James May looks at the nation's childhood love affair with the model plane and attempts the first cross-channel flight ever achieved by an engineless, homemade supersized toy.
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In 2009, in the non-award winning series Toy Stories,
we built this, the world's biggest Airfix model,
the legendary Supermarine Spitfire as a full sized construction kit,
scale 1:1, and we're very proud of it. We really are.
It does, though, have a serious shortcoming,
the one shared by all Airfix models really, which is that it only actually works in the imagination,
held out at arm's length or maybe dangling from a piece of fishing line from your bedroom ceiling.
It doesn't really fly.
This, however, does,
and it's given us an idea.
I was an amateur aeronautical engineer from a very early age.
Back in those heady days of loud shirts and long hair,
you could pop down to the newsagents and for about 9d,
come away with a small self-assembly glider kit.
With just a few bits of balsa wood,
and, if you were posh, a rubber band,
you could hold in your ten-year-old hands the key to the mystery of flight.
It's a toy I've always remembered fondly, and wanted to revisit,
but we could never find a challenge big enough for it.
So, if you're watching from America these are the White Cliffs of Dover,
very evocatively named because they're white and they're in Dover.
22 miles approximately over there is the nearest point of France,
and over there, various jumped-up little Hitlers like Napoleon
and indeed Hitler, have stood and looked this way and thought,
"We'll have that", whilst people have stood here, looked into the mist
which is often present, and said, "Oh, the continent is cut off".
Before flight, these islands were fairly safe from foreign tourists.
The cruel sea saw to that.
Shakespeare called England "a precious stone set in the silver sea, which serves it as a moat",
and other things a man in tights might say.
But forsooth, the baldy bard couldn't have imagined
that 300 years later all that would change.
In 1909 Louis Bleriot struck a blow for comedy moustachioed Frenchmen the world over
by becoming the first man to cross the Channel in an aeroplane.
Bleriot flew over and landed just over there somewhere actually, near the castle.
Once that happened, people must have realised the world is going to change.
Pretty soon, no decade was complete without a new cross-Channel aviation record of some sort.
There have been many more.
First airship, first helium balloon cluster, first helicopter, first autogyro.
First passenger, first woman, first letter, first cat.
In fact, you'd be forgiven for thinking that in the 100 years
since Bleriot made his flight, there would be no more cross-Channel
aviation records to be set, but there is.
We've found one.
First free-flight model glider to cross from England to France.
So that's what we're going to do.
If we succeed, the 22-mile flight will set a new British
straight distance record for a toy glider.
That's the best thing I've ever seen. That's just fabulous!
A toy glider that we are going to conceive and build ourselves.
Here we go!
But our goal is loftier and altogether more symbolic than a simple cross-Channel record attempt.
Our flight will achieve closure for those thousands of people who,
as children like me, slaved for hours over balsa, glue and paper,
only to see the dream of flight dashed against the beaten earth of reality.
But in the world of instant gratification etcetera,
where is the incentive to build your own glider?
These days flying toys are very easy to come by
and actually relatively inexpensive.
This helicopter, for example, costs about 40 quid,
and it's absolutely brilliant.
And this Piper Cub over here is made from expanded polystyrene.
It comes ready-made, powered by a small electric motor.
You simply charge it up for a few hours, and away you go.
What could be better than that?
What you have to remember, though, is that
when I was a boy radio control was inconceivably expensive,
and it was also very bulky, and it wasn't really very reliable.
And the little model aero engines that people had,
they cost a year's pocket money,
so the only way to have a flying toy was to make something yourself,
like a glider or maybe something powered by a rubber band.
And you spent hours and hours and hours on your model,
and you loved it, and then you just set it free.
I mean, you knew it would probably end in disaster,
that you'd never see it intact again,
or maybe not even at all, but still you released it from captivity
and briefly, just very briefly, it was, it was beautiful.
You'd invested your wood
and your tissue paper with the soul of a bird, and as it soared away
it carried with it, or so it seemed, the dream of flight that humankind
has harboured ever since we first looked upwards and saw the birds.
It was all worth it.
That's enough noble sentiment.
