Thank God It’s Flugtag

‘Fly Day’ splashes down at National Harbor, but it’s more about fun than flight

September 19, 2013

A team takes off at last year’s Flugtag, held in San Francisco. This year, 29 teams are expected to compete in National Harbor.

Blake Hall is a former Army ranger who spent 15 months in Iraq leading a battalion reconnaissance platoon of scouts and snipers; now he’s the CEO of his own company. He’s kind of a badass, really. So of course he wanted to help build a giant eagle that will be shoved off of a 30-foot ramp and into the Potomac River on Saturday.

The 30-year-old Dupont Circle resident is part of Team Rubicon, one of 29 teams competing in Flugtag, a Red Bull-sponsored event coming to the D.C. area for the first time. “Flugtag” means “Fly Day” in German, and it’s the name of the event because there probably isn’t a German word for “build-a-vehicle-and-present-it-to-thousands-of-screaming-fans-and-watch-it-drop-like-a-rock-into-a-body-of-water day.”

The rules are simple: Teams construct a human-powered contraption that, in theory, should fly. Points are given for distance of “flight,” creativity of craft and showmanship.

Team Rubicon’s eagle is about as ’Murican as it can get: “With it being in D.C., we thought, ‘How can we play on this patriotic theme?,’ ” Hall says. “Then we thought, ‘What if we dressed [pilot] Mike [Schlitz] up as George Washington and sat him on top of a giant eagle?’ That generated a positive response.”

Each member of Hall’s team served in the military; everyone but Schlitz is a member of the nonprofit Team Rubicon, which trains veterans to be first responders and sends them to areas damaged by natural disasters or humanitarian crises.

Schlitz is an Iraq vet who suffered burns to 80 percent of his body in an IED attack. “Despite those injuries, he’s maintained a sense of humor,” Hall says. “He’s just an inspiration. We thought this would be a great opportunity to highlight his courage and his character.”

So as not to damage his prosthetic hands by getting them wet, Schlitz plans to use cheaper, less-effective prosthetics at Flugtag. “It certainly presents a number of challenges,” Hall says. “He can’t grip anything or push himself off the craft with a significant amount of force to shove himself forward [to gain more distance or to escape, if necessary]. If we get him off and he lands safely and the bird looks awesome, we’ll take it.”

National Harbor, 165 Waterfront St., National Harbor, Md.; Sat., noon (first launch at 2 p.m.), $15; redbullflugtagusa.com.
Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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