Attempting to Fly a Human-Powered Aircraft - Birdman Rally
Attempting to Fly a Human-Powered Aircraft - Birdman Rally

Attempting to Fly a Human-Powered Aircraft - Birdman Rally

The Birdman Rally is one of Melbourne’s craziest events - where participants build their own home-made flying machines to try and fly across the Yarra River. It’s a highlight of Moomba Festival each year, and this is the inside story of what it takes to become a Birdman.

View on Youtube:


The Birdman Rally, when people try to achieve humankind's longest held ambitions, taking to the skies. and this is me. The Birdman Rally is one of Australia's weirdest competitions. This is the Array river and every year crazy people including myself, jump in, trying to fly as far as they can on their own home built flying machines. The goal, see how far they can go, do something silly, raise a lot of money for charity. And this is a guide on how to be a Birdman. The Birdman rally dates back to the 1970s where it kicked off in the UK and was soon brought across to Australia. It was held across the country picking in popularity in the 1980s.

[TV] There we goes ooh.

The wherever the event was held, whether it was Perth or Glenelg it was very much in a silly, fun and community spirit. And with different degrees of ambition

[TV] How long it take you to make your flying fortress

Aah about 10 minutes

And there was also the occasional accident.

What a flying event


[Julian] But these days it's Melbourne, turned to the Birdman Rally as part of the Moomba festival. The name Moomba is an unusual one. It's a local Aboriginal word which means let's get together and have fun. Or at least that's what the organisers of the event were told back in the 1950s. It turns out moom actually means bum and ba means up or a joke in this case, a joke on the organisers. Now that might sound like an urban legend but historians and linguists agree Moomba means up your bum.

The first thing to do is sign up a few friends, head across the buttons to get working on your design. We kit up the plumbing all pretty hard and started assembling our seven meter long craft.

Now I know that this project is as much about winning the crowd as it is about aircraft design. So to help in this, I found a co-pilot of secondhand stuff Dennis, the pink bunny rabbit. Now this was something that people could get behind. The other thing that you need to do, is get over your fear of the Murray river water. And the Murray River isn't known for being too clean. In fact, you're not normally allowed to swim in it right here.

Australia's most read newspaper, the Herald sun feature Dennis and I. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a bunny? Yes. No, I don't think that's normally how that quote goes but it was great to get some publicity either way.

It wasn't just the paper Breakfast TV. Got it. On the action. I was joined by a girl guide group and look how weird I looked just standing on the side there wearing serial killer gloves and the pink bunny rabbit, only makes things more creepy.

[Reporter] Now your craft is too big to bring down here and talk us through it.

[Julian] It is seven meters wide. So I couldn't bring it down this morning but I could bring my copilot, Dennis and Dennis and I were going to find out where the pink bunnies can fly without I can fly and to raise some really some money for really great cause which is the asylum seeker resource center.

[Reporter] It is for a really great cause.

That's worth taking a quick look at similar competitions around the world. The event continues to be a fun day out in the UK and has become a red bull competition Flugtag. But it's the Japanese that have really taken it to the next level. in Australia, the winning distance is often around 20 meters. In Japan, 60 kilometers. Yes, this event has been taken up by aeronautical engineering faculties at different universities who are creating exceptional human powered, flying machines. Absolutely insane.

And it's kind of remarkable the event continues in this era of public liability and insurance concerns, but the council does work hard to make sure it's a safe event. They're in the water the day before the event clearing anything you might land on, and on the day there's rescue boats and divers in the water. The other way they keep it safe. Isn't pretty tight rules about the aircraft design itself. No start energy on board. You've gotta be able to escape in a couple of seconds. So it looks like we're not going to be competing against the Japanese anytime soon.

The first challenge is how to move a seven meter long DIY craft down to the river. I recommend strapping it to the top of took tuk tuk and heading down nearly enough not to cause any traffic dramas but then it was time to jump my time to fly.

Let's make some noise for the Unbound fly. Here we go. [Spectators] clapping

All right. So that wasn't the most graceful of flights and it is worth doing a replay to understand what really happened here. You know, I'm not an aeronautical engineer but I have been told the wings really should go out rather than up. My opinions don't really matter. It's up to the expert judges to give their thoughts

[Judge] Considering this was a fly, I think it was not that good but I don't think the pink bunny can fly. I'm very sorry.

But luckily, my failure was just shared between me and the thousands of people alongside the banks of the river. That is until later that night, when the ABC the national broadcaster shared this with the country.

[TV] Well back home, a Trojan warrior, a star was tie fighter and pink bunny rabbit have all tried and failed to fly across the Yarra river today as part of the annual Moomba festival.

And it wasn't Just a shout out. Watch how they finished this report. Let's just say that it's not the most flattering end for news clip.

[TV] The Birdman rally started in 1976 and money raised from the event goes to charity.

I'm Julian O'Shea. Thank you for watching me embarrass myself in front of thousands of people, national TV and now the internet. If you enjoyed this, please subscribe for more. That's it for me.