Sophomores design Nyan Cat flying machine for Red Bull competition

Four engineering sophomores and one supply chain management sophomore will be competing in Red Bull's Flugtag competition. They will be competing with their homemade flying machine, the Nyan Cat. (Photo by Ana Ramirez)

Red Bull chose five ASU students to fly custom, human-powered machines this Saturday at the company’s Flugtag competition in San Francisco.

The four engineering sophomores and one supply chain management sophomore were chosen from hundreds of applicants to be among the 35 most creative teams that will launch their machines off a 30-foot deck above McCovey Cove.

Flugtag, named after the German word for “Flying Day,” originated in Vienna, Austria, in 1991 and worked its way to the U.S. in 2002. The event will stream live online.

Chemical engineering sophomore Chelsea Howard, the pilot, said her roommate works for Red Bull and told them about the competition.

“It’s a big deal because hundreds of people applied and only about 30 won, and we’re the only ones from Arizona,” Howard said.

The Nyan Team’s design is 10 feet long, 7 1/2 feet tall and a little more than 4 feet wide. It is a large rectangle with four wheelchair wheels, a giant Styrofoam cat with a square pink body, glitter and a grey head.

Howard said coming up with the name was easy.

“When we were thinking of ideas, we got side-tracked and we started talking about the Nyan Cat video,” she said.

The roughly three-and-a-half-minute YouTube video has garnered more than 87,000,000 views since April 2011.

The video is set to techno music and features a grey cat with a pink Pop-Tart body flying through space, leaving a rainbow stream behind it.

Civil engineering sophomore Dana Bennewitz, a part of the flight crew, submitted an 18-second video introducing the team, a sketch of the machine and a blurb about the design.

Bennewitz, Howard and the Nyan Cat will drive to California on Thursday, and the rest of the crew will fly up this weekend.

Friends and family helped with the cost of supplies and transportation. The team spent about $350 on supplies, most of which went to Styrofoam, and $600 on transportation.

“It definitely was a team effort, not just us,” Bennewitz said. “My grandparents sewed the costumes, and parents chipped in.”

She said the team drew the design using AutoCAD, engineering software that helps with drafting, modeling and architectural drawing.

She said they ended up not using the blueprints and did a lot of revising once they started building.

Electrical engineering sophomore Matt Geres, another member of the flight crew, said he remembers seeing the Flugtag competition on Red Bull commercials as a kid and is excited to participate in the event.

Geres said the team decided on the structure’s material after making a trip to Home Depot.

Because the structure is half the 400-pound limit, he feels like they are in good shape.

“Most of it is made out of Styrofoam and a lot of glitter,” he said. “We were going to use bike wheels, but those were expensive and we already had one wheelchair.”

Geres said there were times when the crew didn’t know how to continue with the project.

He said the only thing he is worried about is making sure their pilot gets out of the way before they dive into the mid-winter waters.

“Hopefully we don’t die of hypothermia when we jump in the water,” he said.

The teams are judged on creativity, showmanship and flight distance.

The Nyan Cat has yet to be tested, because the team doesn’t want to damage their flying machine before the event.

A German team holds the longest distance record of 228 feet.

The winners of the event will receive a day of skydiving with the Red Bull Air Force, second place will get to sail around in a chase boat with the ORACLE TEAM USA and third place will win an indoor skydiving experience with the Red Bull Air Force.

The Nyan Team said they want the People’s Choice Award, which would win the team a party with 15 friends.


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