An MIT Flugtag Team Is Launching Bananas into Flight

A team of engineers swoops into Red Bull’s Flugtag competition.

red bull flugtag mit monkey ballers bananas

Local Flugtag hopefuls the Monkey Ballers—all from MIT—are building their banana plane in the school’s AeroAstro hangar. / Photograph courtesy of MIT

Strange things often end up in the Charles River. This summer will be no exception, as Boston hosts Red Bull’s annual international Flugtag event for the first time on August 20. The challenge? Launch human-piloted gliders shaped like dragons, hot dogs, and Red Line trains off a 28-foot-tall deck above the water.

Among the 30 participating teams are the Monkey Ballers, a group of five current and former MIT graduate students ready to crush the competition with their banana plane and engineering chops. “Everyone knows a team from MIT is going to win,” says team captain William Thalheimer.

Thalheimer and teammates Hayden Cornwell, Michael Klinker, Alex Feldstein, and Mike Tomovich plan to make a splash on their home turf after being cruelly denied their shot at last year’s Flugtag in Portland, Oregon, when a traffic jam on the river caused the Coast Guard to shut down the event. “Having nothing for all that anticipation was pretty terrible,” Cornwell says.

Hoping to set a new distance record, the Monkey Ballers are using everything at their disposal, including MIT’s state-of-the-art AeroAstro hangar. Their other mission: to make the sciences more appealing to young students. To that end, they’ve even invited kids into the lab to observe the building process. “It’s really about sharing our passion for engineering and inspiring the next generation of engineers,” Tomovich says.

Soarin' Sasquatch compete at Red Bull Flugtag, at Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland, OR, USA on 1 August, 2015. // Marv Watson/Red Bull Content Pool // P-20150802-00105 // Usage for editorial use only // Please go to for further information. //

A Flugtag glider takes the plunge. / Photograph courtesy of Red Bull