Copying gliders is the most effective way to achieve flight, Flying Editor in Chief Robert Goyer advises Flugtag contestants.
With Flugtag just 24 hours away, some teams are surely scrambling to put last minute touches on their homemade aircrafts. To help them out, we spoke to Robert Goyer, Editor in Chief of Flying magazine, who shared some tips on how best to achieve flight over Lake Michigan. From what type of crafts to copy to what decorative touches to avoid, the aviation expert broke down the miracle of flight into simple terms.
How should Flugtag contestants be designing their flying contraptions if they truly want to achieve flight?
The best way to achieve flight is to stand on the shoulders of giants. Those people are the folks who created the first aircrafts, many of which were gliders. The way they did it was by creating an air foil using a rigid frame and flexible wings that slightly fill with air like a very solid parachute. By doing that you can create an extremely light machine that has good lift. There's no doubt that from the heights they are jumping off they can achieve flight. Now controlling that is another thing. You need to have some kind of stability in the forward and aft direction. With airplanes that's achieved by using the tail. With hang gliders that's achieved by using a triangular shape, where the people shift weight underneath it. So the short answer is they should copy hang gliders -- they are very light, very simply constructed and work extremely well. But I'm not endorsing people doing this because there is a great risk involved!
How much of a running start do you suggest teams take?
A really good light wing that's optimally designed can achieve lift with virtually no forward speed whatsoever. Now if the wind is coming at them that helps a lot, and the stronger the wind the better (up to a certain point). So if you've got a nice on shore breeze, all it should take are a couple of steps, a little bit of descent and you should be flying.
To actually claim they achieved flight, how far will teams need to glide? Is there a specific distance that qualifies as flight?
That's a discussion that is as old as the origins of flight. It really depends on who you are asking. One of the popular answers to that has to do with the cushion of air that is right next to the ground. And it's often said that you need to be at least a wingspan length above the ground. So if you can achieve some kind of sustained forward flight, a wing span or more above the surface of the thing you are flying over, then that would be considered flight. As far as a glide is concerned, a glide is proto flight. True flight, where you are gliding extremely efficiently or even developing some kind of lift through rising air is very difficult to achieve on a very small craft like these folks are designing. What they're really doing is not really flying but gliding relatively inefficiently. Still, you could call it gliding, which is a form of flight. So, if you're being charitable, I would say that the best of these crafts do indeed fly.
What are some design don'ts?
You want to avoid anything that is going to be creating drag; anything that is flat, that has a surface that is going to be facing into the wind and slowing you down; anything that is going to disturb the airflow over your wings. So as far as decorations are concerned, streamers, trailers, things that go off of the back, bright colors, costumes, that's all fine and will only very negligibly affect the dynamics of flight. But as far as putting shapes on it that will slow it down at all, anything like that is going to be a deal breaker.
One final comment: We [the editorial staff at Flying Magazine] are big fans of Red Bull and the way they support aviation. Flugtag is a really fun event that gets people fired up and no doubt does good things to promote aviation.