Tuesday, March 11, 2014
By Bob Keyes firstname.lastname@example.org
BUCKFIELD — The launcher is fully loaded. Forty-eight paper airplanes, arranged in four rows of 12, are set to soar across the room.
Fritz Grobe, left, and Stephen Voltz devise new DIY projects like this one called Paper Airplane Squadron in their Buckfield Grange Hall laboratory.
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
Grobe and Voltz have a new book out, “How to Build a Hovercraft: Air Cannons, Magnet Motors, and 25 Other Amazing DIY Science Projects.”
Lab masters Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz and production supervisor Shane Miclon inspect the rubber bands-and-string launching mechanisms. They focus their cameras, adjust the lights.
When everything is ready to go, the three men stand back. Grobe winds the launching chord, and in seven seconds time 47 planes zoom in perfect arcs, crash into the far wall and flutter to the floor.
One gets stuck in the launching device, a rectangular framework made with 1-by-3s and dowels. That’s the one that will get all the attention when Grobe and Voltz examine video of the launch.
The Paper Airplane Squadron is the latest project for EepyBird Studios, a laboratory in the old North Buckfield Grange co-founded by Grobe and Voltz.
We know them better as the Coke and Mentos guys, whose viral videos of their backyard science experiment brought them widespread attention in print and broadcast media and made them a near-overnight sensation in online media. Their biggest video, “The Extreme Diet Coke and Mentos Experiments,” was seen by millions on its release in June 2006, and led to marketing opportunities, first with Coca-Cola and the makers of Mentos candies, and later McDonald’s, OfficeMax and other national brands.
Many observers, skeptical Mainers among them, assumed these two guys dressed in ties, white lab coats and goggles would enjoy their 15 minutes and move on. But Grobe, a 45-year-old former circus performer, and Voltz, 56, a trial lawyer with a lifelong love of street performing and clowning, have made their living off EepyBird, concocting joyful experiments that combine a Boy Scout’s curiosity with math-geek precision.
They’re out with a book, “How to Build a Hovercraft.” It includes 25 do-it-yourself home science projects. There’s a 10-plane version of the launcher in the book, along with a leaf-blower hovercraft that Grobe promises will lift you off the ground a good 2 inches and allow you to glide on air.
It’s child’s play, done well.
FROM SIMPLE TO WALKING ON AIR
There is a range of levels here, from simple projects that take 10 minutes to others that require work and know-how as well as visits to the Home Depot. But there’s a big pay-off: Walking on air, or building an air vortex pistol from a 5-gallon bucket.
“The reason I love the circus is that some days you do something you’ve never done before. The best days, you do things you never thought possible,” Grobe said. “Today, we launched 48 airplanes in 6 seconds. ... That’s the heart of EepyBird. We do these outrageous stunts, but what really matters is that sense of accomplishment. That joy.”
“We’re not just buying the latest gadget and then we get bored with it and throw it away,” Voltz said. “This is about, ‘What can you make?’ ”
He calls “How to Build a Hovercraft” the book he always wanted as a kid, combining “really cool” projects with practical science.
Science is what makes the geysers go higher, Grobe noted.
The book was the result of prodding by Voltz’s brother, John.
John loved what Grobe and his brother were doing, and appreciated their success. They were masters of viral video, and hit at just the right time. In the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, broadband was reaching into homes across the country. Upstarts like YouTube, which depend on the reliability of broadband for effectiveness, took off. Social media helped spread the message.
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click image to enlarge
Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz work on new projects like this one called "Sticky Note Waterfall" in their Buckfield lab. Tuesday, December 3, 2013. John Patriquin/Staff Photographer.