James May attempts to see if it's possible for Action Man to do what no toy has ever managed before - travel faster than the speed of sound.
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Action Man - since 1966 he's been a palpable presence in the bedrooms,
on the bookshelves and in the subconscious of small boys
and the adults they became.
In that time real men have been to the moon,
they've circumnavigated the globe on foot, they've quelled rebellions
and they've run the London Marathon dressed as a giant banana.
But what has this so-called man of action actually done?
Here on Toy Stories we've built a full-sized house out of Lego,
united towns with toy trains
and nations with toy gliders.
Contested the world's toughest race
and spanned yawning chasms with Meccano
and hacked off the horticultural establishment
with a massive lump of Plasticine.
But what do we do with this bloke?
Now he's got eagle eyes that actually move.
On the lookout for action, he's all action.
Look out for all these fantastic uniforms specially
..and his eagle eyes.
For the first time on Toy Stories,
I'm dealing with a toy I don't actually like
and I'm not alone.
Action Man - not really an interest, to be honest.
I think Action Man's a wuss.
I don't think he's that good.
They were considered to be dolls, weren't they?
He looks a bit rubbish, really.
His clothes are pretty tatty.
Yeah, I don't know who he is.
He's not, like, amazing.
Erm, see? These are falling off.
I don't like Action Man, I like dinosaurs instead.
He is useless.
He just sits around looking knock-kneed like some vacant,
militant Abercrombie & Fitch sales assistant.
Of all the toys, Action Man is, ironically,
the hardest to elevate to glory.
He should be a trailblazer, an inspiration to other toys,
going boldly, with gripping hands, where no toy has gone before.
We need to put the 'action' back into Action Man.
With a challenge that will test his mettle, or plastic,
to its limits.
He needs to do something no toy has done before.
Something that was a landmark achievement for real man.
We therefore believed we should commit ourselves to achieving
the goal, before this programme is out,
of sending Action Man to the speed of sound and beyond
and returning him safely to the Earth.
We choose to go to the speed of sound,
-We choose to go to the speed of sound
and do the other things,
not because it is easy but because it is hard.
First, we need to get to the bottom of this sound barrier business,
so there now follows a bit of popular science, which is
the sort of thing my director, Tom, normally hates.
But I thought I might get away with it if I deliver my lecture while
breaking the sound barrier myself in this,
the Eurofighter Typhoon.
INAUDIBLE MESSAGE FROM PILOT
Is that 5,000 feet?
So what is the sound barrier?
Sound is just the air vibrating,
that's why there's no sound in space
and no-one can hear you scream - there's no air.
This is our Typhoon
slower than the speed of sound.
The vibrating air is being pushed ahead of the plane,
like the bow wave on a boat.
But when you approach the speed of sound,
the air becomes ever more compressed.
At the speed of sound, the oncoming air is no longer being warned of
the aeroplane's approach.
The result is a shock wave
and the sonic boom.
SOUND OF SONIC BOOM
In the 1940s, the sound barrier was thought to be exactly that -
As propeller-driven aeroplanes like the Spitfire
neared the speed of sound and died, the compression of the air
shredded propellers and caused controls to lock up.
A lot of people just flew straight into the deck.
But on October 14th 1947,
American test pilot, Charles "Chuck" Yeager
finally broke the sound barrier at the controls of the Bell X-1.
There was no sound barrier
and, today, going supersonic is all the rage.
Just to show what a piece of cake this sound barrier is,
well, if you've got a £65 million front line fighter aircraft,
we'll do it now just outside Morecambe. In fact, we've done it.
We're just approaching Mach 1.1, I didn't even notice it.
That is an aeroplane ahead of its sound.
Oh, and there it is slowing down.
And there we are, a mere dawdle.
Thank you, skipper.
Now, before you all start tweeting, no,
I'm not going to just take Action Man up in the cockpit with me -
that would be cheating.
And, unfortunately, the BBC refused to give us
65 million quid for an Action Man sized Eurofighter
because they'd spent it all on The Great British Bake Off!
So, let's have a look at the performance of the best
Action Man sized aeroplane we could afford.
Now, the normal use for this is to fire hailstones at components
of real aeroplanes to make sure they can withstand impacts up in the sky.
That's the barrel of the cannon.
We've sort of converted it to something a bit like the steam
catapult of an aircraft carrier.
A rod is fired from the cannon,
drags a sledge along the rail on the top,
the Harrier is mounted on that
and is flung off as it reaches the end of its travel.
Our plastic Harrier, like Buzz Lightyear in that other,
inferior Toy Story, is officially not a flying toy.