If I'm to build a successful cross-Channel glider,
I'm going to have to apply brains over optimism.
There are a few basics to consider, so here's a repeat of a simple
flight test experiment I last made in the '70s.
I've made four small model gliders,
but on each one I've positioned the wings differently.
So, here's the one with the swept back wings, the jet fighter design.
Let's try that.
The basic problem with that is that you need a huge amount of air speed for it to fly.
Jet fighters go very fast, they have swept back wings.
Here's the same design again, but with the wings straight out,
mounted at the bottom of the fuselage.
MUSIC: "We're Going To Be Friends" by The White Stripes
That had promise, but it disintegrated
because it isn't actually a very strong shape, nor is it very stable.
Here we've got the wings on the top of the fuselage.
They're still the same shape, dead straight and flat, right at the top.
That's better, isn't it? That's not bad.
Finally we have the wings mounted on the top of the fuselage again,
but this time with dihedral, that is the end of the wings are higher than the root of the wings.
I've also added a slight aerofoil shape, so let's try this.
Wait for the wind a second. Here we go.
THUD MUSIC STOPS ABRUPTLY
If we were a proper programme like Panorama, that would have worked perfectly.
What did you have to stand there for, Dan?
Look at that!
Wind's induced a bit of a stall, there, but that's flight.
So, a glider looks the way it does for good reason - stability.
We need high, slender wings, dihedral,
and a decent fin at the back.
But even with all this in mind, I still want to base our glider
around a real model, the sort that I might have made back in the day.
Yes. I was... Ah! These are the sort of things I remember from when I was a lad.
The Slingsby Skylark.
That's the sort of shape I'm after,
-because it needs to have a nice fat fuselage for us to put all our kit in.
And it needs to look like the basic balsa wood glider
that you spent five years building if you grew up in the '70s.
Oh! Mm, hang on.
Slingsby Swallow. That's a really classic toy glider shape.
I like this. It's the right shape.
Have you got it four or five times as big?
Unfortunately not, no, but you'd probably find some plans.
Where would I get a plan from then, for it?
You could always try the internet.
The internet. Do you know, I'd forgotten about that.
This is perfect.
The real Slingsby Swallow was an RAF training glider in the 1950s,
so it has the right sort of stable, high wing, dihedral design,
and space inside for our kit.
After numerous unbroadcastable attempts at searching Google
for the word "swallow", we finally hit upon a company
who could supply us with the supersized plans we need.
And there it is, ready.
At first glance, this retro design doesn't seem very aerodynamic.
Quite an old-fashioned wing shape. It looks quite draggy.
That's an aeronautical term.
This... I suspect we may have to think about that a bit.
It might be a 50-year-old design at heart, but producing
the hundreds of balsa wood parts is a gloriously 21st century process.
Now watch this.
That looks as if it's just been printed,
but in fact the laser has cut the wood.
There is a dimensionally perfect wing rib.
That represents probably an hour's work back in 1975 or whenever I was doing this.
To make sure my rather nostalgic choice won't lead to disaster
over the channel, we need to see how well the swallow flies,
so we get a friendly enthusiast to put it all together
so we can test it out over dry land.
So here we are on a hill in Oxfordshire,
and this is where we find out if this design has what it takes to be a record-breaking toy aeroplane.
There are lots of considerations in aeroplane design.
They can be designed for speed or manoeuvrability or endurance,
or load carrying capacity.
I've chosen this design because it looks like one I made when I was 12.
So let's see if it has the endurance,
if it has the soul of aviation in it, to fly through this valley.
There's only one way to do this.
We've put all the work in, now you just have to throw it off the hill and see what happens.
-Try not to muck it up, Number Two.
It's scaring the birds!
It's down there. Woah!
Well, it's not broken.
That's a very good result by the standards of my childhood.
The aeroplane is still in one piece, it's usable again.
That makes it a very good landing in aviation terms,
but it hasn't actually gone very far.
'So, we re-trim the swallow, removing some weight from the nose,
'and give it another go.'
-Here we go!
-Woo! Look at that!
MUSIC: "The Dark Is Rising" by Mercury Rev
Look at that!
Oh, caught a gust, caught a gust!
