Every year, energy drink company Red Bull hosts a Flugtag, which is German for "flight day."
Human-powered flying machines, ranging from a flying pub to a pig, soar off of 30-foot piers into a body of water. Most simply nose dive into the aquatic abyss, but the team manning the Care2 FlutterFrog hopes to soar its plane over the water for as long as possible next month in Portland, Ore., gliding the company's mission into the public's awareness.
Care2, based in Redwood City, is a community Web site where people gather in efforts such as campaigning against animal cruelty with petitions or spreading eco-friendly, green ideas through blogs.
But the company that lunches together every Friday is ready to show America that they know how to have a good time.
"(We thought) it would be really fun for them to do and it would be a really great thing for Care2 in terms of team spirit and just having the company rally around something that would be fun," said Lisa Roman, Care2's public relations representative. "It became something that really expressed the core values of the company, and we're having a great time as a company."
The main values of the company that are expressed through the FlutterFrog are environmental awareness and sustainability. The plane is a cross between a butterfly and a tree frog. Pilot Alex Feinberg, 28, a software engineer for Care2, told Red Bull that the butterfly "represents how seemingly tiny individual action can add up to great change," and that the tree frog is "the ecological 'canary in a coal mine.'"
With tree frogs becoming endangered or threatened in rapidly increasing numbers, the team thought that now may be a good time to draw people's attention to their importance with a giant flying one.
"When the tree frog is there, you know things are healthy," Feinberg said.
The other green factor of the machine is the fact that it is built from 90 percent sustainable or recycled materials. The frame is bamboo, which Feinberg said is a "very sustainable wood — it reaches maturity in just six years and requires a lot less pesticide than other crops."
The wings, which span 28.5 feet, are covered with hemp cloth. The wheels will come from salvaged bicycle parts and the giant frog face on the front of the craft will be made with papier-mache. Since Feinberg designed the plane, he volunteered himself as its pilot.
"I was the one who originally designed it and thought I would feel guilty if someone else flew off the pier in my invention and ended up breaking an arm or something," he said.
The plane will weigh 350 pounds when it is launched, which is 100 pounds less than the maximum weight allowed by Red Bull. Feinberg said he is confident that his invention will take to the air with the greatest of ease, beating out 30 other teams to a first-prize trip to Salzburg, Austria.
"There's definitely a fair amount of keeping my fingers crossed and hoping it will work," he said. "I think it will gently glide forward and not fall straight down."
John Wyles, 26, is also a software engineer and has been with the company for almost a year.
He said that he is most excited for the response of the crowd, which could be as large as 50,000 people. That was the number of attendees the last time the event was held in Portland in 2004.
Wyles said he is also excited to "just (see) Alex trying to survive in this thing when we push." While the other team members push the craft, Feinberg will be "doing a bit of a Fred Flintstone maneuver there, pushing with (his) feet" through the open bottom of the craft.
In addition to Feinberg and Wyles, the Care2 team includes the head of customer support, Kristen Atkinson, technical operations specialist Seth Reid, and software engineer Anthony Deurr, who volunteered his garage in San Mateo for the construction of the plane.
The FlutterFrog is about one-third of the way finished, and Feinberg is confident it will be completed in time for the Aug. 2 competition at Tom McCall Waterfront Park.
The team also plans to have a skit before its launch, featuring a butterfly with wings made out of Red Bull cans and several frogs. The skit is also a way of promoting the redesign of Care2's Web site, and the replacement of its frog mascot with a butterfly.
Deurr, 25, said the flight and water landing of the FlutterFrog is a "baptism" for the incoming mascot.
The company will be posting a video of the Flugtag journey, from the building of the plane through its flight, on its Web site after the competition.