But...what if it were going really fast?
We start with the catapult set at 200 PSI,
seven times the pressure of a typical car tyre.
Right, we're ready, Sim.
Firing in three, two, one...
# Action Man!#
Not so good.
'As I said, not a flying toy.'
It is possible that we're slightly overcomplicating this.
Who'd have thought it, eh?
But a miniature aeroplane capable of supersonic speeds,
but still able to come into a slow, controlled landing
somewhere near where we're standing,
that's quite a tall order.
We make things like bridges
and very slow motorcycles out of Meccano, that sort of stuff.
We need something a bit simpler.
He's in. You join us at a very exciting moment.
This is what we've decided to do.
A free fall Action Man jump from the stratosphere,
followed by a parachute descent to Earth.
Using a large weather balloon,
we'll take Action Man up in a specially designed capsule
covered in cameras and kit, transmitting information back to us.
He'll free fall from the balloon, go supersonic
and we'll go and recover him.
If you think you've seen something a bit like that before,
you're absolutely right.
# We're living on the edge! #
In 2012, Felix Baumgartner jumped from a helium balloon
in the stratosphere at a height of 128,000 feet.
On the way down he reached a speed of Mach 1.25,
one and quarter times the speed of sound.
He remains the fastest unassisted person on, or indeed above, Earth.
The balloon and the mood are buoyant.
I'm going to start the cameras in the pod.
-Is that all right? Everybody happy?
Oh, wow, wow.
Yeah, here we go.
-Don't release it yet. I'll say, "Go," yeah?
Our attempt is a sort of 1/6th scale version of the famous
Baumgartner jump because...
'With hindsight, that was all I really needed to say,
'but it's a momentous occasion.
'I had some arousing rhetoric prepared.'
We're hoping for well over 100,000.
'And unfortunately, during my homage to Alan Whicker,
'the wind picks up.'
Action Man is also going to free fall and if this goes according to plan,
he will parachute into an enormous welcome,
a ticker tape parade through a model village somewhere
and a permanent place in the display cabinet of toy fame.
-Are we ready?
-I've got to go.
-That beep was Steve saying, "Oh,
In the four hours it takes us to recover the top of the capsule,
summer rolls in.
We just had an absolute shower,
which is bad because water on here obviously at altitude could freeze.
Action Man's got his jumper slightly wet
and he also appears to have wet himself.
I'm not surprised really. I would if I were going to do this.
Finally, there's a brief break in the clouds.
Balloon is go.
But the weather is threatening.
We just have to hope Action Man will pass through
the approaching thunderstorm before it hits.
As Alan Bean said, "What a ride!"
MUSIC: Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones
To the chase car.
Duh, duh-duh, duh, etc.
Target altitude is about 105,000 feet,
so that's not quite as high as Baumgartner went
but, to scale, it's six times as high as he went.
Going up very, very well.
He's still going up, which is what we want.
It may not be for long, though - we've been too slow.
The storm is enveloping Action Man.
As we saw from our first attempt,
any buffeting might dislodge the capsule.
Too much turbulence and this will all be over.
There's such a wealth of information coming through on here.
Temperatures, position, temperatures of our cameras.
The one thing we don't have remotely is an accurate speed measurement
for Action Man when he falls.
We'll have to recover him for that...
if we can.
Meanwhile, up in the air, Action Man's armoured polystyrene
and sticky tape capsule has made it through the storm
and out above the cloud layer.
Down on the ground, we're not so lucky.
You might be wondering why we have to go so high to do this.
The reason is, the speed of sound is directly related to the temperature of the air.
The colder it is, the lower the speed of sound.
So Action Man will begin his dive, he will accelerate massively
through the very thin, very cold air high up.
If he was down near the ground, the thick air and the warm air would
hold him back, so the speed of sound would be higher and the drag would
be greater, so that's why we've got to go all the way up there.
At sea level, the speed of sound is 761 miles per hour.
But up where Action Man is going, it's around 670 miles per hour.
That's why we have Mach numbers, to keep things simple.
Mach 1 is the speed of sound through the air you're in.
The speed where that shock wave forms.
We should just pause for a moment to observe that we're having
a slightly miserable time here in...
We're still just in Cambridgeshire, it's raining quite heavily.
It's a grey, overcast day.
The sky, as Ivor Cutler would have said, is like Mercury.
But Action Man, let's have a look at him,
he's in bright, glorious sunshine.
In fact, he's very nearly at his target height of 105,000 feet.
That's almost four times the height of Mount Everest.
We pull over into a service station and wait for the drop.
After a brief, blissful moment of stillness...
