Aviation students prepare to plunge

By Seth Richardson

Whether they fly or fall, several university students will go down in style Saturday in Chicago.

The Last Action Heroes, a group of students from the SIU School of Aviation, will compete in the Chicago leg of the 2013 Red Bull Flugtag contest. The competition involves building a homemade flying machine, pushing it off of a 30-foot platform, and gliding it as far as possible into a lake. The teams have to choose a theme and perform a skit to go along with the gliding machine.

The university’s team consists of senior aviation technology majors Mitch Hendrickson of Rockford, Owen Freeman of DeKalb, Matt Grimsley of Hillsboro, and Brett Johnson of Springfield and senior aviation technology and flight major Ryan Polk of Bartlett. The team also had help from master welder Curt Wettstein, a senior studying aviation technology from Eureka and Skylar Rice, a senior studying aviation technology from Decatur.


The group members were friends long before they heard about the contest from their adviser. They decided that they could compete as well as anyone else, and since they were friends, being on a team came naturally, Johnson said.

“We’re all knowledgeable about aviation,” he said. “We’re all pretty good buddies. We figured we’d make a pretty good team.”

Grimsley agreed there was already chemistry between the teammates before the competition came up.

“They’re a good group of guys,” Grimsley said. “I’ve known them the last four years. They came up with this idea and I said, ‘I’m down.’”

Red Bull Flugtag piqued the group’s interest because of the strange nature of the competition and their love of aviation. The group began work on their flying machine June 20. Work on the flying machine got intense over the past month as the competition drew closer.

“It’s an interesting event,” Polk said. “Anything Red Bull is pretty awesome first of all. It’s an extreme company and I think it’s a great experience.”

The craft must be no higher than 10 feet including the cart to push it off the platform with a wingspan limit of 28 feet and a weight limit of 400 pounds including the pilot. The Last Action Heroes designed their machine based off of primary gliders from the 1920s with as little weight and as much wingspan as possible.


“Whether we fly or just go straight down, I think people are going to be excited,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be pretty exhilarating once we jump in the water.”

The team is one of 30 chosen to compete. Several other teams from SIU sent in applications as well, including a group from the university that included a aviation professor who has taught all five members of The Last Action Heroes.

“We were competing against our teacher and some other classmates,” Hendrickson said. “I guess we had the better design.”

The team’s name, The Last Action Heroes, comes from their theme – ‘80s movie action stars: Hendrickson as The Terminator, Freeman as Robocop, Grimsley as Rambo, Polk as Bruce Willis, and Johnson as Chuck Norris. Hendrickson will pilot the craft, but the entire team will participate in the skit beforehand.

“I’ve gone cliff jumping before, except I don’t have all this metal behind me,” said Hendrickson. “It’s going to be a little scary, but I’m all for it. I’m really excited.”

Polk said he and the rest of the team are going to jump off the platform into Lake Michigan simply for fun.

“I think it’s going to be awesome popping back up out of the water and seeing this thing gliding,” said Polk.

The first Red Bull Flugtag was held in 1992 in Vienna, Austria. It has since been held annually in more than 35 cities; the first U.S. event was in 2002 in San Francisco.

2013 marks the first year that the Red Bull Flugtag will take place in multiple American cities simultaneously, including Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Long Beach, Calif., Miami, and Washington.

A viewing party for the event will be held Saturday at Tres Hombres in Carbondale from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; patrons can watch the contest live. Early voting for the People’s Choice Award begins Thursday. You can vote for The Last Action Heroes by texting CHI4 to 72855.

For more information or to support The Last Action Heroes, viewers can like their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TheLastActionHeroeslFlugtagChicago2013.