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Contraption contest lures local team with glider that looks like KC’s famous Connie

Updated: 2013-09-12T03:44:00Z

By MATT CAMPBELL

The Kansas City Star

Looking at some of the “flying machines” that people enter in this gliding contest, one might think the whole point was to shove off a 30-foot pier and sink immediately into the water below.

That is often the slapstick result at the Red Bull Flugtag glider competition. A team performs an elaborate skit in costume, gives the heave-ho to their contraption and … kerplunk.

But a Kansas City team will be in it to win at the Chicago contest on Sept. 21 with dreams of beating the glide distance record, currently 207 feet.

“You get a lot of these teams that just want to go out there and have fun and basically jump in the water,” said John Roper, director of the Airline History Museum in Kansas City. “We’re going up there to represent Kansas City and to try to grab the trophy.”

The team also wants to draw attention to the museum’s fundraising efforts to get its Lockheed Constellation, dubbed the Connie, back into the air.

The glider built this summer by Roper and others at the museum is designed to resemble the Connie and has a serious shot of success at the Flugtag, which is German for “fly day.”

The glider will be on view and Red Bull ace pilot Kirby Chambliss will perform aerobatics at a fundraiser Saturday at the Airline History Museum, which is in Hangar 9 at Wheeler Downtown Airport.

Antics aside, the serious goal of the Flugtag is to see how far a human-powered aircraft, built within certain specifications, can glide.

Winning teams get bragging rights and publicity courtesy of Red Bull, the energy drink company. A team that sets a record will also get a free trip to Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz’s private aircraft museum in Salzburg, Austria.

Team Connie has designed its craft to glide 300 feet. An aerospace engineering company in Lawrence called DARcorporation donated time and expertise. That included lift-to-drag ratio analysis and other calculations.

The wings are designed for low drag and high lift. The glider, with a 28-foot wingspan, is made of household insulating foam. The plane, the pilot and the aluminum wheeled launch dolly cannot exceed 400 pounds.

Roper will be the pilot. Other members of Team Connie, who will give the glider a running push off the pier, are Luther Kroman, Scott King, Lennon Carlson and R.J. Stafos.

Roper is hoping his guys can give him a 10 mph launch. He will have only one control, the elevator, which will allow him to control airspeed. Nose down to go faster, nose up to go slower.

They have only one glider, so they can’t afford to test it before the Flugtag.

Team Connie isn’t all serious. The ground handlers will be in Chiefs, Royals and Sporting KC colors.

“We want people to know we’re from Kansas City,” said Roper.

The museum is trying to raise roughly $500,000 to get the real Connie aloft again. She hasn’t flown since 2007. The plane needs some inspections, and the museum has to overhaul ground support equipment and get crews trained. There are also fuel and insurance costs.

The Airline History Museum tries to remind people of the Kansas City area’s role in aviation, which goes beyond the TWA/Howard Hughes story. There also was World War II B-25 production at the Fairfax Bomber Plant, Pratt & Whitney engine production and the PV2 Harpoon based at the Olathe Naval Air Station.

Roper has a degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Kansas and 4,000 hours as a pilot. He has been director of the Airline History Museum for two years.

“I love aviation,” he said.

To reach Matt Campbell, call 816-234-4902 or send email to mcampbell@kcstar.com.

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