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The University of Southampton

Southampton students are wind beneath Gadget Show's wings at Worthing Birdman

Published: 28 August 2009

Students and academics from the University of Southampton’s School of Engineering Sciences have lifted Five’s Gadget Show presenter Jason Bradbury into the skies above Worthing for the International Birdman competition.

Engineering lecturer Dr Alexander Forrester, the design team leader, explains, “We were approached by The Gadget Show to design and build an aircraft for the Worthing Birdman competition, but with only a few weeks in which to do it. We pulled out all of the stops to try and create a winning craft for them, to uphold the Solent area’s heritage in high-performance aircraft engineering.”

The School of Engineering Sciences brought its full spectrum of design, manufacturing and testing expertise to bear on this near-impossible task. A scale model was tested in the University’s RJ Mitchell wind tunnel, computational simulations carried out to optimise the wing design, and laser and precision foam cutters used to create aircraft components.

Dr Alexander Forrester, working with Dr Kenji Takeda and Jennifer Forrester, led a team of PhD students for the build: David Toal, Andy Cook, Giles Endicott, Alex Purdue, Stephen Powell and Lindsay-Marie Armstrong. David Toal even squeezed in his PhD viva in computational engineering in the week leading up to the Birdman competition and passed.

Gadget Show host Jason Bradbury was thrilled by the experience, “It was glorious, the machine did exactly what it was designed to do. It was seriously wonderful and I'll never forget it as long as I live.”

The competition took place last weekend and plans are already afoot for a group of final-year Southampton Aeronautics undergraduate students to design a new aircraft for the 2010 Birdman event, building on this year’s experiences. It is just one example of the engineering projects students work on; others include racing cars, spacecraft, airliners, fighter aircraft, unmanned air vehicles, helicopters and wind turbines.

To see the whole story behind this magnificent flying machine, watch the Gadget Show challenge on Bank Holiday Monday 31 August 2009 at 8.00pm on Five.


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