The Adrenalist

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What Is Worthing Birdman?



Contests do not come much more bizarre than the International Worthing Birdman. Worthing on southern England’s coast is better known for wheelchairs and walking sticks than flying men, but between August 18 and 19, the quiet flat town plays host to the aerial competition that raises the specter of the original Greek flying man Icarus, whose waxy wings melted when he went too close to the sun.

The contest features three peculiar categories of strictly human-powered flying: Leonardo da Vinci (the inventor of the helicopter), Condor and Kingfisher.

The Birdman dates back to 1971. It began up the road in Selsey when aviators were tasked to fly 50 yards by launching themselves from the Lifeboat Pier. In 1978, organizers learned they could no longer use the pier and so the event was shunted to another English seaside town, Bognor Regis, where the event thrived for 29 years.  In 2008, the event had to be shunted to sunny Worthing because of “structural problems.”

Worthing Birdman is essentially about having a laugh. Contestants who have taken the plunge include Mary Poppins and Peter Pan. Then there was a skateboarding cow, Dr. Who and his Tardis and Wonder Woman. Other luminaries to have a go include The Red Baron, some astronauts, the Pope, a flying squirrel, Donald Duck, some sugar plum fairies, a miniature Concorde and some penguins and Ninja turtles. Once, legendary extreme sports enthusiast Eddie the Eagle even showed.

The flight distance record, set by local lad Dave Bradshaw, is 89.2 meters.

All proceeds go to charity.

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