That's getting well fast.
LAPTOP BEEPS RAPIDLY
That sounds like he's spinning.
After 17,500 feet of free fall,
the capsule chute opens and Action Man battles through the storm
once again to reach the ground.
It's as fast as I've ever heard, because it went up and up
and up in frequency.
# War, shelter
# It's just a shot away
# It's just a shot away
# War, shelter
# It's just a shot away
# It's just a shot away... #
We find Action Man's capsule in a field dangerously close to
an American military base.
If they'd caught him, they'd have dressed him in his orange
boiler suit for a very long time.
Wee-hee. STEVE CHUCKLES
Everything worked, then?
I'm a happy man.
The weather balloon has also burst and landed.
So we hurriedly collect the top section of the capsule,
away from some angry red bulls, and hurry to the nearest pub
so that Steve can download the data and find Action Man's top speed.
Stand up straight, man.
It's ridiculous. Right.
Steve, we are looking
for a target of 672 miles per hour.
-That is Mach
How fast did we get?
249.5 miles an hour.
Generally on Toy Stories we have a knack for plucking success from
the jaws of extreme unlikelihood, if we just give it a go.
But that's less than half our target speed.
We'll have to think of something else.
But maybe that was a lucky escape.
We didn't know how he would cope with supersonic speed in free fall.
Action Man collectors, look away.
This is a compressed air cannon,
capable of generating a rush of Mach 1 plus air.
So that's it, he's on.
We've placed our plastic pioneer in front of it
in a sort of free fall skydive position.
OK, we're ready.
Now, obviously, this isn't totally accurate
because, as we said, the air is thinner up high.
But this is a pretty big bit of kit to haul up into the sky.
Look at the size of it. This is only about 10% of it, as well.
I know, it goes back for miles.
This is the only working supersonic air cannon in the UK
and we've been granted access.
Action Man must be feeling pretty lucky right now.
three, two, one.
What, his head came off!
Isn't that a little bit unrealistic though,
because we hit him sort of with a hammer of Mach 1 air,
whereas in reality he'd accelerate, which is...
That's right. Well, we've got the facility to do that.
Remember we talked about him diving,
-rather than being like a skydiver, more of a Superman sort of...
-Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Because that would be a bit more aerodynamic.
Can you modify that to make him...?
I've got another very similar, so, yes.
Hopefully with the air speed increasing gradually,
in a more realistic manner, our next Action Man
might stand more of chance.
-So how fast was that last one, Simmy?
1.13. So if we could go to just over Mach 1, 1.05?
With the gradual build-up, so this is more like Action Man
accelerating down through our gravity.
MUSIC: Superman Theme Tune by John Williams
Here we go, here we go, here we go, here we go.
-He's not going to go!
He's not going to go.
Oh, he was a few seconds from surviving.
Well, let's go and look for the remains.
It was pretty clear that an exposed and unprotected Action Man
would not be able to go supersonic...
At least, not while retaining the realistic hair, eagle eyes
and everything else by which you identify him as Action Man
and not part of a vacuum cleaner.
Time for a rethink.
Remember Chuck Yeager?
His Bell X-1 was a rocket-powered aeroplane.
Now the plane's a non-starter but rocket powered...
MUSIC: Flash by Queen
Is the answer just a rocket?
-It's like a bullet so it's a simple shape.
You're going to get a shock wave at the nose
and maybe some little shock waves at the fins
but you won't have all that complicated fuselage shape,
wing shape, canopy shape and all the rest of it.
It's much simpler.
Rocket sounds feasible.
That's settled then. We'll build a rocket
and have Action Man bail out on his parachute.
Excited, we head to the quarry for what,
contrary to the popular expression,
IS rocket science.
The first and most important thing to know about a rocket is,
it is a so-called reaction engine.
The rocket goes up because the exhaust, which is fuel,
which has mass, is being forced downwards.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,
Sir Isaac Newton told us that.
Two other things to consider in rocket design,
the centre of mass and the centre of pressure.
This is actually quite simple.
The centre of mass is the point about which the fully loaded rocket
would balance on your finger.
The centre of pressure is the point around which all the forces
generated by the rush of passing air will act
and it's actually easier to demonstrate this
with the humble pub dart.
The fins have a very large surface area.
The point has virtually none, so the centre of pressure
is towards the back of the dart
but the centre of mass is towards the front
because of the weight, so the dart is stable and flies true.
So there you go, you see.
It flies point first even if you throw like a bit of a muppet.
The design is so effective, even throwing the dart fins first
it still rights itself even at this tiny distance.
