Thousands of silent bystanders stood shoulder to shoulder under the ideal weather conditions of an ever-present November sun and calm air to glimpse seconds of stunning debuts repeated over and over during the inaugural Red Bull Flugtag held at the Museum of Islamic Art Park in Doha, Qatar. The well-organized event from the timely shuttle bus transports from off-site locations to the venue itself went off without a hitch as far as the general public could tell.
Tropical birds, strange insects, vintage cars, a flying camel, super heroes, flip flops, pizza and airplanes were just a handful of the uniquely original and individually styled flying machines providing an exercise in suspense.
The colorful and entertaining event centered around homemade flying machines launching off a 19.5-foot high pier and trying to beat the airborne record before an untimely ending of plunging into the warm water below, much to the delight and roaring audience applause while the commentary blasted on the numerous sound systems. A huge crane was positioned nearby to fish out and hoist up the remains of each aircraft after their inaugural flight. None were intact.
Flugtag, German for “flying day”, competitions have been held in several cities worldwide, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait here in the Gulf.
A panel of five judges assigned points to the top 35 teams – from 134 applicants – that made the cut based on three criteria: distance traveled in the air; creativity of the exclusively human powered custom-made aircrafts; and “showmanship”. The showmanship was a 60-second dance routine each crew performed on the pier before launching their creations. Every team consisted of a pilot and three assistants.
The flying machines were crafted from various lightweight materials, including plastic water bottles, PVC pipes, fishing net, papier mache, aluminum frames, colorful lightweight fabrics, bicycle tires, plenty of glue, anti-slip bathmats, large pails and lots of paint.
All machines were required to have floating devices built in to prevent sinking. Organizers provided team members with life jackets and helmets.
Contestants tried to break the world record flight distance of 258 feet; however, the record remained by day end.
The first place wining team won a trip to Austria to tour the aircraft museum Hangar 7; the second place winners are off to Abu Dhabi to watch the Red Bull Air Race event, and third place team score a trip to Dubai for a skydiving lesson.
With long lines at food stands and activity tents busy all afternoon, the local scenery also provided glimpses of interest. West Bay’s iconic hardscape was picturesque as always with the bay dotted with traditional dhows. Even the Qatar Flour Mill towered majestically behind moored fishing boats. Of course, the unique Museum of Islamic Art building, hovering over the water, made for a stunning scene. But also of interest was the occasional Muslim who unabashedly knelt to the ground at prayer time uncaring and/or unaware of the crowds surrounding him. I even spotted a woman praying, something highly unusual to see in public while another woman, also bathed in black, found a colorful visor to help protect her eyes from the scorching sun.
Qataris and expats alike shared the stage of action, family picnics and an overall enjoyable sun-soaked afternoon watching the Flugtag action.