These days, we take flying for granted. We walk aboard commercial airplanes, and although we don't understand how they work, we're confident that, thanks to the sophisticated technology embodied in these complex machines, some teeny part, possibly in the toilet, will malfunction and we will be delayed.
But sometimes planes actually fly. And when they do, they become soaring monuments to the brave pioneers who made modern aviation possible--people like
In Flugtag, which is German for either "Flying Day" or "Make Sure Everybody Signs a Liability Waiver," competitors build human-powered aircraft, then push them off a 30-foot-high platform and see how far they can fly. Competitors also get points for style, so they wear costumes and perform skits just before their flights.
Before the competition, I examined the aircraft, which were duct-tape-intensive contraptions representing a wide range of aerodynamic concepts. One was a giant replica of
I asked the pigeon's designer,
"Of course!" he said. "The feathers will give it lift! Feathers fly, right?"
Some of the entries looked vaguely like actual airplanes; others did not even have wings. One, entered by a team from
The competition was excellent. Virtually every flight went the same: The team would push its craft onto the 30-foot-high flight platform and be announced by an unnaturally enthusiastic emcee who sounded as though his blood content was 80 percent Red Bull. Then, at the big moment, the team's pilot would climb into the craft, and the other team members would push the craft toward the end of the platform, gaining speed, until the dramatic moment when the craft would go off the end, and--in a triumph of human ingenuity--fall straight down into the bay.
Yes. Virtually every craft displayed the aerodynamic characteristics of a crowbar. Some of them--notably the ones that resembled real airplanes--appeared to fall even faster than could be explained by gravity alone. Several fell apart before they even reached the platform edge, and just tumbled off in pieces.
This went on for more than three hours, yet it somehow remained riveting entertainment. You can have your Master's golf tournament and your Super Bowl; give me overcaffeinated young people crashing in underengineered contraptions any day.
The crowd also loved it. At one point, the emcee was interviewing a team about to compete, and somebody noted that one of the team members had a prosthetic leg. The emcee turned to the crowd and shouted--I swear I am not making this up--"Give it up,
Anyway, the next time you're on a plane, waiting for a toilet part, take a moment to reflect on the efforts of these bold modern-day aviation pioneers to advance the frontiers of human flight. Then look at the wings. If you see feathers, get off.
This column was originally published
Discourse on the Golf Course
You have surely noticed that a big golf craze is sweeping the nation, as aging Baby Boomers discover the benefits of participating in a sport where the most physically demanding activity is ordering putters by mail
Waging Germ Warfare
Winter's here, and you feel lousy: You're coughing and sneezing; your muscles ache; your nose is an active mucus volcano. These symptoms--so familiar at this time of year -- can mean only one thing ...
Clueless at Christmas
Christmas is a festive time - a time of parties and presents and songs that we all love, except for 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,' which I for one got tired of. I prefer traditional Christmas carols, such as ...
Flight 573 Now Boding
We set out with a sense of foreboding. If you ever feel a boding, and later on something bad happens, that was a foreboding. We were traveling from Miami to Minnesota, a state located near, or possibly inside, Canada. The reason we felt a boding was that we were carrying a live baby, and we had stupidly elected to travel by airplane. I think that, instead of making such a big deal about weapons, the airlines ought to start cracking down on babies
This is Funny, Trust Us
We are worried, here in the newspaper business (motto: 'What, YOU never make misstakes?'). We're hearing that you readers have lost your faith in us. Polls show that, in terms of public trust, the news media now rank lower than used-car salespeople, kidnappers, tapeworms and airline flight announcements. We are still slightly ahead of lawyers.
Mindless in Mickeytown
Every year, we return to Orlando, Fla. Instinct makes us do this. We're like the salmon who must swim upstream to spawn and die. They are lucky. We must go to theme parks. A theme park is an amusement park where you pay one blanket admission fee, which is quite steep, but once you're inside, everything is totally free, except all the other stuff you end up buying
Dakota: Just a Snow Job
North Dakota is talking about changing its name. I frankly didn't know you could do that. I thought states' names were decreed by the Bible or something. In fact, as a child, I believed that when Columbus arrived in North America, the states' names were actually, physically, written on the continent, in gigantic letters, the way they are on maps.
It's time once again for Keyboard Korner, the computer-advice column that uses simple, 'jargon-free' terminology that even an idiot like you can grasp; the column that shows you how to 'take command' of your personal computer, if necessary by reducing it to tiny smoking shards with a hatchet.
(c) 2009 The Miami Herald Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.