At the Red Bull Flugtag, homemade aircrafts will launch over—and into—the Charles River

This Saturday, head to the Esplanade to watch (some of) them fly.

Two participants assemble an aircraft to participate in Red Bull's Flugtag.
–Callie Ahlgrim

Red Bull will mark its 25th anniversary of Flugtag on Saturday, bringing the event to Boston and the Charles River’s dirty waters for the first time.

Flugtag, which is German for “flying day,” drafts 30 teams of five people to build homemade vehicles. One person from each team is deemed the “pilot,” responsible for accompanying the craft as it is launched off a 28-foot-high flight deck sitting atop a body of water—in this case, the Charles. The first ever Flugtag took place in Austria in 1992. Other U.S. cities that have played host to the event include New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

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The goal is to earn high scores from a panel of judges in the three categories: Creativity, Showmanship and, most importantly, Distance. As the Flugtag website explains, “Some will soar and some will flop.”

The teams, originating from all over the East Coast, arrive a day in advance to assemble their crafts.
The teams, originating from all over the East Coast, arrive a day in advance to assemble their crafts. —Callie Ahlgrim

“I’d be foolish to not be nervous,” said Alex Feldstein, the pilot for the team Monkey Ballers. “Any experienced pilot will tell you that airplanes have character. It’s one of the reasons that they name airplanes, because each airplane is a little bit different. So you don’t always know how it’s going to react.”

The Monkey Ballers are a group of men who met at MIT. They are all involved in aerodynamics and engineering areas of study, with most in the aerospace department.

The Monkey Ballers built a highly efficient craft with the input of fellow MIT students, MIT professors, and even a professional test pilot.
The Monkey Ballers built a highly efficient craft with the input of fellow MIT students, MIT professors, and even a professional test pilot. —Callie Ahlgrim

“Coming here is an awesome opportunity to put our knowledge to the test, build an airplane, and show everyone that MIT deserves the name recognition that we have,” said team captain Billy Thalheimer.

Thalheimer said that while it’s nearly impossible to break the official Flugtag record of 258 feet—set on September 21, 2013 in Long Beach, California—due to new wingspan restrictions and platform measurements, the team feels confident that they will win this year’s event.

“I was on board immediately,” Feldstein said. “I’ve always wanted to build my own airplane. And then I also got to design it and I get to fly it. That’s everything you can do.”

Alex Feldstein, the pilot of the Monkey Ballers team, helps cover the craft.
Alex Feldstein, the pilot of the Monkey Ballers team, helps cover the craft. —Callie Ahlgrim
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Some teams have more in mind than a victory. Mass Instruction is a team comprised of Boston-area educators who, along with having fun, would like to bring attention to the importance of public education.

Mass Instruction’s captain, Michael Ricci, poses in front of the craft’s wings with his teammate/pilot.
Mass Instruction’s captain, Michael Ricci, poses in front of the craft’s wings with his teammate/pilot. —Callie Ahlgrim

“This whole adventure for us really has been a giant metaphor for positive risk-taking for our students,” said team captain Michael Ricci. “It’s an example that you can take on a huge project that seems like, no one could ever do that, and whether you were successful or not, it was a healthy risk that you can take.”

Ricci says that in the months since the team’s application was accepted, they spent close to $700 and 300 hours of work building their craft with a 22-foot wingspan. The wings are complemented by a second piece resembling a yellow school bus with “Education Matters” painted on the side.

Mass Instruction, a team of Boston-area educators, is seeking to bring attention to the importance of public education.
Mass Instruction, a team of Boston-area educators, is seeking to bring attention to the importance of public education. —Callie Ahlgrim

Many of the teams rally around a specific theme. DinoSOAR is a team of coworkers from the company MassChallenge who chose to build their craft in the shape of their company’s unofficial mascot: a velociraptor.

Team DinoSOAR chose a velociraptor shape for their craft, which is inspired by a mural painted in the team members’ company building.
Team DinoSOAR chose a velociraptor shape for their craft, which is inspired by a mural painted in the team members’ company building. —Callie Ahlgrim

Ellie Rundell, who was born and raised in Boston, leads the team of designers and engineers as both the captain and the pilot.

“I was a pretty intensive part of the design and creation of this craft so I have the utmost confidence in it, but it is a little nerve-racking,” Rundell said. “But I’m also really excited. There’s no way that I would back out of this. I’m just absolutely thrilled to be doing it.”

Members of DinoSOAR help to assemble the glider portion of the craft.
Members of DinoSOAR help to assemble the glider portion of the craft. —Callie Ahlgrim
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The event is free and open to the public. It begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday at DCR’s Hatch Memorial Shell on the Esplanade.

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