August 23, 2007

Attempted Elephant Flight Is Fun Folly for Ken Poli ’02

Dumbo craft gains Internet fame for splendid crash at Flugtag event

A life-size elephant rolled on wheels across a platform, building up momentum to “fly” across Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Piloted by Ken Poli ’02, Dumbo failed to take flight, but it did make its mark in Flugtag history – it earned a spot among the 10 most spectacular crashes ever in the series sponsored by Red Bull.

“The idea of Flugtag is to make an outrageous craft and then fly it,” says Poli, whose craft was pushed by a team that included his brother Ed ’99. “It’s also about the pre-launch festivities.”

The crowd-pleasing attempt was chronicled in a video posted on the Flugtag web site and a number of versions remain on YouTube.

Team Dumbo was among 25 teams selected from a field of 265 applicants to participate.

In Flugtag, a team’s hand-made flying machine is judged on distance, creativity, and showmanship. Team Dumbo decided to focus its efforts on two of those criteria.

“We weren’t looking for a flying record,” says Poli, an A.B. engineering graduate. “We knew from an engineering standpoint what would and would not be possible in that regard. We also knew that to get in, our idea had to be original. Our goal was to appeal to the crowd. So we built the biggest elephant we could. Everyone wants to see Dumbo fly.”

Poli does use his engineering education and experience in a more traditional manner as an estimator for Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. He is quick to point out that his entry into the engineering field can be credited to a Lafayette connection.

“I began this line of work at Faukner USA, overseeing the building of a jail, after Josh Leen ’99 helped guide me to Faukner. Josh was in my brother’s fraternity,” he explains.

“There are a couple of things I find remarkable about Lafayette,” he adds. “Besides the dependable networking, I found that the professors were available to the students – in the office and outside it – to a far greater degree than any other school I’ve experienced or heard about. Professor [Ricardo] Bogart[-Alvarez] was a great example. I knew I could count on him to be there for me no matter what.”

As a track athlete, Poli experienced extra help in learning to balance the demands of his sport and his studies.

“The attention to student support is incomparable,” he says. “They were very focused on helping me socially and professionally outside my track commitments.”

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