Two UWM teams flung their flying machines in Flugtag 2022

What a wonderous event to behold on a recent Saturday afternoon in July at Veterans Park along lovely Lake Michigan: the 50th running of Flugtag (“flying day”) brought for the first time to Milwaukee by organizers Red Bull.

Thirty-four teams of five persons – including two teams from UWM– designed and built human powered flying machines to be flung into Lake Michigan off a 22’ high ramp along with their intrepid pilot. (Ground crew members jumped in the lake afterward.)

Five Red Bull judges –including retired Green Bay Packer Donald Driver–scored teams on creativity, showmanship, and distance. In the end, there was more creativity and showmanship than distance, and only one perfect score but that didn’t matter much to the crowd estimated by WISN-TV at 50,000. These creative and resourceful students were inspired to use their smarts and ingenuity to earn bragging rights, an experience with a Red Bull personality, and tickets to a Bucks game, though mostly to have some real fun doing something totally out of the ordinary.

The two UWM student teams included six students from the UWM College of Engineering & Applied Science:

Cheese Headz

  • Ross Abrams: sophomore, mechanical engineering
  • JJ Bushman: sophomore, music composition and technology
  • Kailey Pattridge-Keast (pilot): sophomore, mechanical engineering
  • Aiden Pisan: sophomore, mechanical engineering
  • Josh Turner: sophomore, music

UWM Panthers

  • Nate Fortune: junior, information science & technology
  • Jonathan Leston: sophomore, computer engineering
  • Adam Ustby: sophomore, computer science
  • Nate Valentine (pilot): junior, computer science
  • Noah Zimmermann: junior, information science & technology

What would possess someone to do such a thing?

Pattridge-Keast was the ringleader for the Cheese Headz. No one turned her down when she approached potential team members with, “Do you want to launch a glider into Lake Michigan for fun?” No one complained about the late nights and early mornings, either.

Meanwhile, Valentine put together the UWM Panthers team, asking friends who are Formula 1 fans or are in UWM’s Gaming Club. Most had seen videos of Flugtag events and couldn’t resist the opportunity.

Both teams found time for all all members to work on the gliders, even though everyone had jobs with different work schedules. They learned that building a glider was more difficult than they thought, and that airfoils are tricky, but also that it was a ton of fun and also a creative outlet while using engineering skills. The biggest challenge for the UWM Panthers was stabilizing their craft, but they worked together to overcome that obstacle. At launching time, their pilot could sit and stand on top of the glider.

Teamwork across majors is key

These students understand teamwork, so it is no surprise that many are involved in student organizations at UWM. Valentine, for example, is president of Robotics Association at UWM, treasurer of Chess Club, treasurer of one of the political clubs, officer of the UWM eSports club, and a member of a couple other clubs. He is also the non-traditional student advocacy senator for the UWM Student Association. Pisan is part of Engineers Without Borders at UWM and water polo. Pattridge-Keast is in the Robotics Association. Bushman is part of COCarts and a vice president, Kameraden+, and treasurer of a newly formed composition club. And Abrams is unofficially an officer of Robotics Club and is in the acapella group “Public Hearing.”

The highlight of the competition, both teams agreed, was just being at the event, including the time before the launch when spectators could view their gliders. “So many people wanted photos with us and the glider,” Pisan said. “They were genuinely interested in how we built it.”

Everyone was there to have fun

The UWM Panthers team had brought along colorful Sharpies and hundreds of people signed or drew art on their glider. “The fact that everyone loved it, and we were able to get so many people to sign it was really fun,” Valentine said.

“Something that I wasn’t expecting was how friendly all the other teams were,” Pisan said. “Technically, we were competing against each other, but no one took it like that. The other glider teams helped us move the glider, gave us extra tape when we ran out and took photos with us. It was a great experience, and everyone was there to have fun.”

More about Flugtag 2022