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Microsoft hopes its Phoenix will rise

A team of workers from Redmond's Windows team has entered a flying craft in this weekend's Red Bull Flugtag competition in Southern California.

The Project Phoenix team sets up their glider in Long Beach, Calif., on Friday, a day ahead of the Flugtag competition. Microsoft Windows Project Phoenix

A team of Microsofties is in Southern California on Friday, getting ready to take part in a flying competition.

Their handmade glider--Microsoft Windows Project Phoenix--is one of about 30 entrants in Red Bull's annual Flugtag competition.

"This is kind of like the most Microsoft thing we could do," team member (and Windows blogger) Ben Rudolph told CNET. "We took a team of "smart guys and girls and we built this thing from scratch."

I had a chance to check in with Rudolph via cell phone on Friday afternoon.

"It's standing up," Rudolph said, admiring the team's work. "It actually looks pretty freaking amazing."

The team has been reassembling things since about 9 a.m. on Friday, Rudolph said. "Now we're just going through dry runs."

Rudolph will be one of the team members pushing the glider, along with several colleagues from the Windows unit.

"I'm the muscle," he joked. The pilot is Ali Driesman, a member of the Windows education marketing team.

As part of the competition, the team must do a 30-second skit, then push the glider for 30 feet to the end of a pier and then see how far it can fly.

It's the first time for the entire eight-person team, which has spent three months planning and building the Phoenix. The hardest part, Rudolph said, was settling on a design since there were so many possibilities. In the end, the team went with a single straight wing design that uses carbon fiber and other materials and weighs just 65 pounds--a fraction of the maximum allowable 450 pounds.

"It's crazy light," Rudolph said. The wings are topped with the same kind of monocoat used for the wings of model airplanes, he said. "We just scaled it up."

Its 28-foot wingspan, however, is near the maximum allowed in the competition.

As for the launcher, which hoists the Phoenix some 20 feet in the air, it's a big black thing made out of plastic sewer pipe, Rudolph said. Much of the contraption was put together with hand-me-down tools, stuff bought on eBay, along with a lot of Gorilla Glue and duct tape, Rudolph said.

Microsoft kicked in some money, but the whole thing was built for around $1,000.

"It's been a pretty minimal financial investment," Rudolph said. However, in time, it's been a considerably bigger endeavor. The team started planning in May and building in mid-June. "It's been our nights and our weekends for the last several weeks," Rudolph said, stressing that none of the team has been skipping out on their day jobs to build the Phoenix.

One of the team members had an unused seaplane hangar at a house on Lake Sammamish. "We kind of commandeered that space for most of the summer and built the thing in there."

The competition starts Saturday at 1 p.m. in Long Beach. The team is also competing for a people's choice award. Those who want to vote for the Windows entrant can text team15 to 72855 until 11 a.m. Saturday.