A rocket is essentially a giant dart
with Jocky Wilson's arm built into it.
-That's quite good.
-Right, so it needs to be a bit bigger.
It needs to go a bit higher and quite a lot faster
and carry Action Man and his capsule and his parachute.
-Piece of cake.
The theory appears to be sound, but Action Man won't fit
in one of these toy rockets, so we hastily improvise a prototype.
This is a sort of initial proof of concept idea
that Simmy and I have come up with.
It's a commercially available rocket, it's a big firework
but we've modified it slightly so that Action Man sits in the top.
Now at the top of the trajectory, at apogee,
a small charge will go off in here and eject him.
His parachute here is ready deployed and attached,
the rocket will disappear, Action Man will float down,
we'll know that the whole basic idea works. It won't go supersonic
but it is going to show us the basic principles.
It's pointing into wind.
I think we're ready.
-Are you ready?
Here we go.
That small explosive charge might have been a bit big.
Actually, it was ten times too big,
usual decimal point problem.
-It nearly hit me on the head.
But that was our fastest flight yet.
We just need to refine things a bit.
Rockets are very volatile and we're not very experienced.
God, its head's red hot.
Unfortunately that's not the worst of our problems.
As we're packing up, Tom, the director,
takes a very surreal phone call.
Oh, he's just there, OK.
You see, when we decided on a rocket,
we started asking around about how to do it
but the walls have ears or, at least, rocket boffins do,
especially if you ring them up.
There's a group of rocket enthusiasts who've heard
about our idea and they're going to attempt
a rival launch of a supersonic rocket but carrying Sindy.
It's being made in half a tent by a man with Sindy's hair
but looks are deceptive.
These blokes know what they're doing.
Hi, my name's Russ Strand.
I'm a systems engineer in a large engineering firm.
So we've got the motor at the back end, main parachute section here,
the drogue parachute section and this is the Sindy capsule.
I think, overall, we've got the right design, I think we've got
the right expertise in the team. These will control the various deployment events,
so the separation of the drogue parachute, the apogee,
the top of the flight and a proven track record.
Overall, we've got the better chance of success.
This is what's known as a von Karman ogive.
I suppose it was inevitable.
For every great pioneering breakthrough, there is always
a battle to be the first.
The space race had America and Russia.
We have the UK's knock-off of America's GI Joe verses
the UK's knock-off of Barbie.
Simmy and I are going to have step on it if we want Action Man
to be the first toy to break the sound barrier.
There's no time to be mucking around with fireworks -
we have to get serious.
Phase One, the rocket fuel.
You join us at a very exciting time, viewers, rocket testing.
This is a commercially available, off-the-peg solid rocket fuel motor.
It's a sort of Marks & Spencer's underpants of rocket motors,
and we're going to test it on this rig, which looks like a lot
of old rusty angle iron, but it is in fact a - what do you call it?
-We're going to mount a load cell on it.
-A load cell.
'A load cell is a sort of pressure gauge, which measures how much
'thrust our rocket fuel delivers and how long it burns for.
'Then we can work out if that's enough to take Action Man
'beyond the speed of sound.'
So the rocket goes in there.
There's the exhaust, exhaust goes that way.
Newton's third law, reaction goes that way,
presses on there, strain gauge relaying information to the
computer will give us the thrust, the duration,
the exhaust velocity and we will see that as a graph, Mike,
-is that right?
-Yes, that's correct.
We love a graph.
Here we go, aerial view from the cameras so we know no-one's there.
Charlie's data logger, which will give us all the information.
My firing button.
Firing in three!
Pull the right button there. Two!
# Flash! #
-Was that it?
That was about two seconds.
The off-the-shelf fuel peaked at 13 kilograms of thrust.
It's about as aggressive as the Lighthouse Family.
Still, we're rocketry students, so let's try some home brew.
OK, so mixing the rocket fuel begins with, I believe...?
Which is the...?
-That's the oxidizer.
The oxidizer is because the rocket
can't breath air like a jet engine.
Right, so it can't use, it can't use atmospheric oxygen,
so this is effectively a very concentrated form of oxygen.
It has its own oxygen inside it.
'Now, obviously, we can't tell you exactly what we're using, or
'how much, or this would turn into terrorist MasterChef,
'but it does involve aluminium powder,
'which is highly volatile
'and hydroxyl terminated polybutadiene,
'which is highly unpronounceable.
'Anyway, by the end of it we had a batch that would make
'Walter White turn green.'
Pretty good, I reckon.
But would it beat the off-the-shelf fuel?
Three, two, one, fire!
-Has it blown the whole rig over?
-It's taken the rig out!
