Pedal-powered machines take to the sky for Northamptonshire's daredevil flight contest

Pilot Lewis Rawlingson inside Aerocycle 301.
Pilot Lewis Rawlingson inside Aerocycle 301.

A group of human-powered flight enthusiasts are this week competing for glory as they take to the skies in their two man-made air crafts - powered just by bicycle pedals.

The annual week-long Icarus Cup - now taking place at Sywell Aerodrome until Saturday (July 21) - is the ultimate test of human-powered aircraft designed around a series of ten tasks.

The teams are rated on landing accuracy, unassisted take-off performance and a 500m slalom course. This year the 'Jacobson figure of eight' has been introduced - with a £1,000 award for the pilot who can achieve the most.

The winning team is the one whose pilot accumulates the most points during the competition.

Team Airglow pilot John Boyce has been flying for more than 30 years and is competing this week - he said: “You have to drive it with your legs, every ounce is critical, the aircraft is experimental, it’s unpredictable, they’re incredibly affected by changes in wind and weather.”

The BHPFC, (British Human Powered Flying Club), formed in 2014 before taking over the running of the Icarus Cup from the Royal Aeronautical Society in 2015. The aim of the club is to raise the profile of human-powered flight as a sport - with high hopes for it to become an Olympic sport in the future.

From left to right: Jason Chanian, Alec Proudfoot, Niall Paterson, Kit Buchanan, Mara Jennings and Lewis Rawlingson pictured in front of Aerocycle 301.

From left to right: Jason Chanian, Alec Proudfoot, Niall Paterson, Kit Buchanan, Mara Jennings and Lewis Rawlingson pictured in front of Aerocycle 301.

John added: “You can’t get a lesson. If you get a flying lesson you sit next to an instructor for an hour but you get into this for your first flight, on your own, and have about five seconds to learn how to fly it, all the while peddling to the absolute limit of your physical endurance.

“It is almost an impossible task so it is a miracle every time one of these gets off the ground.”

The aeroplanes weigh about 36kg (about half the weight of the pilot) with a wing-span of 23-metres and has taken most designers anything up to four years to build.

Chief designer of DaSH Human Powered Airplane Project and aircraft Aerocycle 301 Alec Proudfoot said the aircrafts are not considered to be a danger: “The rules for the competition this year is typically a seven-and-a-half metre maximum altitude.

Aerocycle 301 in flight at Lasham Airfield.

Aerocycle 301 in flight at Lasham Airfield.

"They’re typically about three metres off the ground so if a wing breaks you don’t have too far to fall.

“The speeds you’re going at are normal cycling speeds - 15mph to 25mph maximum. So it’s relatively safe."

The man powered flight group was formed in the Royal Aeronautical society back in 1959 and it persuaded the industrialist Henry Kremer to donate prize money of £50,000 for an aircraft, powered solely by the pilot, to fly a figure-of-eight course, marked out by two pylons set half a mile apart.

Southampton University Students constructed aircraft model SUMPAC to attempt to get the prize and in 1961 SUMPAC took off at Lasham Airfield, near Alton, and became the world’s first human-powered flight.

Ioan Hill and John Boyce of team Airglow.

Ioan Hill and John Boyce of team Airglow.

It wasn’t until 1977 that the Kremer prize was won by the American Bryan Allen flying the Gossamer Condor, designed by Paul MacCready.

Inside the aircraft 'cockpit'.

Inside the aircraft 'cockpit'.