It may look like a lark, but growing numbers of students are flocking to the China Birdman contest, launching themselves off a 10m cliff to test their engineering skills and home-made flying machines.
“Everyone dreams of flying,” said Liang Chunming, a 20-year-old computer science student who ploughed a delta-wing glider into the lake and had to be fished out by rescue boats.
The China Birdman competition, now in its sixth year, is modeled on more established global competitions including the Bognor Regis Birdman in England.
It has been growing in popularity across China. This year it drew around 40 entries, including flying-mad students from more than 20 universities and secondary schools.
Among the handful of foreigners taking part was Sean Frawley, a New Yorker who works at a battery factory near Guangzhou on the Pearl River Delta in southern China.
“This competition is much more fun. In England everyone brings commercial hang gliders, but here everyone has built their machine. No one has bought anything so there’s a lot more variety and creativity,” said Frawley, whose albatross-like white glider crashed after a wing spar snapped in mid-air.
On a bruising day for man and machine, one flight stood out. Middle-aged Tian Xing managed to glide 62m in a craft he fashioned with a couple of friends to snare victory over Jiangmen’s placid lake.