By Sandra Conchie
His bright flying contraption never really got airborne - but after plummeting off Salisbury Wharf at record speed, Skyte the Clown has once again been crowned Tauranga's "Birdman".
The professional clown, also known as Stu Thompson, has now won the annual competition for the past four years running. Yesterday he beat nine other competitors in the popular More FM Birdman Competition.
The seven-year birdman veteran squeezed himself into his little flying contraption called the Throw a Party Paddy Wagon and, with a fiendish yell of "go baby", took to the air in front of 2000 spectators.
Alas, the paddy wagon and its V8 piston-engine - which in fact comprised eight cans of the drink V - plummeted quickly after take-off.
Despite his nose dive into Pilot Bay's chilly waters, Mr Thompson won the most creative winged craft category and earned himself $1000 cash and a voucher for a 90-minute Simulator Experience flight package.
"I did try to give other competitors a fighting chance but I'm rapt. I have always wanted to fly in a 737," said the delighted Mr Thompson. He admitted the competition was a bit of an addiction for him.
He plans to be back again next year.
There is no doubt many contestants have tried - and failed - to dethrone him. Yesterday, Otumoetai's Grant Stewart had hoped it would be "fourth time lucky" with his creation Time Flies. He told the crowd it had taken him months to plan but only "12 hours and 60 minutes" to create.
The 40-year-old daredevil said his contraption, which included lots of polystyrene and Blutack, took "plenty of guts" to fly. But he showed no signs of nervousness as he launched himself off the wharf to the tune of The Final Countdown as a skyrocket screamed overhead.
Mr Stewart won $500, after placing second in the most creative winged craft section, and $250 for the longest flight - despite flying only a modest 4.5m.
The record to date for the longest flight is 11m.
There was no doubt man's ingenuity was pitted against basic physics and gravity as the weird and wonderful were trotted out.
Also among the brave souls launching themselves off Salisbury Wharf were first-timers Ginger Mindl from Matua and her 12-year-old son, Maximo.
The 42-year-old psychologist felt decidedly out of her comfort zone as she took off in her UFO-themed contraption We Come in Peaces - which did just that.
"Taking off was more scary than I expected but my landing was out of this world," she said.
One of the more topical creations was the Bird Flu Sucks entry by Tauranga Hospital intensive care nurses Wendy Lydon, Chris Gilder and Roz Wright. The latter dressed up as a dead chicken and was wheeled out in a coffin for an icy dunking.
More FM operations manager Kristin Richards said the birdman was a great chance for people to legally jump off the wharf while doing something zany.
"The More FM Birdman competition is an iconic event to the Bay which just gets better and better,"she said.