# Stand for every one of us
# He save with a mighty hand
# Every man, every woman
# Every child with a mighty flash... #
I think this was successful.
-I think we're quite pleased with that, aren't we?
That rig weighs 180 kilos.
Well, that's why rocket motors are good. I mean, look at that.
That's only a small tube of stuff and it's moved that.
Look at it!
'Unfortunately, it's also destroyed all our instruments.
'So while Charlie and the team try to get some results
'from our bench test, beyond it's destroyed the bench...
'..I turn my attention to another problem.
'The sheer force of our rocket fuel is giving me
'horrible flashbacks to our firework experiment.
'Action Man needs to be able to bail out safely.
'Now, for our balloon attempt we used a specially-made parachute,
'which, let's be honest, was cheating a bit.
'For our rocket attempt we want it to be all Action Man
'and that means using the real parachute that came with the toy.
'But we only have the word of a '70s advert that it works.'
He drops from the skies.
We take Action Man over to an Army base.
Their crack skydiving team
recognise the national importance of testing an orange handkerchief
attached to a slightly camp doll.
Action Man's parachute is, of course, notoriously unreliable.
From your upstairs bedroom window, he might suffer something like
a dislocated knee
or a missing head.
This is from 13,000 feet, with about 11,000 feet of freefall
and a 2,000 foot under-canopy descent.
# Hey, Mister, where you headed?
# Are you in a hurry? #
Assuming mine and Simmy's plan works,
Action Man should be bailing out of his rocket
at a similar altitude to this,
somewhere between 13 and 16,000 feet.
So the stresses on his parachute are of a magnitude
not previously experienced by Action Man.
First off, Action Man must survive the freefall
as if he'd just bailed out of the rocket.
Then, when the skydivers release their own parachutes,
we'll see if Action Man's really works.
As with all momentous events in human history -
Agincourt, the Somme offensive,
a new series presented by Richard Hammond -
there is a preceding lull accompanied by birdsong.
Isn't that nice?
-'Action Man away.'
-Action Man away.
This is a little bit like that moment in the Apollo 13 re-entry
when they had the communications black-out.
And everyone is just waiting to see if it comes out of the other side.
'Meanwhile, on the other side...'
# Space travel's in my blood
# There ain't nothing I can do about it
# My journeys wear me out but
# I know I can't live without it
# Oh, no, I think I'm on another world with you
# With you
# I'm on another planet with you
# With you
# Another planet. #
There they are.
See, I've got eagle eyes.
I just haven't got realistic hair or gripping hands.
Action Man has survived the freefall
and the team's parachutes have deployed.
That looks like a pretty successful parachute.
-Tell me the worst.
-He was great. He was amazing.
-Did his parachute open?
-His parachute opened.
His parachute opened, it seemed to work and he drifted that way.
That's quite remarkable because he used to just fall straight to Earth
and hit it with an appalling plasticky splat.
This is quite good. If he survives that,
that means he's good for a bail out from a supersonic rocket.
What we've done here rather cleverly
is paired the classic Action Man toy with a piece of modern technology.
There's a GPS transmitter in his backpack
and what I do is, I ring - his tracker's got a SIM Card in -
I telephone the tracker
and...it should ring twice and then cut out.
Of course, he may not be in range of a signal.
"Welcome to the messaging..."? How can it be a messaging service?
Am I supposed to leave him a voicemail?
"Oi, Action Man. Where are you?"
Tom? Little Tom?
He's on answer machine.
How can he have an answering machine?
He might be on the phone to someone else.
-No, don't be...
-He's on the phone to Barbie, isn't he?
Hi, Action Man, it's James.
If you're in a field somewhere, could you give us a bell
and tell us where you are?
But, yeah, we should try and work out which direction to go in.
Yeah, that's us.
All we can do is make an educated guess based on the wind direction
and set off in the van.
It's like looking for one small orange needle
in a 200 hectare haystack.
There, there, there he is.
It turns out that the skydivers frequently use bits
of orange material in their training exercises.
Do you drop a lot of orange squares?
Yeah, these are what the students learn with
when they practise their freefalls.
This is now like trying to find a small orange needle
in a haystack full of small orange needles.
Why can't we do anything properly?
So do you know roughly where they were
-when they dropped it? Over the barns?
After a mere hour and half of aimless driving, though...
Oh, what's that? On the right?
-Yeah. That's a good spot.
-Shall we go and take a look?
Might be onto something here. And...
that is him.
And he looks good.
Danger, response, airways, breathing.
I think he's OK.
That's tremendous news, isn't it?
After decades to work that out, the parachute works.
