorporate that spirit into its entry. The teammates plan to bolt empty shells of a lamp and computer onto the flying desk, which will use a pair of office cubicle dividers as wings.

Drake will actually pilot the desk off the ledge, with the other teammates jumping in the water afterwards. The first prize is free aerobatics lessons with the Red Bull stunt pilots, the second prize is free skydiving lessons, and the third is free paragliding lessons.

Leventhal said there's also a secret prize for crowd favorite, a prize the team really hopes to win.

The trip will be expensive, but worth it for the experience, Leventhal said. He added that the team members are excited to demonstrate their enthusiasm for ODU, using their desk as a sort of flying billboard for the school.

"We never thought we were going to get selected. But the mere fact that we we're all college students means that we're going to go give it the old college try," Leventhal said.

"And if someone sees us, and thinks, 'Wow, Old Dominion. That seems like a really cool school,' that would be so great."

This article was posted on: June 18, 2010

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