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The University of Southampton

50th Anniversary of the world's first human-powered aircraft

Published: 9 November 2011Origin: Engineering

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the world's first human-powered aircraft, when a group of University of Southampton students designed and built SUMPAC (Southampton University Man Powered Aircraft).

A human powered aircraft is powered solely from human energy during take-off, cruise and landing.

Work began on the design of SUMPAC in the spring of 1960 and was finished by the end of September. Construction began in January 1961 and the plane was ready for the first flight, made on the 9th of November that year covering a distance of over 650 metres.

It had several flights and modifications before it was retired after a crash which left the pilot uninjured but the aircraft severely damaged. SUMPAC is now on display at Solent Sky Museum.

To commemorate the anniversary a team of University of Southampton students have designed their own human-powered aircraft (SUHPA) and are now, with the help of a new team of students, constructing the craft ready to fly later this year.

Once constructed and tested the SUHPA will be entered into the prestigious £100,000 Kremer International Sporting Aircraft Competition, which promotes the development of human-powered aircraft (HPA).

To win the Kremer prize, SUHPA must twice navigate a 1500 metre triangular course at five metres above ground level at a speed of not less than 17 mph.

The 2011 team have designed the aircraft using much more advanced technology than that available to their predecessors 50 years ago, such as a carbon fibre reinforced polymer structure with ultra-lightweight synthetic covering film and a University of Southampton developed autopilot to improve stability and allow the pilot to concentrate on pedalling.

Dr Alex Forrester, Senior Lecturer in the University's Computational Engineering and Design Research Group and project co-ordinator, says: "In order to achieve what is required to compete in and win the Kremer competition, it is essential to exploit all of the advanced engineering technology that we have available. Every aspect of the aircraft's design did this whether it involved minimising weight, maximising efficiency or minimising drag."

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