Right, we can get him down, all we need to do is get him up.
At Mach 1 plus.
Well done, lad.
'Maybe I'm just feeling a sense of relief
'because he's finally survived one of our experiments
'but I'm beginning to warm to Action Man.
'Granted, you need your own skydiving team to reveal his true play value,
'but even so.
'Despite his gormless, expressionless face,
'he is on the verge of the greatness we have long craved for him.
'And that's made me realise that we should give some consideration
'to choosing the Action Man that will become
'our pioneering rocket pilot.'
Filled with new enthusiasm for our challenge, I've gone down
to the enormous Birmingham NEC Classic Toy Collectors Fair
to hand-pick a team of potential pilots
and separate the Action Men from the boys.
In the middle of the hall, I set up SAM,
the Supersonic Action Man Initiative.
I've put word out that we're looking for the best of the best.
Unfortunately, what I've forgotten
is that whilst I might be coming round to Action Man...
..nobody else really gives a stuff.
This actually isn't as good as I thought.
We've been here now for...
three and a half hours.
I thought we'd be mobbed, to be honest. This is a toy fair.
Everybody here is interested in toys and old toys and toy history,
but nobody's interested in Action Man.
Nobody's got an Action Man any more.
No interest in Action Man?
No, none at all. They were dolls, weren't they?
So you've got pretty much every action figure, except Action Man?
Oh, we don't do Action Man.
Why not Action Man, though? Is he just too dull?
Never really got into Action Man. I was more into Star Wars.
Have you ever seen an Action Man?
-Did you like him?
-Not really, no.
'This is a desperate announcement.'
If anybody is even remotely interested in Action Man,
please visit the Supersonic Action Man Initiative stall
on the left, towards the door at the back near the cafe.
Or it might be on the right, depending which way you're coming.
'Finally, we get some hopeful recruits.'
-James, I can remember that. And your Action Man's name?
-Steve, I suppose he was called.
Need to just obviously do a quick check for physical fitness.
Yeah, all his limbs bend the wrong way, so that's good.
Here is John Mark II.
And what happened to John Mark I?
He was my best friend as a child
and I built him a parachute
and threw him out of my bedroom window.
He used to face death on a daily basis.
He was blown up quite a few times in the back garden.
He was shot with an air pistol. He was thrown out of trees.
We did actually do him up a Top Secret folder.
Intergalactic peace envoy.
Sorry, say that again?
I've got over 300 Action Men but I made him into a warden
-because he was in the cabinet looking after the other Action Men.
At heart, I am quite a child, if you like.
I do enjoy...
Are you a nutter?
Nutters or no, we have some hopeful recruits
and as we have only one of our own Action Men left,
we decide to put them both down as potential pilots.
And in more good news,
right at the back of a dusty corner of the toy fair, we find Action Man.
But it's what's on the accessories table that interests me more.
Hey, look at this.
Is that a space suit?
Yup, that's the original '60s Action Man space suit.
-Deal, thank you very much.
I've bought my first Action Man accessory.
This season, Action Man will be wearing a range of...
Hang on... Team Sindy have nearly finished their rocket.
Back at Action Man HQ, we finalise our design.
You join us at a very exciting time.
Here we are at the headquarters of our secret
rocket building institution.
This is Ambrose. He's an engineer
and stuff like that, and he's going to design
the rocket shape.
'We need to make it as aerodynamic and as light as possible
'but there's an awful lot to fit in.'
We've also got to get in a parachute...
-The cameras to film what happens to him. The...
If it was just firing the rocket, as an experiment,
it would be relatively easy. The fact that we've got to film it
so that you can watch this now on Christmas Eve
or two weeks after Boxing Day,
whenever they put our Christmas special on,
we have to be able to incorporate the little cameras.
We've gone for a design
similar to the real Ariane series of space rocket.
Thin, but with a top bulge
containing Action Man and all the kit.
Back at Team Sindy...
And you can see here that we're predicting quite nicely supersonic.
So we're building a single-stage rocket,
which will launch on a very large motor,
hopefully going supersonic in the process.
A single-stage rocket is one that contains one enormous
but solo body of fuel.
Simmy and I have gone for something a little more complex.
A two-stage design more in keeping with multi-stage rockets
that went to the moon.
At launch, we'll have our main booster
and two additional side boosters that will drop off for phase two,
shedding weight and leaving our main booster going like a homesick angel.
I've heard that James and Sim might be doing a two-stage rocket,
which, to me, sounds like madness
because the level of complexity for a supersonic rocket
is high enough already.
