MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro) graduate students Michael Klinker, William Thalheimer, Mike Tomovich, and Hayden Cornwall are building a human-powered aircraft with composites for Red Bull’s Flugtag August 20 competition in Boston. The Flugtag (German for “airshow”) competition challenges teams to build and pilot homemade flying machines, which take off from a 28-foot high flight deck over a body of water. Teams will be judged on their craft’s flight distance, its creativity of the craft, and showmanship.
The MIT team, known as the “Monkey Ballers,” competed in the competition last year with a craft featuring an airframe with Mylar-wrapped carbon-fiber/foam wings. In all, the aircraft, designed to carry a 165-pound pilot, weighed less than 50 lbs. This year, the team is taking a similar approach, constructing the craft’s skeleton with carbon fiber to reduce weight.
MIT’s wing design this year features foam ribs wrapped with Mylar about as thick as a piece of paper. To increase launch speed, the plane will be fitted with a catapult the pilot will trigger as he leaves the launch ramp. The aircraft will also feature a massively oversized wing, large winglets, and custom airfoils to ensure the airflow, and therefore the flight, stays smooth.
“This is a quintessential MIT project,” said team captain Thalheimer. “We’ll take a zany, comedic challenge from Red Bull, apply our rigorous MIT AeroAstro education to it, and take it over as only MIT hackers can do.”
An MIT press release said that the students being “armed with a year of composites manufacturing and ultralight design experience” makes Monkey Ballers the odds-on favorite to win this year’s Flugtag. However, the team estimates that it will cost about $15,000 to complete development and construction of its aircraft, so it created a crowdfunding page to get the necessary funding.