-No, it's done it! No, it's turned back. It's good.
-Go on, go on!
It's not the greatest.
It's still flying.
Come on, baby!
-Now it's down.
-That's landed. That's more like it, look at that!
We've moved two whole fields.
That's already better, look,
that's gone at least three times as far as it did on the first flight,
just with a bit of tweaking of weight and balance.
That is the best model aeroplane I've ever been involved with.
That has gone... Well, every other one I've built only ever got
about as far as that little bush over there, and look at that.
It's almost out of sight. Look at it!
We thought this was amazing.
It was only when we sent our bedrenched lackeys down
to measure the distance that we came in for a sobering shock.
On that rather good throw, our glider reached a distance of 326 yards.
To merely scrape onto the beach at Calais,
our glider must cover 22 miles, or 38,720 yards.
That's 120 times as far.
Chucking it off the white cliffs just won't cut it.
Even throwing it off this hill nearly crashed it.
To stand any hope at all, we'll have to throw it from as high up
as we possibly can, and that means using a hot air balloon.
And even then, the glider will be at the mercy of
that most British of opponents.
What we can't really do anything about is the weather, the elements.
They are the things that nearly did for Alcock and Brown flying across the Atlantic,
and nearly did for the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk and so on.
They could completely scupper it.
That is a very, very big model.
But it's a tiny, tiny aeroplane, and France is ever such a long way away.
Louis Bleriot himself was almost brought down by the treacherous weather over the channel,
and he had an engine.
And our Swallow will be doomed anyway if, as I suspect,
its basic design simply isn't fit for aerodynamic purpose.
Well, this is the R J Mitchell wind tunnel
at the University of Southampton Faculty of Engineering and the Environment.
Here is our glider, or sort of just over half of it, and we're going to test, I think,
for the lift drag ratio at various speeds and angles of attack.
Exactly. We can go as soon as you're ready.
-Are we ready?
-We're ready, yeah.
-We are go for wind tunnel.
-So, start fan.
What we're actually trying to discover here is the swallow's glide ratio, that is,
how much it loses in height compared with how far it flies in distance.
For example, I've estimated that to make it across the sea,
our glider needs a minimum glide ratio of 20:1.
So, for every foot it loses in height,
it must travel 20 feet forwards.
It's high drama in the wind tunnel, as you can see.
A one winged aeroplane making excellent, steady progress through the sky.
Give me the news, doctor. Is it good or bad?
It's not good and it's not bad.
The lift to drag ratio is probably in the order of about 14.
It's not what you want for your long distance one.
-It's rubbish, isn't it?
-It's not good.
I'm staggered that it's that bad.
We're going to need a better wing.
It's a bit annoying to discover that we'll need to design a whole new aerofoil.
And this problem, added to issues like the fuselage size,
the balloon launch logistics and the weather, is beginning to cloud
the simple childhood dream of flight that inspired the whole endeavour.
But then I hear news of a discovery in a small Devonshire town
that puts everything into perspective.
Time to set my hat at a jaunty RAF angle and investigate.
So tell me a bit about the building first. It used to be a school, is that right?
It did, as the town grammar school from about 1550 until 1910.
And then it stopped being a school?
It did, replaced by a new build in the town.
Right, and what was it you found? Can you show me what?
Well, myself and the builders found
-a large number of...
-What's that bit made from?
-That's a pen nib.
God, so it is!
That's amazing. How many of these did you find?
I think we've got about 20 now.
So these, well at the very latest these can be from 1910, presumably.
The very latest, yes, the very end of the school period, I'm sure.
-But they could go back to the, well, to the 19th century.
-Could well be.
'It really is amazing to think that even before the Wright brothers' flight in 1903,
'children at this school were making these darts and dreaming of flight.'
Ow! It's a good job I had my hard hat on.
Hang on a minute.
Oh, Peter! Look at this.
Oh my God! Look!
Look here, that's incredibly exciting, look at that.
-Well, that's a leap ahead.
God, I hope there's a date on that somewhere.
That's the classic Concorde paper dart aeroplane.
That's amazing. Some urchin made that, well, at least 100 years ago,
maybe 150 years ago or more, and we used to make exactly the same one -
fold it in, fold it in again, fold it in half, put the wings down.
