‘UP, UP, and not so far away’

We won! On 13 March, MetroBird — an upcycled flying contraption built and designed by UpShop Industries — won the 2022 Birdman Rally. It didn’t matter that MetroBird only ‘flew’ 2.5 metres and ended up in the Yarra river. The efforts of pilot, Anna Gleeson, were valiant, and the dedicated Metro ‘pirates’ — motivated by the motto “treasure your chest” — raised $35,632 (including $10,000 prize money) for breast cancer research.  

Inspired by all those designers all the way back to Leonardo da Vinci who have experimented with getting us humans off the ground, and the potential fun of participating in this traditional event at the annual Moomba festival, we were excited when client Cross Yarra Partnership offered UpShop Industries the opportunity to design their entry for the competition.

But we only had four weeks to do it! We had to come up with a concept for the design, consider the mechanics and the tensile strength of the PVC banner material that would be used, and play around with the graphic affordances of the Metro Tunnel logo printed on the banner.

We also had to work out what we would use to transform the banner into a membrane that would be somewhat aerodynamic, test the prototype and make the final design. Mario began with sketching out the design of two tunnel-shaped ‘wings’ inspired by Metro Tunnel.

Whereas Leonardo decided on wood as the support structure for the raw silk ‘wings’ of his flying machine, we focused on finding a flexible, light material that could be diverted from landfill. Through a connection, we discovered PVC electrical conduit (surplus from the NBN rollout) stored in a warehouse waiting for its second life – perfect! And our first prototype was built here at UpShop.

Testing out the prototype in the local park was a lot of fun. Two wings with a handle proved to be just a little too aerodynamic and difficult to pilot. And so, two-became-one and our ‘bird’ ended up looking more like a hang ‘glider’.

MetroBird is 23 metres of potential ‘waste material’ transformed into an upcycled flying machine — and a design project that lifted all of our spirits.