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Flying High

UNO students participate in nationwide aviation competition sponsered by Red Bull


Published: Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Updated: Thursday, December 12, 2013 20:12

Flying High

Photo Courtesy of Travis Huetter

Tyler Anderson, Garrett Mix, Blake Zessin, Travis Huetter and Brendan Walsh gear up for competition this Saturday.

Senior aviation student Travis Huetter has worked tirelessly on something for months, only to launch his hard-work off a cliff this Saturday.

Huetter, with a team of four other University of Nebraska at Omaha students, has spent his summer and beginning of fall semester crafting a flying machine for Red Bull Flugtag, a national event in which teams compete and attempt to fly a home-made plane off a pier into water. UNO’s team, which gained support from the university’s Aviation Institute, is not only hoping to beat the other competitors in Chicago this weekend, but also soar longer than 201 feet, the current world record.

“I’m nervous because it’s either going to fly far then crash or just crash,” Huetter said. “Either way, we are going to have a great time doing it.”

Nestled in an aircraft carrier at Millard airport is the team’s creation, a green, blue and red painted wooden plane. During a warm September evening, Huetter and the team’s captain, Blake Zessin, mount the ribs of the aircraft as other planes zip off the terminal over their heads. The boys have gained a lot of attention since they began building their work of art at the Millard Airport, with the other flyers and captains there gawking at their creation and supporting their efforts the whole time.

Now their flying machine is completed and ready for lift off. They will compete against 31 other teams in Chicago and Huetter will actually be “flying” the machine. As the four other teammates- Zessin, Tyler Anderson, Garrett Mix and Brendan Walsh- push the plane off a pier, Huetter will be the one required teammate riding the aircraft as it soars over and eventually into the water.

“It’s awesome to see what was once just in our heads, a vision, come to real life,” Zessin said. “One day it’s the tail, the next it’s the ribs. It’s been a good experience just to see it all come together.”

Huetter and his crew are an elite team of UNO students, each member serving a different role in order to complete their goal of flying over 201 feet. A mix of pilots, engineers and builders, Huetter said he is convinced that it’s his team’s diversity and skill set that will make them the winning team this Saturday.

“We each specialize in building and flying aircraft,” Huetter said. “I think we have just a really experienced and sought after team, and that’s what is going to get us to our goal.”

The UNO Flying Mavericks, as the team is called, began their journey to Flugtag this April once Red Bull reached out to Travis to form a team and beat the world record. From there, Huetter assembled his team, and they received sponsorship from the Aviation Institute. Following critical preparation that included drafting models and mocking up plans, the team began to build their aircraft, with the wood being donated by Seward Lumber.

Over several building days and the planning process, Huetter estimates that the team has put in over 100 combined hours into the project.

“From the whole process, I’ve learned so much more about what all goes into an airplane, all the structure and aerodynamics,” Hunter said. “It’s a lifetime memory that I’ll never forget.”

The brotherhood of the team was already instilled even before the UNO Flying Mavericks was formed. Each of the five members is part of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, which Zessin said has helped to add the needed cohesion of the team to complete such an overwhelmingly large project.

“I’d describe the team atmosphere as being very laid- back,” Zessin said. “Yeah, we are working so hard to complete this, but I mean it’s fun to talk and just hangout during the building days.”

Red Bull Flugtag, which is a national regional event hosting rivalries thrown in five cities, judges competitors based off three categories: distance, creativity of craft and showmanship. Each flying machine must be unique and themed, the Flying Mavericks chose a neon-painted 1980s’ theme to give them an edge.

Beyond just the launch, the teams must prepare a skit to complement their plane. Huetter said their skit includes him getting suited up and ready to fly while a song from the 80s’ plays.

To further gain an upper hand over their competition, Huetter and crew have adopted a ground effect strategy. When their craft begins soaring this Saturday, the team is hoping to use the airflow generated off the wings as a cushion to keep them flying farther and longer.

“With people supporting us, we are getting really amped and excited not only for the day of competition but just to show people what we have been working on for so long,” Huetter said.

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