Human-powered aircraft: A plane with ‘impossible engineering’ and no engine
Students at the University of Southampton have a special project they have been working on for years together. That is, to power flight using only the muscle power of a single pilot, technically known as human-powered aircraft (HPA). Earlier this year, the team won their first Formula Flight competition with their design dubbed Lazarus.
Formula Flight is a competition organized by the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Human Powered Flight Group. According to its webpage, human-powered flying is a sport that combines "extreme athleticism with almost impossible engineering".
Since the human body can only produce maximum power for a few seconds, the aircraft used in the sport needs to have a low cruise speed and lightweight construction. This allows them to fly only in low winds and achieving flight can be rather hard though not impossible.
Lazarus: University of Southampton's Human-Powered Aircraft
Efforts at making HPA at the University of Southampton can be dated back to 2019 when a team of students designed Lazarus Mk1. Work on actual construction began later in October of that year and was completed by March 2020.
Built using XPA foam, carbon fiber, and balsa wood, the aircraft has a wingspan of 78 feet (24 meters) and an empty weight of 112 pounds (51 kilograms). A nearly 10 foot (3 meters) wide propeller at the rear of the aircraft can be engaged to deliver 400 Watt (W) of power, enough to take flight. The aircraft consists of a 13-foot (four meters) long elevator and 6.56 foot (two meters) rudder.
The COVID-19 pandemic though put a spoke in the plans and the first flight for the HPA was only conducted in June of 2021. Requiring a crew that helps it taxi, take off and land, the Lazarus' wings flex upwards when airborne to increase lateral stability.
Work on Super Lazarus
Such is the dedication of university students to the HPA project, that they have also set up a society for the cause, Southampton University Human Powered Aircraft Society (SUHPA), so that the progress on the project continues even after they are no longer at the institute.
The new undertaking of SUHPA is called Super Lazarus which has the same wingspan of 78 foot (24 meters) but its weight has been decreased to 83 pounds (38 kilograms). Earlier this year, the team also participated in another HPA event, called the Icarus Cup, organized by the British Human Powered Flying Club (BHPFC).
Although the team did not come away with prizes this time around, it did achieve a major feat. The Super Lazarus flew for a self-record of 31 seconds
The flight was piloted by Kit Buchannan, who isn't a member of SUHPA but actually a pilot for another HPA at the competition. Nevertheless, the potential of Super Lazarus was witnessed by all.
Like Kit at Icarus Cup, SUHPA is keen to work with people from diverse experiences who can help them design, build or even fly the aircraft. So, if you are keen on joining a student-led HPA flight, contact SUHPA today.
The new book “Climate Change and Human Behavior” bridges the gap by explaining how a warming planet increases aggression and violence.