FlutterFrog Soars in Flugtag

A 10-foot-high bowl of chips and dip sitting amicably next to an equally large pot of gold and a Chinese take-out container. Grown men in Boy Scout uniforms on a mega Big Wheel (remember when you were a kid?). Teams with names such as Space Balls, Pink Viking, Greased Lightning, and a few too “colorful” to mention here.

And then there is the Care2 FlutterFrog, the brightly-colored, eco-friendly flying contraption with a giant frog’s head and a butterfly’s body, made of hemp and bamboo, lovingly constructed in a San Mateo, Calif., garage. All were participating in the Madness and Mayhem otherwise known as the RedBull Flugtag.

Many of you voted for the Care2 FlutterFrog last Saturday (thanks!), and have sent e-mails asking how the FlutterFrog’s maiden voyage turned out and how the Care2 team fared in its river flight (thanks again!).

Speaking as a completely unbiased spectator–OK, totally biased, but that’s beside the point–I have to say, the Care2 FlutterFrog team was absolutely incredible on Saturday. (Check out the team video at the end of the blog).

The tension in the air, and the anticipation, was palpable. Nerves, caffeine, lack of sleep, and excitement all mingled together as 31 teams prepared to compete for honor, glory, and the coveted grand-prize of a trip to Austria. They will attempt to “fly” the farthest, demonstrate the most creativity, and exhibit the best showmanship.

It is just after 7 a.m. on a cool, overcast Saturday morning in Portland, Ore., far too early for this editor to be out of bed and carrying frog costumes, silver pipe cleaners, and vice-grips (don’t ask, I’m still not sure what they were for) across a damp field on a weekend morning.

Teams are nervously buzzing around in the “hangar area” along the Willamette River as they undertake last minute preparations before the Official Safety Checks at 9 a.m.

The Care2 team has driven 12 hours to get to the event, towing a U-Haul with the FlutterFrog on board (super gas mileage, or so I am told). All are tired but amped up–part excitement, part apprehension (an impending dance routine followed by a 30-foot plunge in front of 80,000 people could do that to you), part RedBull (an all-you-can-drink RedBull offering might not be the best thing, especially before breakfast), and part espresso (still no breakfast).

The Care2 FlutterFrog on-site crew, just so you know, is comprised of Alex (pilot/software engineer), Anthony (frog1/software engineer), John (frog2/software engineer), Jeff, (frog3/ qa and release engineer), Allie (butterfly/intern/performance artist), and Chris and Karl (engineers/photographers/support crew/and more).

Alex is leading the team in the last-minute to-dos: Adjusting the wings, adding more padding to the bamboo frame (a RedBull mandated requirement from the pre-safety check the day before–probably wise), and preparing the team signage (rock-paper-scissors for who had the best handwriting). Then a dry run of the routine, and a test run with the frogs to make sure they could run in their froggie feet (the jury’s still out on which frog won this one).

The team next door (which shall remain unnamed) is scrambling for more rope and duct tape (Care2 kindly shared), their craft looking rather unsteady, even on land (note: sadly, their craft imploded on impact, not even reaching the 10 ft marker and I think they ended up quite bruised).

Meanwhile, nearby Team Yakima (the bike rack company, not the Washington city) is looking very organized with their giant Big Wheel–so organized, in fact, that it looked like they had just popped out of an oversized toy box, ready built, and ready to go (note: they won the grand prize, more details later).

It is absolutely amazing–the time, effort, funds, and in many cases, blood (literally), sweat (lots of it), and tears (really)–that have gone into these 31 floats. Built in warehouses, on rooftop workshops, and, as in the case of the FlutterFrog, Anthony’s garage.

Cardboard, paint, rope, foam, lacquer (ew, yuck), duct tape, hemp, and bamboo–the materials run the gamut. As do the designs, some pored over for hours by engineers (the FlutterFrog) and others hastily sketched out on scraps of paper or on cocktail napkins; some in construction for the past 10 months, others built (purportedly) in the week, or the day, before the competition.

But back to the FlutterFrog–green, tall, bright, wide, orange, purple, blue, yellow, and looking very happy and secure with its bright red, smiling mouth, calmly yet cheerfully resting next to its competitors.

It’s now 10 a.m. and hoards of eager fans begin streaming into the site, taking over the pre-flight area, and surrounding the FlutterFrog. The team was a HUGE hit with the crowd and handled their fans fabulously well. The frogs/pilot/butterfly spent several hours before their flight (freefall?) posing for photos with enthusiastic kids and “grown-ups” and answering questions for press and spectators. They were super stars!

And when it was time to perform, the team aced their routine. The crazy jumping, leaping, hopping frogs delighting the crowd while Allie excelled in her debut as the butterfly (with less than 12 hours notice, I might add, as she was the “understudy.”)

After performing their perfectly executed song and dance entitled “Care2 in the Skies of Portland” (to the tune of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”) the team raced across the pier, pushing the FlutterFrog with Alex ensconced inside, and launched it and themselves off the 30-foot platform. Yowza! (Or kowabunga?!?)

The FlutterFrog really did fly off that pier, floating like a butterfly into the murky green (brown?) river and landing incredibly gracefully, especially compared to the other flying contraptions, which smashed and scattered across the water upon impact (youch that had to hurt!).

The FlutterFrog managed to fly whopping 40 feet before splashing into the river. I was personally quite relieved when pilot Alex, and crew John-Jeff-Anthony-Allie, arose to the surface of the choppy water and made it back to land completely unscathed. I am still amazed by Alex’s bravery–you couldn’t get me into a flying contraption that was going to be launched off a 30 foot pier (well, maybe if you paid me to write a story about it, but actually, no, not even then.)

Scoring extremely well, the Care2 team received a 7 (out of 10) from each one of the judges. Whoohoo! (Editor’s note: The winning team flew 62 feet overall, and used a sort of hang glider on the top of their big wheel flying machine to achieve the final distance–creative, and allowed in the rules, but so “not fair” in my opinion.)

So while our team didn’t take the grand prize (yes, I stomped and protested briefly but in the end, I was a good sport about it), they definitely won the crowd’s affections. And according to the team, the entire experience was fabulous. In fact, rumor has it they are already planning their design for next year’s event.

Singing, dancing, running, flying, splashing, answering on-camera questions in soggy froggy costumes–and all of this on top of a very hectic FlutterFrog build and Care2 site redesign schedule last week, very loonngg road trip to Portland, and very little sleep. (Alight guys, you gotta stop yawning already!) Pretty darn impressive.

Way to go captain Alex and Team FlutterFrog! You definitely put the Fun in Flutter, Frog, and Flugtag.

And way to go Care2 members–thanks for your votes, support, and all of your good wishes!

To see a video of the Care2 FlutterFrog’s flight and team performance, click here.

By Robyn Hessinger, Care2 Editor-in-Chief


Tim Cheung
Tim C5 years ago