Science Students Triumph at Flugtag Competition ~ Dr. Mark Reynolds

On Saturday, September 15th a team of five Saint Joseph’s University science students competed in the annual Redbull Flugtag festival. Their team, Team Hawkward, won the People’s Choice Award and placed an impressive third overall in the competition.Team members  included sophomore Biology majors Andrew and Nicholas Shafer ‘15, Mark McShane ‘15 and Chemical Biology majors Kyle Smith ‘15 and Daniel Ezzo ‘15.

Team Hawkward with the frame of their craft: Andrew Shafer ’15 and Nicholas Shafer ’15, Mark McShane ’15, Kyle Smith ’15 and Daniel Ezzo ’15

Flugtag, which means flight day, is a yearly event sponsored by Red Bull and held in several U.S. cities. Flugtag began in Vienna, Austria in 1992  and has expanded internationally due to its popularity. This year’s local event was held on the  Camden waterfront.  Although anyone can apply to participate,  only approximately 35 teams are selected for the competition.

Teams build their own human-powered flying machines within the allowed specifications and then fly them off an approximately 30 foot pier into the water. The entrants were judged on three criteria: distance flown, the design, and the creativity of the skit performed by the team  before their craft takes off. The People’s Choice Award is determined by the number of votes each team gets from the viewers. The flying craft must be built out of environmentally friendly material that can float when the craft hits the water.

Team Hawkward got its initial inspiration from brothers Andrew and Nicholas Shafer, who were spectators when the event was last held here in 2010. They decided to put together a team and asked their friends and science hall roommates Mark McShane, Daniel Ezzo and Kyle Smith to join them.  The team spent many long days in August building their Hawkward flying machine. The students said that their flying machine was built from a stainless steel base acquired from Kyle Smith’s father and designed using parts from Home Depot.  They didn’t want any professional help.

“The whole point is to make your own invention and see how it works,” McShane said. One of the most challenging aspects for them was adding the Hawk head. The team said that building their aircraft was “a challenging yet enjoyable experience that really helped to build team chemistry for the competition.” Their Hawk costumes and routine for the skit were designed with help from Nicholas and Andrews’ mother.

On the day of the event at the Camden waterfront, thousands of fans lined the Delaware River flight deck, including many Saint Joseph’s University students and supporters. When it was time for Team Hawkward to perform, they received a loud ovation for their one-minute Hawk routine. They pushed their aircraft off the flight deck and it soared 60 feet before touching water, which tied for the longest distance in the competition.  Team Hawkward wasn’t able to fly with their aircraft because the wind conditions had picked up by the time they were to fly. However, they did get to jump in the water with their aircraft after it landed.

At the awards stand, Team Hawkward pocketed two trophies for their third place overall finish and the People’s Choice Award. In addition to their awards, the students received a sizable gift certificate to local Philadelphia restaurants and a first class trip to see a New York Redbull MLS soccer game. The group said that this was a memorable experience that they won’t soon forget and that they would never have won the award without the teamwork and friendship formed by being together in the science hall.

Congratulations to this enterprising team of young Hawk scientists!