A two-stage rocket has obviously got to separate at some point,
which is just a level of complexity that boggles the mind, really.
But, like a tricky nine-letter word, we refuse to be boggled.
What I'm going to make here with engineer Mike
is the nozzle for our rocket motor.
As Team Sindy gets ever closer,
we work ceaselessly, day and night, until our lathes smoke.
That is a convergent, divergent nozzle.
But, just as we're putting the final touches to our masterpiece,
we get the call we've been dreading.
Team Sindy is launching.
So basically, the rocket will launch up to apogee,
fire the pyros located here, which will separate the Sindy capsule
and put out a drogue parachute.
The whole of Team Sindy has come to this field in Scotland,
from expert rocketry engineers
to this man with a hammer.
And like accessorized Action figures,
they're all dressed in their most intimidating hats.
But these are some confident space cowboys.
Yes, everybody back a bit, please.
Sindy is going to go faster and higher.
I think Sindy makes a better astronaut.
Ladies are lighter and they should have been into space first.
They take less fuel.
And it seems I'm not the only one getting attached to our pioneers.
Team Sindy apparently started out with two Sindy dolls.
That's it, keep going. Gently.
Mock-up Sindy was for the testing
and Flight Sindy was supposed to be for the launch, but, well...?
I don't know, it's just a doll after all,
but Flight Sindy, I just didn't like her.
I didn't take to her at all.
Perhaps it was because I'd been used to working with Mock-up Sindy
so I put Flight Sindy in the cradle and I thought, "No.
"No, you're not flying. I'll put Mock-up Sindy back in."
I think she's far the better candidate
and also we were doing a ground test
and Mock-up Sindy's been in those tests,
so she's had two short flights already.
She's done all the pioneering work, so why shouldn't she get to fly?
Right you are, John.
'Anyway, back in reality,
'Simmy and I rush to Scotland from Action Man HQ.
'We're exhausted and, frankly, a bundle of nerves,
'but I try to remain as grim-faced as Action Man himself.'
That is a fine-looking rocket
and I'd be lying if I didn't admit that a small part of me
hopes that Sindy doesn't go supersonic
because I want Action Man to be the first one-sixth-scale toy person
to go faster than sound.
But that would be churlish, un-sporting and un-British.
And possibly sexist.
So, may the best plastic man, or woman, win.
Best of luck, and I really mean that
because the important thing is that the rockets work.
Well, best of luck to you too.
Tremendous. Right, shall we light this candle?
-Let's do it.
All we can do is retreat to a safe distance and let destiny decide.
OK! We're launching in
That was quite amazing!
There was a sonic boom.
-Was that a boom?
-That was a sonic boom.
Right, so... That's all it was, wasn't it?
'We already heard the sonic boom from the ground
'but a report later confirms it.
'Sindy reached 778 miles per hour
'or Mach 1.02.'
-Oh, look, you can see the chutes!
'The first toy to go supersonic
'is a doll with a preposterously shaped head.'
-That is a long walk, I think.
Hang on... Sindy is the far one.
-Yeah. Is it?
-She's going a long way away.
But you don't have a track on Sindy?
And she's a lot... Well, she is bright yellow, so...
Those are the bits of the rocket. Where's Simmy? Simmy?
-Yeah, but they haven't got Sindy.
And the mission statement was quite clearly,
"return safely to the Earth."
We will find her.
She must be down there somewhere.
'Team Sindy are flustered. Russ does a quick calculation.
'Scotland is quite big.'
I don't want to be a naysayer,
but if you don't find your cosmonaut,
you can't regard your mission as a complete success.
-We will find her.
-We will find her.
But, after three days of looking, they hadn't found her.
Team Action Man was go.
There have been many hours of work at the lathe and the mill.
Soldering deep into the night, tongue clamped between teeth,
computer simulation, stress testing of materials,
3D printing of components, mixing of fuels, making of stickers
and so on and so on, but here are the parts of our rocket.
Firstly, we have the boosters that assist it during takeoff
and these are the fins.
And then we have the main stage of our rocket
with our three grains of specially prepared rocket fuel.
And then we have the telemetry module.
This will tell us what is happening,
how fast it's going, where it's going and so on.
This electronic module,
which triggers all the parachutes necessary for a safe descent.
This is the Perspex tube where Action Man
and the electronic modules will sit.
On the top of that is the nose cone
and finally, here is Action Man's ejection seat.
Complete with cut-out for the small cameras
that will record this world-changing event.
This is it then.
One final effort to show that Action Man can be more than just a doll.
Great sacrifices have been made to get us to this point.
We've lost more brave men in this endeavour
than in the entire Apollo missions combined.
