Giant Silver Wings

In the Summer of 2001, when Daniel finally convinced me to go to Burning Man, I knew I had to create a great costume or something to bring along.

I had just finished the paper-mache hummingbird, in which I had noticed the strength (and low price) of PVC pipes, so I decided to try making a really big costume, supported by these pipes.

I decided on a pair of giant wings.

After making a few terrible sketches, I started gathering the materials I needed.

I bought two 10-foot half-inch plastic pipes, some elbow connectors, spray-glue, nylon zip-ties and a box of screws.

When building something as part of a costume, a step that will save a lot of time is to modify a regular piece of clothing or equipment. Constructing a hat or shoes or underwear from scratch is really complicated, and your home-crafted version will rarely be as good as one from the store. 

It is almost always easier to start with a scrap piece of clothing that you modify. In this case, I bought a $3 backpack from the Salvation Army store & punched holes in it to insert a PVC frame inside. This solved the problem of how to securely attach the wings to my body.

Starting at the top of my back, these six-foot tall wings looked REALLY massive.  I didn't want them quite so tall.  I wasn't planning on wearing them inside any houses, but I needed to be able to fit them inside my car.

I wasn't sure how realistic I wanted them to be.

The next step was to collect lots and lots of corrugated plastic signs from around town.



God, I hate these crappy signs. What an eyesore they are. I think most of them are for Herbalife. Ambur helped me tear down more than 50 one Sunday afternoon.  We took photos for
Usually I just throw them in a dumpster, but this time I saved the clean ones.  The futuristic material they are printed on is lightweight, strong and extremely durable...perfect for a pair of giant wings.

I laid them all out on the sidewalk in front of my house & mopped them clean.

When they were dry, I spray glued aluminum foil to both sides. Aluminum foil is one of the world's coolest materials. I tried to keep the foil smooth, but there ended up being tons of wrinkles.
Colleen and Vincent stopped by and checked out the long, reflective panels I had made.

Wow. If I ever decide to sell this stuff, Colleen is going to be the spokesmodel!

I decided not to cut the panels into feather-shapes.  I thought that since they were silver, they would look better as stylized, or ornamental wings.

Here is the 135 degree elbow, where one panel met another.

I used the wire-ties to attach them to the pvc. Painting the pipes silver really made them look like iron pipes.
Here is one wing coming together next to a completed wing.
Here the second wing is almost finished.
The silver wings, because they were made up of aluminum foil and recycled plastic signs were remarkably cheap.  This backpack was $3, and the paint was $5. I had some leftover aluminum foil. Oh, I almost forgot the spray adhesive was $10.

I think you could build some similar wings for under $40.

Here is a photo of the internal frame of plastic pipes.  They were screwed together.  I used a back panel to stiffen the frame.

The iron rebar sticking out of the top was a last-minute design fix.

I had to attach the wings to the backpack in the alley.
They were incredibly lightweight, but they caught so much air that the slightest breeze could be felt. This meant a lot of strain on the points where the wings met the backpack. This junction gave me plenty of grief.

Here is a photo of me testing their flexibility.  If I leaned forward, they bent forward, like I was flapping....sorta.


On August 29th, 2001, I sent the above photo to my friend Chris Bartlett, and he sent me back his vision of my winged adventures.




They were comfortable and fun! I couldn't wait to get into a crowd with them.
Brooke came over & tried them on. She was sure I was going to have the best wings at Burning Man.
The wings got their first real-world trial in the desert at Burning Man 2001.  It was very windy, and the wings broke at least six times. I was very frustrated.

Finally on Friday night the wind settled enough to give them another go. I waded out into the crowd & got a great reaction from everyone. I got invitations to parties, liquor & was even interviewed once. The question of the night was, "aren't those heavy?"

I didn't really have a complete costume, just the wings. It seemed to be enough. 

I was treating them very gingerly, but the slightest gusts of wind threatened their fragile construction.  The problem was the socket where the wing met the backpack frame.

Ironically, it wasn't until I was disassembling my tent that I realized a solution. My rebar tent-pegs would have been the perfect reinforcement for the wings!

In this photo, you can see my tent covered with more of those aluminum panels.

After burning man, the wings were saturated with dirt & the foil was battered. 

I hosed them down & covered them with a fresh layer of foil.

I also got to work on the rest of my costume, a suit of armor.

I bought some plastic two-liter bottles from some homeless guys & spray painted them silver. Then I taped them to some black pants, and bought a cheesy chest plate and a sword.

I drove out to Mark and Stacy's house in San Francisco, and Sue soon joined us.  We parked about a mile away from Market Street & made our way up to Castro.
It was awesome. People loved the wings & I had my photo taken dozens of times.

 I bonded with anyone with wings or a sword.

One guy in the crowd said, "you get first prize". That kind of comment keeps me coming back for more.


San Francisco's finest enjoyed a pizza on the streets.
Here I posed with Mark & Simone(?). She was at the very same intersection I had met her at the year before, as the bare-chested Munch woman!

I am drinking a beer some random stranger handed me.

Sue found Daniel!
And I found Jesus!

At around 2am Sue and I headed home.  

The wings were reasonably straightforward to build and made a very big impression for the time I spent on them. 

The bay bridge was closed down to one lane, so it was an hour-long nightmare driving across it. Next time I'll be sure to make the wings actually work.

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Contact Rob January 6th, 2002.  

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