SKY PILOTS Hogan, Rocha, and Gilligan.
They're typical teenagers. They like sports, surfing, the Dave Matthews Band, girls and any food put in front of them, except tomatoes. Oh, they're fearless too, not shy about flying off a pier in a homemade winged chariot and plunging into the churning waters below.
It's probably one of the goofiest things Dave Rocha and his buddies will ever do, but it could give them their 15 minutes of fame and, besides, it was a really good senior project at their alma mater, Moses Brown.
On September 4, before a crowd of thousands at the Camden Waterfront in Philadelphia, the teens' contraption, Chariot of Fire, will compete in the Red Bull Flugtag, an event so bizarre it makes the X Games look tame.
Daredevils from all over the country will attempt to fly homemade human-powered flying machines off a 30-foot high pier without chickening out at the last second or crying out for mercy on the way down. Dave, who volunteered to "drive'' the chariot as it goes over, is up for the challenge.
"It's kind of like our last hurrah before college,'' said Dave, who is heading off to St. Mary's College of Maryland to study economics. "Kind of caps off our senior year.''
Red Bull, one of the most popular energy drinks in the world, has a reputation for hawking its beverage in off-beat ways. The first Red Bull Flugtag, which means "flying day'' in German, took place in 1991 in Vienna. Since then, more than 80 Flugtags have been held around the globe, sometimes drawing 300,000 spectators for a single event.
The goal is to fly, but most contestants (and contraptions) end up crashing into the water shortly after takeoff, to the delight of onlookers. Besides distance, teams are also judged on showmanship and creativity, which could explain the flying taco, dinosaur, banjo and Winnebago at past events.
Dave and his teammates, Geoff Hogan, Brendan Sullivan, and Eric Gilligan, are getting pumped up for flight day. They still have to refine their chariot, but, for the most part, they're ready to face off against the 33 other teams, including Amish Aviation and Broke College Students.
The Chariots, all of whom graduated from Moses Brown in June, got hooked on the Flugtag contest after seeing a Red Bull Soapbox Race on College Hill in Providence a few years ago. The crazy-looking cars from as far away as St. Louis were impressive, and soon the guys graduated to watching Flugtag competitions on ESPN.
When the time came to propose a senior project, they knew exactly what they wanted to do: build a flying machine for the Philly Flugtag. They drew up a design and started scrounging around for parts.
A fabric company in Portsmouth gave them a Dacron fiber sail for free, and the teens bought PVC pipes at Home Depot for the sail's frame. They found an old bike in a storage closet at Moses Brown and removed the wheels for the chariot, made of peg board.
"This whole thing cost $50 to $100 — max,'' said Dave.
Elisio Castro, a maintenance worker at Moses Brown who is a deft carpenter, made sure the floor of the chariot was bolted securely so Dave doesn't fall out as he taxis down the deck.