And I have a confession.
Like John in Scotland,
we've grown too attached to our one surviving test pilot.
Steve and John Mark II are fine examples,
keeping the flame of heroism alive,
but our mock-up Action Man has truly done all the pioneering work.
Why shouldn't he get to fly?
Here it is. The SAM Initiative Rocket Mark I And Only,
because here's the thing that's worrying us.
This - this isn't TV Jeopardy! - this has not been tested.
How could we test it?
You can't let a supersonic rocket off in your back garden,
that would be ridiculous. And that is exactly why we're here.
If this thing falls over during the launch,
it will travel horizontally at the speed of a bullet
for something like two miles. You wouldn't even see it coming
before it drilled a comedy rocket-shaped hole
right in the middle of your ribcage.
Let's take cover, everybody.
Simmy heads to an adjacent hill to act as spotter
so we don't get a repeat of the Sindy incident.
'I go to the van and pray.'
OK, well, let's do it.
-Is everybody ready?
OK, counting down to firing.
Look at it go! Hoo-hoo!
Anybody hear anything? Any bangs?
# You gotta be good
# You gotta be strong... #
We've got apogee. We've got an apogee report.
'Something's not right.'
-Flipping heck, that went good.
Have you got altitude, Chris?
Yeah, it's on its way down. It's 2,000 metres.
But something has gone wrong.
Action Man's parachute has not deployed
and he's got tangled up with the rocket as he falls.
Right, he should come through that bit of cloud pretty soon.
'As we wait anxiously, I appear to be making an Action Man pose myself
'If Action Man's arms come off, if his head detaches,
'if he lands damaged in any way or if we can't find him,
'then the mission is a failure and dolls are rubbish forever.'
Did you see two chutes or one?
'Er, we haven't seen any chutes yet.'
Only the rocket's drogue chute has deployed.
He's coming in too fast.
It wasn't clear if he's separated or not, was it?
You couldn't really see.
-Shall we go and find it? It doesn't look that far.
-Yes, let's go.
He's got to survive, that's the thing.
If he doesn't survive, he just joins Sindy on the roll of honour.
It was over there, wasn't it?
Roughly that way, I'd say.
Can you see where we are and where we should be?
'I can see where you are.
'I'm afraid I don't know where the rocket is.
'I didn't see it come down.'
Which way do you think it is?
That way, I think, is the strongest.
'As we approach the crash site,
'I prepare myself for the worst.'
Well, he's out.
And he's safe.
'This little Action Man has just survived 35G.
'Seven times what real astronauts sustain.'
That's a salute.
If somebody gave you that for Christmas,
you'd say that was a fully functioning Action Man, agreed?
He's a survivor.
Right, let's go and find out how fast he went.
"Take Action Man to the speed of sound and beyond
"and return him safely to the Earth".
That was the mission statement. Here he is, he's safe.
Now we will look at the telemetry data and the speed.
You know, a few years ago, we did the Barnstable to Bideford
Great Train Race and it didn't work,
so we had to go back the following year and do it again?
Well, I don't know what you're all doing next year,
but you won't be coming here because that's Mach 1.1.
'It's a resounding success.'
An achievement even greater than
not using Elton John's Rocket Man for the entire show.
821 miles per hour.
43 faster than Sindy.
After decades of being forgotten, dismissed and derided,
Action Man has shown that he truly is made of the right stuff.
96% plastic, 4% elastic
and some chrome metal rivets.
A happy Christmas.
I hope all your toys work as well as ours did.
James May attempts to rehabilitate one of Britain's most derided toys by seeing if it's possible for Action Man to do what no toy has ever managed - travel faster than the speed of sound.
For decades Action Man, despite his name, has been a disappointment. He promised so much with his eagle eyes, his gripping hands and his natty outfits. But what has he ever achieved? Nothing... yet.
After half a century lazing around the back of the toy cupboard, he must prove that he has The Right Stuff, redeem his shattered reputation and boldly go where no toy has gone before.
The challenge is daunting. Breaking the sound barrier and returning Action Man safely to the earth will test James and the team to the limit.
In an action-packed series of attempts, James battles high-speed physics, unforeseen explosions and catastrophic design setbacks that account for a large number of Action Man volunteers before settling on an experimental supersonic vehicle made entirely from scratch - a vehicle that threatens to send Action Man and the team into oblivion.
In a gripping final act, Action Man must not only succeed and survive intact, but also go faster and higher than a rival supersonic attempt led by his arch-nemesis - Sindy.
Will Action Man redeem himself? Will he survive Mach 1? Or will he lose out?