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August 18, 2010

Windows Project Phoenix is taking on Red Bull Flugtag – and we need your support!

Calling all Windows fans!  This Saturday, August 21st in Long Beach, CA a team of Microsoft Employees – many from Windows – are participating in Red Bull Flugtag, a competition where teams from all over the world build human-powered flying machines, push them off a 30’ high dock, and see who can fly the farthest.  We’re already getting some love from the press, but we need your support as we take on the competition!


Here’s the deal: each team’s human-powered flying machine can be built out of any material, as long as the wingspan is under 30’ and the weight is less than 450 lbs (including the weight of the pilot).  Only 1 person can fly the craft, and each team can enlist 4 pushers to get the craft up to speed.  And of course, everyone dresses silly and participates in a 30-second skit before you launch.  If that does NOT sound fun to you, please leave this blog immediately, turn off your computer and slowly back away.

Flugtag WIDE

Our Flugtag, the Phoenix.  More on how we built it below.

Obviously we’re excited, but we want you to be excited too!  You can join the Windows Project Phoenix team in a few ways:

  • Like us on Facebook!  Tweet that you like us on Facebook!  Tell you friends to like us on Facebook!
  • Come cheer us on in person in Long Beach
  • Follow me on Twitter for up to the minute status of the craft, team and event.

And most importantly:

  • Show your support from anywhere in the world by helping us with the Flugtag Popularity Contest! Just text Team15 to RBULL (72855) anytime after 11am on Saturday, August 21st Friday, August 20th. 

The team has been working their collective butts off building an amazing craft, putting in more than 1500 total hours in design, fabrication, construction, event planning, marketing and promotion.  More on the actual flaying machine in a second, but first I wanted to introduce you to the crew that made this whole thing happen:


Brian Lysak

  • Real Job:  Senior Program Manager on the Windows Planning & Ecosystem Team
  • Flugtag Role:  Engineering Lead, materials and fabrication expert.
  • Solution to Everything:  Lay it up with carbon fiber!

Lucas Brodzinski

  • Real Job: Program Manager on the Windows Graphics Team.
  • Flugtag Role: Self-taught aerodynamics guru with $5.42 worth of library late fees to his name, CAD designer, and all around awesome guy.
  • He’s an international man of mystery: Lucas was born in Poland, raised as Canadian, and is now working in the United States – an international triple threat.  He’s working towards his pilot’s license

Mike Arntzen

  • Real Job:  Partner Engagement Manager on the Windows Ecosystem Team
  • Flugtag RoleAvionics  Aviation maestro
  • High in the sky:  Mike has over 500 flying hours under his belt and served in the Royal Australian Airforce for 6 years.


Mike, Lucas & Brian, with the Phoenix’s wings just before packing them into the moving truck


Ryan Asdourian

  • Real Job: PC Product Manager on the Windows Team
  • Flugtag Role: Team Captain, Morale and Adrenaline Injection Specialist
  • 20,000 screaming fans is a small crowd:  Ryan spends his weekends as Blitz, the Seattle Seahawk’s mascot

James DeBragga

  • Real Job: GM, Windows Marketing
  • Flugtag Role: Lead pusher (i.e., the biggest guy on the team)
  • Fun Fact: James can leg press 850lbs.

Jay Paulus

  • Real Job: Director of Product Management on the Windows Team
  • Flugtag Role:  Cart pushing technician
  • Go fly a kite:  Jay is an expert kitesurfer, so he’s used to high-flying insanity.

Ben Rudolph

  • Real Job:  PC Guy on the Windows PR Team
  • Flugtag Role:  Shameless promoter
  • Cheer us on or die: I’m a certified Krav Maga instructor and holds a black-belt in jiu-jitsu. 

Remember that I’ll also be live-tweeting the event, so be sure to follow me to keep tabs on the action!


Ali Driesman

  • Real Job: Student Audience Marketer, Education Strategy and Marketing
  • Flugtag Role: Piloting the phoenix, resident crazy person
  • Brave, or crazy?:  Ali has a severe disorder – FOMO (Fear ­Of Missing Out). The effects have been massive over-commitment issues, and a general dedication to participating in all things fun. Please pray for her.
Flugtag Team Photo - Final

Your brave & slightly crazy Flugtag flight crew:  Jay, Ryan, Ali & Ben.  James is up top.

(BTW, we built this photo from 5 different shots using Photo Fuse in the new Windows Live Photo Gallery)


The real star of the show is our flying machine, the Phoenix.  I have to say that it’s a pretty impressive sight to behold when you see it completely assembled, and it’s lightness is truly amazing – the whole contraption weighs less than 75lbs, which is a whopping 375lbs under the legal weight limit! Here’s what Brian, Lucas and Mike have to say about its construction and how they made something so light, so strong, and so flyable:

With less than 2 months to design, plan and execute we had a serious challenge ahead of us, especially given that we were a team of opinionated engineers, each with our own ideas.  Our goal was to not only build an aircraft that we could build on time and toss off the dock…  We wanted this thing to fly and fly well.  Project Phoenix also needed to look the part with a simple, intuitive design that functions.

We wanted to have a safe aircraft which would glide far at best or act as a nice parachute at worst so we made it BIG… so we pushed the size limits of the Flugtag rules.  With a wingspan of about 28 feet, the Phoenix is just inches short of the limit.

We settled on a hang glider inspired aircraft due to its simplicity and light weight.  We also quickly opted for a simple straight wing design vs. a swept-back wing for ease of fabrication.  To provide better horizontal stability we decided to build in a 12 degree angle between the two wings.  This would enable one wing to even the other out if the craft started to roll.  Mike, our resident pilot, recommended this design addition so that a tail section would not be needed to laterally stabilize the craft.



Early sketches of the Phoenix.  Our goal was to build something aeronautically sound, safe, and super lightweight

Throughout the design process brainstorming parts, fabrication methods and steps to get “Phoenix” built and assembled was on the top of my mind to enable a clear vision and plan going forward for the team.  After some shopping around and discussion we hand-picked the most feasible ultra-lightweight, strong and reasonably priced materials to build our glider.    Most of the parts with the exception of the carbon fiber are off the shelf components used daily by many hobbyist and DIY’ers.  The keel and cradle, as well as the wing ribs, are made of Macrolux, and incredibly light weight & strong cellular polycarbonate. The wing spars (ie, the pieces that hold the ribs together are used windsurfing masts & kite posts, and we made heavy use of carbon fiber for the center section. We covered the wings with Monokote, a thin, heat-sensitive plastic that’s typically used for model airplanes.  Completed, the entire craft weighs about 65lbs – 385lbs under the weight limit!

The final piece of the puzzle was a launch, which we built out of ABS plastic pipe. The launcher is an impressive site to behold – it hoists the Phoenix about 20’ into the air!

Ali on the perch

 Ali strapped into the harness on the almost-completed launcher. 

We’ve poured our heart and soul into the Phoenix and hope that it performs well.  Given the time constraints we were not able to perform test flights and we’re excited to see it take flight and learn even more from the experience. For more information on how we built the Phoenix, hit the Facebook page…we’ll be posting more detailed design notes there!


The completed Phoenix!

Thanks again to everyone who chipped in and supported us – this has been a true cross-company effort and we’re really proud to be representing Microsoft and Windows.  Don’t forget to like us on Facebook, follow me on Twitter for the latest news, and text your hearts out on Friday!