Do you think it would be OK to try it?
Oh, my word! Look at that! Did you get that?
That's amazing, isn't it? Come on, that is amazing.
That's been sitting in there for all that time, and it still works, and proves...
..that the pioneering flight testers were more advanced than we thought.
'To discover that Concorde was actually the work
'of an unknown 19th century child is an uplifting and emotional moment.
'And a quick experiment reveals that the same basic design
'is still in production by schoolchildren today.
'Children say their first word, take their first step,
'and then make their first aeroplane.
'Here's history straight down the barrel. Not quite.
-It went through the gap.
I've literally thrown the history of aviation down through a hole in the floor.
I decide to leave before I'm beaten to death by irate historians,
yet determined that our Swallow will do those unsung pioneers of flight proud.
These people are aerospace engineering students from Brunel University.
We also have some expert aero modellers on their way to help us,
and minister for aircraft production is Simmy, as you would expect.
So now - let's glue balsa.
While I've been out losing priceless historical artefacts,
Sim and the engineering students have been hard at work designing a new wing for the glider,
which should improve its pathetic 14:1 glide ratio.
They've dispensed with the old bulky shape,
and instead have come up with a leaner, meaner wing design
that'll cut drag and produce a lot more lift.
The theoretical glide ratio of the new wing is 29.3.
JAMES CHORTLES APPROVINGLY
But is that theoretical or have you allowed for the fuselage?
That's the problem. We haven't allowed for the fuselage in that figure,
and so we would be closer to 20 in reality.
-Close to your figures.
-It knocks a third off.
-Yeah, because the fuselage is quite a draggy design.
I can't do much about that, cos we need to keep the fuselage big to get all our kit in.
-That's the problem. We're stuck with a fat fuselage.
-Let's say we want 30 miles.
-To be on the safe side.
Can your programme calculate the launch height, assuming it's 20:1?
-For us to get 30 miles, what's...?
It's around 8,000 feet we need to be releasing the glider from.
8,000 feet. Finally, our plan is coming together.
We now have a launch height of 8,000 feet and with a glide ratio of
20:1 our glider should comfortably make it, channel weather permitting.
But how, you may be wondering,
will our free flight glider know it's supposed to go to France?
What's to stop it sodding off to Hastings?
Our boffin, Dr Ben, has come up with a guidance system.
So, this is our autopilot.
So, in here we have gyroscopes, we're got an accelerometer,
we have a GPS so it knows where it's going.
We also finally, then, have this air speed sensor
and you can work out how fast you're going.
It's pointing where it wants to go. It gets blown that way.
It knows that because of the accelerometers, all those little
servers will then automatically alter the control services.
-Pull it back.
-Turn it back on course.
-And all that is in there.
All that's in there. We're never going to have time to test it properly,
but lots of people that do this all the time tell me it will just work.
So, buoyed by that tried but not tested scientific endorsement,
we assemble the Slingsby Swallow mark II.
MUSIC: "Learn To Fly" by Foo Fighters
Situation update, three days in.
This is mine and Simmy's beautiful fuselage which is the squarest thing
this side of Michael Gove.
Over here the students are working on the starboard wing,
working very hard on that, they've been here since 10.30.
Over here there's more students, they're working on the port wing,
similar level of progress, we've got to add the aileron, a bit of covering and so on,
and then over here all the bits at the tail plane,
the fin and the rudder, tail plane being sanded to final shape.
'Compared with my childhood glider builds, we're making rapid progress
'thanks to modern inventions like superglues.
'They really will stick anything.'
This is something that's happened quite a few times already,
but I stuck my thumb to the aeroplane with a stray blob of the Cyano glue.
You can see the bit that's gone.
It's my flesh. Eugh!
'So, after days in a hangar, anointing the glider with our blood, sweat and ravaged flesh,
'after hundreds of pieces of balsa and more craft work than a German nightclub,
'the new and improved Swallow is finally ready.'
This, I've come to realise, is in fact a very British endeavour.
We come here inappropriately dressed for the conditions.
