Newcastle family to compete in Flugtag flying-machine competition

Published: Monday, Sep. 16, 2013 - 1:01 pm
Last Modified: Monday, Sep. 16, 2013 - 7:58 pm

Through their family’s construction-engineering firm, the Bair kids know a thing or two about building a house.

But what dad didn’t teach them is how to make a house fly.

Undeterred by a lack of an aeronautic expertise, the Bair siblings – Brittany, 26; Jake, 24 and Nick, 31 – plan to launch a scale model of the two-story Victorian house depicted in the Disney/Pixar movie “Up” off a Long Beach pier at Saturday’s Red Bull Flugtag competition.

“None of us has any experience in constructing things that fly,” Brittany Bair said. “We don’t expect it fly far.”

The Newcastle-based “Uppers” team is one of 28 expected to launch homemade flying machines off a 28-foot flight deck on Rainbow Harbor in Long Beach. Energy-drink makers Red Bull will simultaneously hold Flugtag – German for “Flying Day” – events in Washington D.C., Fort Worth, Texas, Chicago and Miami. The competition, which has been held in the United States since 2002 and internationally since 1992, attracts more than 100,000 spectators.

While some crafts manage a controlled descent, most fail to muster enough lift to do more than make a good splash. Celebrity judges score entrants on distance, creativity and showmanship.

The Bairs and their teammates, collectively known as the “Uppers,” are hoping to maximize their scores from the latter two categories, said Brittany Bair, a civil engineering student at Cal Poly Pomona.

The Bair offspring had been musing about entering the Flugtag competition for years. It was Brittney who fired off an application that caught the organizers’ attention. Its acceptance surprised her brothers.

“I thought she was messing with me,” Jack Bair said of his reaction to the news they were selected from the 512 applicants.

The team is rounded out by Anthony Yanez, 22, who works in construction, Chrisann Meier, 28, a commercial design architect, and Jake Zvolanek, 27, who attends Azusa Pacific University.

The flying house will have a pilot. Jake Bair was originally designated for the cockpit, but the team later decided Yanez has the best combination of fearlessness and health insurance.

There’s actually little piloting involved; the most important job is to jump clear of the makeshift dirigible before it makes contact with the water. Entrants are required to wear life jackets and helmets, and crafts must be approved for safety before launch.

While the Bairs may not have been born into the Lindbergh family, they’ve done their helium homework.

Case in point: It takes 850 party balloons to lift a 9-pound Yorkie. (By the way, don’t tell their mother how they know that.) By that math, the number of balloons required to lift the maximum 400-pound weight limit of their craft plus pilot: 37,777.

The approved Uppers sketch shows hundreds of balloons above the scale model of the movie’s colorful home. But the Bairs were later told by organizers that, for environmental reasons, they won’t be allowed to launch the house with the balloons attached.

Once over her initial disappointment, Brittany Bair said the task became figuring out how to incorporate the balloons into their pre-launch skit.

“If we just had that house without the balloons, I don’t think people would recognize (the house as one from the movie),” she said.

She said she wasn’t given an explanation about the balloon ruling, but figures there were concerns about littering the ocean.

Building the flying “Up” house fit with their personalities and family, said Jack Bair.

In the Oscar-winning animated movie, an elderly man seeks to live out a lifelong dream of exploring South America by attaching thousands of balloons to his home. Bair family pets include a dog named “Dug” – named after the movie’s talking dog – and cat named Kevin, an homage to the movie’s flightless bird.

The Bairs and company built the mini-Victorian over several long weekends in their dad’s workshop next to their Newcastle home. With dad’s company Bair Engineering & Excavation pitching in, the team expects to have spent $1,000 on the project.

Rather than compete with the well-funded, corporate-backed teams, or those populated with people who study how to make things fly, the Uppers decided to focus on the zaniness of the competition.

“I guarantee we’ll be one of the only teams with a choreographed skit (performed before the launch),” Brittney Bair said. The skit will feature characters from the movie and aims to give the audience a taste of the film.

Spoiler alert for the skit: Someone steals the balloons.

Long Beach competitors for Saturday’s event include Aloha Stadium from Honolulu and San Francisco-based Chicken Whisperers.

San Francisco was the site of a 2012 Flugtag, with Team Movember’s mustache-inspired craft taking first place by traveling 54 feet.

Brittany Bair said participating in the competition has been fun for the family with everyone, including dad Steve, pitching in.

“It was a good opportunity for us all to work together,” she said.

Call The Bee's Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @NewsFletch

Read more articles by Ed Fletcher

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