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Human Powered Flight

Human powered flight has been out of public awareness since the English Channel was crossed nearly 30 years ago with Bryan Allen in the Gossamer Albatross. The majority of young people in the UK are probably unaware that it is possible to take off from level ground and fly with human power at all. The only exception around the world is the Japanese human powered flight competition at Lake Biwa where there is healthy competition and many great flights have been made.

The RAES Human Powered Flight group has always been interested in promoting human powered flight as a sport. The major Marathon and Sports aircraft prizes totalling £150,000 are still to be won, but these competitions are at the edge of the possible and only attract very occasional entries, in fact there have been no serious attempts in the last 20 years.

Another approach is needed to get the activity going and that is to organise flying competitions where pilots can compete against each other and trust that competition improves the breed. Recent testing with "Airglow" has shown that HPA flying is practical, fun and can be made into a sport practiced by groups around the country. To achieve this aim, the group has organised the "Icarus HPA Cup" event at Lasham, 14th-22nd July 2012, 0530-0900. The competitive part of the event will include:
200M race
1km race
Unassisted takeoff and landing accuracy
Distance around a triangular course

At the time of writing there are 5 entries for the Icarus HPA cup, including "Airglow", "Betterfly", Southampton university (SUHPA), Bath university and John Edgely‘s EA12. Up to 3 pilot entries are allowed for each aircraft.

"Airglow", an aircraft designed and built by John McIntyre and his brother, first flew in 1990 with support from the RAES. It was designed as a practical all-round machine rather than an extreme record breaker.

This aircraft was restored to flying condition by P&M Aviation at Marlborough last year. It has been used to commemorate the 50th anniversary of human powered flight (Derek Piggott in SUMPAC, November 1961) and also to find out the feasibility of creating a flying event based around current HPA technology. The RAES HPF group believes that HPA flying is at a transitional stage where it can progress from the realm of isolated boffins and athletes to practical sports flying.

It was discovered that "Airglow", which travels in a glider trailer and can be rigged in 30 minutes, is not as fragile as might be supposed. It can be flown in a wind of up to 10 knots (though crosswinds on takeoff are not a good idea!) and any reasonably fit person under 90kg can supply enough power to fly it for a few minutes.

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Airglow is 25m span, 25sq.m wing area, weighs 35kg empty and flies best at around 20mph. The structure is tape-wrapped prepreg carbon/epoxy tubes with foam ribs and 12 micron polyester covering. The sensation of flying under your own power is delightful but strange at first, requiring strong and steady power output whilst making small control adjustments in pitch and anticipating the lag in yaw/roll. It seems best to fly at a constant airspeed, using any tiny bit of lift to advantage. The aircraft, having a power-off sink rate of 50 fpm is hyper sensitive to any lift or gradient (e.g. a warm tarmac runway next to grass).

The BHPA have been more involved in human powered flight recently as a natural extension of free flight and also because the HPA can be treated as a prototype so that a full flying BHPA member can use the BHPA 3rd party insurance scheme. This removes a practical obstacle to anyone wanting to fly an HPA at an airfield in the UK when one of the first questions is "are you insured?" P&M aviation can supply HPA propeller blades and there may be some possibility of kit production in the future.

The RAES HPF group has a database of aircraft designs, materials supply. One of the members, Chris Roper who designed "Jupiter" before the Macready Gossamers, has produced a good e-book.





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