TV stardom for Brunel engineering students

Student engineers from Brunel University helped design and build an unmanned, engineless toy glider in an attempt to fly over 22 miles of sea for a TV special presented by James May.

Students and staff from Brunel University with James May James May’s Toy Stories sees May making life-sized constructions of some of Britain’s best loved toys, and previous creations in the programme have included a Meccano footbridge, a full-sized Lego house and a Plasticine garden.

Late last year Brunel’s Dr Mark Jabbal, a lecturer in aerospace engineering was asked if a group of his students would be interested in taking part in a TV show. Eager to get involved, a team of 14 aerospace and aviation engineering students, both undergraduate and postgraduate, spent a week in an aircraft hangar constructing the glider. The students were responsible for assembling the wings, tail and fin and worked alongside May, who constructed the fuselage with the assistance of an engineer.

The students were also involved in testing a full-sized replica of the glider in a wind tunnel at the University of Southampton and in carrying out computer simulations to model glider performance.

With results from these activities, the students were able to propose subtle changes to the wings to improve the aerodynamics.

The flight attempt - the first ever flight on this scale by a hand built toy glider - involved an ambitious launch from an airborne helicopter at approximately 10,000ft above sea, with an aviation student at the helm of the glider controls to avoid any difficulty during its flight mission.

“I was very impressed with the students for the work they put in on the new wing,” says May. “I chose the Slingsby Swallow glider because it was reminiscent of the Keil-Kraft type of gliders I built as a kid. I knew as soon as I saw the plan, however, that the wing section was pretty inefficient but didn’t know how to calculate a new one. The Brunel students did, and came up with something pretty quickly. It worked very well.”