Californauts claim fan favorite title at the Red Bull Flugtag in San Francisco

Californaut team member Raffy Sencion glides toward the water while piloting La Flama Blanca, a winged 25-foot-long surfboard-themed craft built to compete during the 2012 Red Bull Flugtag at McCovey Cove in San Francisco, while the rest of the team watches from the 30-foot ramp. The team took seventh place out of 36 competitors, and managed to win the People’s Choice award.
Photos courtesy of Tim Anderson

On Nov. 10, McCovey Cove at San Francisco played host to the Red Bull Flugtag, which celebrated its 10-year U.S. anniversary.

And Fresno State student Tim Anderson and his team were there to compete, and they weren’t going to go home empty-handed.

Anderson’s team, the Californauts, was composed of himself, his friend Raffy Sencion, and several others including Sencion’s younger brother, cousin and a family friend.

It was their first Flugtag event, but they were not strangers to Red Bull events. Last year Anderson and Sencion competed in a soapbox derby where they won the award for People’s Choice.

They liked the challenge and competition brought by the event, and decided to try their hand at Flugtag.

Anderson said he had never built anything built to fly.

“I learned a lot about actually designing something to fly,” he said. “The only thing I knew was making little paper airplanes in class. That was it.”

Their first design had the craft with wings shaped like the state of California, but first they had to get the design approved by their sponsor.

“We told him about the idea,” Anderson said. “We said, ‘We want the wings to be shaped like the state.’ He said, ‘Well, do you want it to look good or do you want it to have the best chance at flying?’”

Anderson said that, while he and Sencion had a good design idea, in the end they chose the option of aerodynamics over flair.

The wings of the craft were created to be straight with a concave curve, which were designed to provide some lift.

The left wing brandished the team’s name, while the right featured the bear and star design seen in the California state flag.

“That’s how we sported our name, the Californauts,” Anderson said.

The surfboard was around 25 feet long, and took around 2 1/2 weeks to build.

“Two weeks before that it was design and planning out dimensions and figuring out what kind of materials we needed to build it,” Anderson said.

“We’d get off work at 6 p.m. at night and work,” he said. “We’d drive up the mountain and work until 2 in the morning just putting it together.”

The inside of the wing was crafted from thin pieces of wood, and the outside was coated in shrink-wrap, which was heated using a hair drier, making an air-tight seal.

The craft was christened La Flama Blanca, which is Spanish for The White Flame.

Flugtag, which is German for flight day, began in the late ’70s. The premise is this: several teams build human-powered gliders and, well, throw them off a platform into the water below.

Winners are chosen by the design of the craft and how far it flies. The current record for the longest flight is 229 feet, which was set in May at Mainz, Germany.

After all the hard work done by the team, they felt excited when, at 1 p.m., onlookers were called away, and the teams were called up to make the ascent.

“We were the third team to go so, right off the bat, we pushed our craft up this ramp to go to that 30-foot platform,” Anderson said.

Standing at the top of the platform, Anderson was taken aback at what he saw when he looked around.

“You don’t really realize how many people are there to watch you, and then all of the sudden you get on that platform above McCovey Cove and you look around and then it hits you. You’re all, ‘There’s 100,000 people here to watch us.’ That’s a lot of people.

“That was really cool,” he said.

After the team’s hard work, Anderson said he was looking forward to seeing if their craft could actually fly.

“We weren’t so nervous, we were so much more curious to see like, ‘Oh, is it going to fly? Is it really going to work?’” he said.

When their turn came, the Californauts’ theme song began. It was a song mixed by Sencion using parts of Red Bull daredevil Felix Baumgartner’s speech, a Deadmau5 song and the NASA countdown.

Sencion, who was the team’s pilot, was launched off the 30-foot platform by the team, and he steered the craft using a flight stick that was tied to a tail flap in the back.

Though their glider was somewhat unorthodox, it managed to fly around 42 feet—the third farthest distance among all other competitors.

Even more impressive, the craft stayed together and made a perfect landing. Well, almost perfect.

“He was coming straight down and he was pulling up for too long, and so as he got closer to the water, the tail hit the water and it broke, which caused the front to slap down flat on the water,” Anderson said. “It went well.”

Sencion never touched the water. When the flight was done, he stood up for his audience.

After the landing, the rest of the team dove off the edge into the water below.

The Californauts managed to take seventh place out of 36 teams, and though they didn’t take the grand prize, they managed to once more get the People’s Choice award, echoing their past success.

“It was the fan favorite,” Anderson said. “That’s what we were going for and we got it.”

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