ORACLE TEAM USA wheeled the “Spirit of 17” up the ramp and made the day’s final flight a memorable one at the Red Bull Flugtag in San Francisco.
With special guests onboard, the human-powered flying machine launched from the 30-foot platform and soared 39 feet into McCovey Cove to the tunes of ACDC’s “Back in Black.” The wing split from the platform as it took the plunge, mostly as predicted…but not without some last-minute ingenuity and repairs.
“When the craft was on display in the morning, the breeze shifted. Our wing was sitting high, about 12 feet up, and it just wanted to lift off. Then the tail snapped off,” said Shannon Falcone, who headed up the project. “So, we rushed back over to the base – good to have resources close by – fixed it all up and still made the start line. Just like in the Cup, it’s all about adapting to different scenarios.”
Falcone and team made adjustments until the last minute, as more than 116,000 people lined the waterfront and stood along the outer concourse of AT&T Park to take in the entertaining spectacle.
To make their craft “fly,” ORACLE TEAM USA enlisted the help of pro surfer Ian Walsh, who admittedly filled the role of pilot more adequately than the sailors on the Flugtag team – Falcone and Sam Newton.
“That was insane – so fun,” Walsh said. “I was a last-minute wild card addition. Each of these sailors are built like an ox, and I kind of fit the mold more to hang onto the wing as I’m a lot lighter than them.
“There was such an unknown,” Walsh said of launching off the platform. “Once we got going, it actually felt a glide. It was just fun with the whole crowd and everyone cheering. That’s different than surfing – when we’re surfing, we’re in the middle of nowhere all the time. This was so cool to be in the city, with 100,000 people watching – a good venue.”
The crew was also joined by pro stand-up paddler Chase Kosterlitz.
ORACLE TEAM USA skipper Jimmy Spithill served on the judging panel for the event and rated the 33 entries throughout the day. The teams were rated on everything from creativity to flight distance to crowd appeal. To keep things impartial, ORACLE TEAM USA’s craft was not included in the formal competition…which allowed Spithill to join the final flight.
Legendary musician Sheila E was also a judge alongside Spithill. When the “Spirit of 17” was set to take off, each stepped off the judges’ platform, quickly changed into ORACLE TEAM USA gear, and headed to the launching pad.
“It was cool – Sheila just said, ‘Hey, I might have to get up there myself,’” Spithill remarked.
Both Spithill and Shiela E stepped in to help launch the team’s craft and all took the leap into McCovey Cove.
“It was crazy. Going down, the fall was so long I wondered when to take that big breath,” Sheila E said of her jump. “The whole event was awesome.”
Falcone began the build process only a couple weeks before, and he took inspiration from the team’s AC72, named ORACLE TEAM USA 17, for the design of the Red Bull Flugtag craft. Pieces of the boat’s broken wing sail – a result of the Oct. 16 capsize – were recycled and used in the build of machine’s wing.
“With our real AC72 wing in pieces and the chance to jump off a 30-foot ramp, the Red Bull Flugtag was the perfect opportunity to come together for a project that shares our philosophy and defines what our campaign is about: teamwork, technology and fun,” Falcone said. “Our entry, ‘Spirit of 17,’ was constructed with components recovered from the wreckage outside the Golden Gate Bridge and was assembled using the very same techniques as the larger catamarans.”
The 2012 event marked the 10th anniversary of the Red Bull Flugtag in the U.S., with the first taking place in San Francisco in 2002. Red Bull Flugtag, which means “flying day” in German, is a competition that dares teams to design, build and pilot homemade flying machines.
After the final flight took to the skies, Team Movember landed in first place with a distance of 54 feet, Sugar Skull 138 came in second, Team Skyjackers took third and The Californauts were awarded the People’s Choice award.
“This was fantastic – great day, great event, a lot of people and heaps of fun,” Spithill said. “There were some real stand-outs, and a lot of creativity among the competing teams.”
In watching the performance of all teams, and reflecting on the flight of their machine, it didn’t take long for ORACLE TEAM USA to realize what an exciting experience it was.
“I think our craft was over-built – we didn’t even destroy it!” Falcone said. “We’ve learned something now, so maybe we can do it again. It was super cool to do this with Ian Walsh. And to have Jimmy come up with Sheila E. All-in-all it was a really fun weekend here in San Francisco.”