Fri, Sep 23, 2005 - Page 15 News List

Dreams take wing in Erchung

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

Kenneth Peek from France goes upside down, while trying to fly his Zoom Zoom Electric High Wing High Tail Pedal Power craft in the International Bognor Birdman this year.

PHOTO: AP

Mankind's fancy for flight shows just how fanciful it can get as the second annual Taiwan Birdman Competition takes flight at the Weifeng Canal in Erchung (二重微風運河) tomorrow.

At least its participants hope it takes flight. The object of the event is to see who can fly their homemade contraption the furthest by leaping out over the waters of the Weifeng Canal. There are no rules as to what the contraption is, nor whether contestants need to be on top, inside, or strapped underneath it, so long as they pilot it all the way into the water -- an end that's all but guaranteed given the nature of the event.

Designs range from individuals with wings strapped on their backs, to similarly designed bicycles, to more outlandish creations: a bumble bee, a tube of toothpaste and a Mack truck. Pilots wearing capes tend to be a popular theme as well.

"I joined last year's competition as a way to console myself for not passing the tests to become a pilot in Taiwan's Air Force," said one participant named Chen. "I made a cardboard model of Taiwan's IDF aircraft -- the one Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) once said meant,

`It Doesn't Fly.' I held it around my waist and jumped into the canal. This year, I'm more serious. I'd like to try and go at least the minimum distance."

Chen's entry this year is a hang glider-like device that he says he's tested by jumping off the roof of his grandmother's house.

The competition is of the same feather as England's annual Bognor Birdman Competition, in which contestants leap off Bognor Regis pier strapped to whatever homemade contraption they've dreamt up for a hoped-for a few seconds of flight and a guaranteed 15 minutes of fame. The Bognor competition regularly attracts tens of thousands of spectators and has gained international media coverage.

First held in 1971, the Bognor event requires that participants fly at least 46m in order to be eligible for prizes, though few of them manage to make it far past the base of the pier.

The Taiwan Birdman Competition sets its sights at an easier -- though still dubious -- 10m. Those who don't have the right stuff for flying are still eligible for several other prizes, including best design, funniest design and biggest splash. As with last year, there will also be a most popular prize voted on by members of the audience.

A second category will see teams jointly piloting crafts, likely for even smaller distances than the individual competitors. Altogther, 67 would-be pilots have entered to test their wings in tomorrow's competition.

Last year's competition didn't really take off -- literally or figuratively. Organizers had expected a large number of spectators, but apparently overestimated the public interest in watching people jump into a canal. They remain undeterred this year, however, and are again hoping to draw a sizable crowd.

"Whether you take it seriously, from the point of view of trying to fly, or think it's just silly, the birdman competition is a lot of fun," said event organizer Wu Mei-ying (吳美瑩).

For more information on this year's Taiwan Birdman Competition, check out the event's Web site at www.tw-birdman.org/birdman/index.aspx.

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