Honorary Team Members!
Gary Allen Smith
Team Ground Control was the winner of the 2017 Nashville RedBull Flugtag!
By Debra McGhan
When Allen McGhan learned from his friend, Ryan Fisher, that the Red Bull Flugtag would be coming to Nashville, they jumped at the opportunity to submit an entry. With a background in Aerospace Engineering, Allen felt confident they could come up with a winning handmade, human powered glider and felt ready to prove it.
With hundreds of entries and only about 50 spots available, the chances of being selected for this wild, crazy competition seemed a long shot but McGhan was not daunted. And when they learned their team had been selected as an entry, elation quickly turned to determination.
Recruiting a team of like-minded flight enthusiasts that included Ryan Fisher, a licensed Drone pilot with a long history around aircraft; Craig (Tre) Mann, a light, fearless pilot, and three fellow Flugtag fans, Peter Ferguson, Michael Roland and Michael Rybolt, the group faced this challenge with fierce resolve.
Their first effort, a canard style ground effect aircraft, was completed six weeks before the competition, and looked promising but test flights ultimately destroyed the fuselage. A new fuselage and changing some angles proved to increase stability.
But flying a craft the farthest distance is not the only aspect of the Flugtag. Competitors are also required to put together a zany skit and be prepared to perform that skit in front of thousands.
“We were really focused on design and flying the plane,” said McGhan, “but we finally settled on the name Ground Control and went with a mashup of David Bowie’s hit songs, A Space Oddity and Rocketman. “We added some awesome designs, stickers and props in line with Bowie’s ‘Space Oddesy’ theme which resulted in our plane looking like a Star Wars Pod Racer.”
After polishing up their running technique, the cart that would carry their plane to launch, and the choreography of their routine, they were closing in on the final week to take off.
“That’s when things seemed to start falling apart,” said McGhan. “I fell off a ladder while testing and hurt my leg and could hardly walk, let alone run. Michael Roland couldn’t get the time off from work and Peter cut his leg open while making the guitar prop and had to get four staples. It was really looking pretty grim at that point.”
But the mighty team pushed on, determined to overcome these challenges. The day before competition, McGhan said his leg felt strong enough to handle the challenge and he, Fisher, Mann, Rybolt, and even Ferguson, who felt confident he could help as long as he didn’t jump in the water, transported their plane to the launch site staging area.
“It was really awesome walking around and looking at all the other planes,” said McGhan. “There were only a handful of teams that like us, seemed they put in the engineering and effort and to be competitive, and the others… while fun, were not likely to set any distance records. We walked around and talked with everyone we could asking lots of questions about their crafts and making friends. Everyone was great, there was real fellowship and it felt more like a giant party than a competition.”
Finally race day arrived. “Rolling onto the ramp was probably the most nerve racking part,” said McGhan. “We had to push our plane across grass, dirt, plywood and railroad tracks. We were using small scooter wheels and off-road travel was not in our original plan. But fortunately we managed to get onto the platform without incident.”
Starting in the fourth position, the team donned their life jackets, helmets and prepared for their ‘skit’ when they realized they had miscalculated their skit timing and everything was off. “We just had to go with it at that point,” said McGhan.
The officials did not believe the craft and pilot would make it 70 feet on the small wheels even though they had tested the wheels to 30 mph so they insisted the team move the plane further up the ramp and by the time they let them stop, they only had 40 feet of runway. The music was more than half over before they could begin their skit and suddenly it was time to launch and everyone raced into position and started shoving.
The flight, at just over two seconds and a half seconds, proved near picture perfect. They had traveled more than 81 feet. “Nothing else mattered at that point,” said McGhan. “Our pilot was safe and dry and we had flown. We just had to wait and see what the rest of the field would do.”
By the end of the race, their closest competitor had made it only 39 feet and they were declared the winners.
“I told my Mom, ‘I may not have ever won an Olympic gold medal, but this was pretty darn cool. We built a human powered aircraft and proved we could get it to fly successfully with a perfect landing. For now, that is enough.”
McGhan has produced an award winning Instructable for anyone that might want to try their hands at such an endeavor. This project was made possible with generous support from Keylink Innovative Technologies, Vapor Empyre, Volunteer Welding Supply and Allegiance Teleservices.