Recently the Royal Aeronautical Society helped an experimental human-powered aircraft from BBC science TV show ‘Bang Goes the Theory’ to take flight. Chairman of the RAeS Human Powered Aircraft Group Bill Brooks explains the Society’s input.
The background to this exciting hands-on TV science demonstration is that the RAeS Human Powered Aircraft (HPA) group chaired by Bill Brooks restored the ‘Airglow’ HPA built 20 years ago by the McIntyre brothers. It was used to commemorate 50 years of human powered flight in November last year. Presenter Jem Stansfield of the BBC saw videos of the original and commemorative flights which awakened the idea of building a human powered aircraft (HPA) for the ‘Bang Goes the Theory’ popular science programme.
Working at impressive speed, in consultation with the RAeS HPA group, he designed a competent aircraft following the general layout of the Musculair 1. Interestingly he designed an oval cross section cantilever carbon mainspar of 23m span weighing 11kg. The spar was filament wound by Selden masts, rather than using the usual prepreg tape wrapping method. The wing is designed to flex to produce the desired dihedral, enabling simple rudder/elevator control. The aircraft was built by Jem and two others over approximately five and a half weeks and transported to Lasham airfield for covering, final assembly and testing. The propeller was moulded by Bill Brooks at P&M Aviation using the Airglow propeller mould and a foam epoxy technique which has allowed rapid production. The relatively simple design and ease of production points the way towards a viable kit sports aircraft.
Fortunately the BBC team chose the exceptional week of high pressure, calm weather in March to complete their aircraft and test it. Compounding the difficulty was that Jem has no previous flying experience. As well as setting up and trimming the aircraft for flight, pilot training was necessary. With a human powered aircraft flying at around 20mph it is possible, with a gentle headwind, to run alongside shouting instructions. The main thing in any piloting is to reference the horizon – he had the usual strong temptations of focusing on the ground just ahead and leaning in the opposite direction instead of using the rudder!
You can see how he progresses on “Bang Goes the Theory” BBC1 19.30 30th April. Considering the short timescale and lack of experience of the team both in construction and flying, it is a remarkable achievement. Follow all the action on Twitter with the #bbcbang hashtag.
The RAeS HPA group is hoping there will be a team to continue development of this interesting aircraft and compete in the Icarus human powered aircraft cup, Lasham 14th-22nd July.