Eight weeks ago, Michael Blochberger, 21, couldn’t speak a word of German and had no idea that the word “flugtag” meant “flying day.”
Since then, the 2009 Hayfield Secondary School graduate and member of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Class of 2013, has thought of little else.
He, along with four others from the academy’s 13th Company, have entered a homemade flying machine — in the shape of a submarine — in the 2012 Red Bull Flugtag competition that will take place in Philadelphia Harbor on Sept. 15.
The international competition, now in its 22nd year, challenges teams to build homemade, human-powered flying machines and then pilot them off a 30-foot deck in hopes of achieving sustained flight. All the crafts ultimately splash into the waters below, but before that end they are judged on their flight's distance, as well as creativity and showmanship. The competition is free and open to anyone.
The upcoming challenge will be the second time it is being staged in Philadelphia. The competition there in 2010 drew a crowd of about 70,000, according to Red Bull representatives.
This year, Blochberger’s team, the only one from the Naval Academy, is calling itself the “USNA’s Soarin’ Submariners.” He says he hopes his parents in Kingstowne can make it out to the event.
“I had no idea about any of this two months ago,” he said. “Kevin Martin, our team leader, just came up with the idea after seeing a television commercial about it, and we all thought it would be a great project for us. We all just jumped in and started working.”
The five midshipmen are close friends who had all at one point chosen submarines as their “warfare community,” planning to join the submarine fleet upon their graduation next year. So, it was no surprise their Red Bull craft resembles a submarine.
“The idea is to construct a craft that will stay airborne for the longest possible distance,” Blochberger said. “What we came up with was a submarine with a missile on top. The actual submarine has wheels on it and will fall straight into the water, where submarines should go. Kevin will be up on top in the missile, which will disengage from the submarine and hopefully fly through the air as the sub falls into the water.”
According to Blochberger, the “Soarin’ submarine” and its accompanying missile are both constructed of wood and long Styrofoam “pool noodles” to keep them sturdy, light and afloat. The wood and Styrofoam frame will then be covered with a lightweight black fabric to approximate the outside hull of a submarine.
This year’s competition will be composed of 35 teams, and Blochberger says being the only team from the Naval Academy has added a little extra pressure.
“We are representing the academy, so we have to do our best,” he said. “There is no pressure from the school, but we are putting pressure on ourselves to represent it well.”
Naval Academy spokeswoman Jennifer Erickson said the academy will be cheering the team on to victory.
“We are an engineering school, so this is a great event for these enterprising young midshipmen to participate in,” she said.
Blochberger currently is a political science major, the 13th Company commander and vice president of the Naval Academy Filipino-American Club. Although he is not majoring in engineering, he said the project has taught him and his teammates a lot about it.
“None of us are engineering majors,” he said. “We are all political science, economics or computer science majors, but we have all learned a lot, and hope that we can win and pass this competition on as a tradition to 13th Company members who come after us.”
Red Bull Flugtag will take place the New Jersey side of the Delaware River. It will be staged at the Camden Waterfront. Gates open at 11 a.m. with the first attempted flights departing at 1 p.m. For more information, visit www.redbullflugtagusa.com