The Human Birdwings promised us that the dream of human-powered flight was real. It amazed us, our hopes soared – only to come crashing back to earth. The whole project was a hoax. The fact is, human-powered flight is impossible. Right?
Wrong. This amazing video from the historical archives of British Pathé shows the flight of a real human-powered plane – built by students of Southampton University way back in 1961!
Known as the SUMPAC (Southampton University Man Powered AirCraft), this was the first human-powered plane to make an officially authenticated take-off and flight. It was designed and built in just over a year as an entry into the Kremer competition for human-powered flight.
Constructed primarily from spruce and nylon, it weighs 100 lbs (45 kg) and has a wingspan of 80 feet (24 metres). The pilot, gliding instructor Derek Piggott, had to supply two horse power from the pedals to get off the ground, and sustain half a horse power for the duration of the flight.
The SUMPAC on display at the Solent Sky Museum
The SUMPAC managed to achieve a height of 15 feet (4.6 metres), a flight distance of 650 yards (594 metres) and even turns of 80 degrees. Unfortuantely this first human-powered plane didn’t complete the one-mile figure of eight course required to win the £50,000 Kremer prize.
Stay tuned to Amazing Stuff to find out which one did…
Via British Pathé