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Fluttering toward human flight
July 26, 2008, 12:00 AM By Susan Robles

susan robles/daily journal Jason Kelly, left to right, Eric Glader, Anthony Duerr and John Wyles work on a FlutterFrog -- a human-powered flying machine for the annual Red Bull Flugtag in Portland, Ore.



A local man will be taking a leap of faith next weekend as he pilots a FlutterFrog "Fred Flintstone style” while four others push him off a Portland dock.

Aug. 2 marks the day when 31 teams from the Western states will take part in the annual Red Bull Flugtag in Portland, Ore.

Flugtag, "flight day” in German, is a competition in which numerous teams showcase their human-powered flying machines. Each homemade flight craft has a human pilot and is pushed off of a 25-foot dock with the hopes of soaring rather than sinking. This year, a local Redwood City team from the company Care2 will be representing the Bay Area as they sail their FlutterFrog over the Willamette River.

"A lot of people just fall straight down so we’re looking to get some glide in there,” said pilot Alex Feinberg, 28. "I think maybe if we get 30, 40 or 50 feet we’ll be proud of ourselves.”

Since 1991, participants have allowed their imaginations to run wild, this year being no exception. With team names like "Space Balls” — their craft is a replication of the Winnebago in the movie "Spaceballs” — and "Banana Bonanza” spectators are sure to witness something they’ve never seen before.

Care2 is a Web-based community where people can go to spread the word about the newest eco-friendly trends, raise breast cancer awareness or gather information on how to live a healthier lifestyle. Their team goal was to walk the line between fun and informative as Feinberg, a software engineer, came up with the concept of the FlutterFrog.

The Care2 team brought their dedication and respect for the environment into the design, which is a cross between a butterfly and a tree frog. Feinberg said the butterfly is representative of "how seemingly tiny individual action can add up to great change,” and explained that the tree frog is always an indicator for how well or poorly the ecosystem is doing.

Their opening skit, Feinberg said, represents a transformational journey about someone going from ignoring the impact of the environment to realizing the benefits of being a responsible citizen.

"The idea is that people making what seems to them to be very small changes can add up and actually change the world,” said Feinberg.

The colorful, mostly bamboo craft will be 90 percent earth-friendly when finished. The red and blue butterfly wings — which span 28.5 feet — are made from hemp cloth, the wheels will come from recycled bicycle tires and the face of tree frog will be made out of papier-mâché.

"Even the plywood we’re using to wrap the hemp around is made out of bamboo,” said Feinberg. "This wood takes six years to age and does not use as many pesticides as others.”

Lisa Romano, vice president of marketing for Care2, gave the go-ahead when the team came to her with the design.

"It was nice that on their own they came up with a plan that really supports what the company is all about,” said Romano. "These are people that are really committed to the environment and I was delighted by the purpose and meaning.”

As the deadline approaches, the FlutterFrog will emerge like a butterfly from its cocoon from the garage of teammate Anthony Duerr. Feinberg will be manning the flying craft. Judged by creativity and showmanship, as well as distance, the team is excited with the possibility of winning the grand prize trip to Austria. However, they are happy they have made it this far.

 "You can mess around drawing something on the computer all day and it might as well be in your head,” said Feinberg. "But seeing this thing come to life and seeing my co-workers getting really into it has been awesome. It’s been awesome to see the FlutterFrog and the team coming together.”


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