We are a motley assortment of experts and hobbyists, drinking tea
and working very long hours for no money in an old and leaky shed.
And yet, I believe we have achieved greatness.
And here it is.
The Slingsby Swallow.
Lightly modified by us and still basically a balsa wood glider,
just like the ones we all made as kids,
only a bit bigger, but it will unite nations.
Finally, a glider fit to carry my childhood vision on its record-breaking flight.
'We sent the joyous news of our achievement
'to our cousins in Calais, but in reply they send us
'not a bottle of champers, but a giant Gallic raspberry.'
The news is this.
Our glider, our simple humble model,
has to be classified as a drone according to British air traffic control,
which is fine, they're very happy with that.
But the French don't really recognise it as a drone.
They don't like the idea of an unmanned aerial vehicle full of gizmos
entering their airspace and we've had a massive argument about it,
but they won't budge, and we've also of course got the restrictions
of the big lockdown because of some running and jumping competition
that's going on in London, and...
it's really annoying me, to be honest.
I mean France, la belle France, it is a wonderful place to go and drive around,
ride around on a motorcycle or a bicycle,
and yes, you get cassoulet by the side of the road.
It's very nice, they have wonderful cheeses, excellent local red wines,
it's a beautiful place, but at a bureaucratic level,
they make us and the Indians look like schoolchildren.
They're absolutely hopeless, but it doesn't matter, because we've got a plan.
We've discovered another channel that's perfect for our attempt.
This one is free of French hubris and Olympic interference,
but presents us with exactly the same
22-mile record-breaking challenge.
What's more, we'll still be extending
our giant balsa hand of friendship to a foreign power.
We're going to fly from Devon across the Bristol Channel to Wales.
We can even make Wales look a bit like France if we want to with some
clever voiceover and some accordion music and a picture of a croissant.
I prefer it actually. This is better.
So, we've swapped Calais for the valleys,
and the British record will still be ours for the taking.
However, we've had to admit that there is a fundamental flaw in our plan,
something more hopelessly optimistic
than building a giant glider in the first place.
We've made the momentous decision that the balloon launch is a stupid idea,
because basically you only need the slightest puff of wind,
the slightest bit of rain, somebody with an air rifle,
and it doesn't work properly and you lose the balloon, it's no good.
We've decided we're going to go with a helicopter very much like this one.
We'll have one helicopter to film the flight for your entertainment, and one like this to launch it,
and it's good, because it can go up when we want it to,
it can go up to where we want it to, it can go up and down quickly if we
have a technical problem or a camera doesn't work or something like that.
There is, however, a problem.
You can't just chuck a glider out of a hovering helicopter.
For a start, it could get tangled up in this bit,
the complicated mechanism up at the top, and that would be a disaster.
Furthermore, the glider itself might be destroyed
by the enormous down draught.
So, at the last minute Simmy comes up with an experimental solution.
Excellent. You join us now at Dunkeswell Airfield where we have introduced this.
We call it the crate, it's a sort of glider coffin upside down, if you like.
Because we're now going under a helicopter
we can't simply hang the glider underneath,
it would start flying as the helicopter moves along.
So it's shrouded in this, which hangs underneath the helicopter,
and then at the appropriate altitude the glider is released,
drops from underneath it and flies away.
Well, Sim, I can see which way round the glider goes.
I'm guessing the wings go in the long bit and the tail goes in the small bit.
-That's it, yes.
-How does the release work?
We've got a panel going up to the helicopter, which turns this
electromagnet on, a 24 volt electromagnet.
-That holds that down,
and then when we're ready, the pilot will release the power to that
and the glider will simply fall out through the opening at the bottom.
But as the glider drops below,
the glider inside the box is effectively in still air.
-As soon as it drops out into this it's going to be in a 15, 20 knot headwind.
Will the glider not just fly up into the helicopter or back into its box?
That's certainly possible. I've never done this before.
-Well, that's why we're testing it, you see.
'As with most of Britain's newest ideas and quite a lot of her military equipment,
'success ultimately depends on gaffer tape.'
-It's fine there.
I think if that comes off, it launches. Is it definitely going to stay on?
-Are you sure, Simmy?
Another big concern is whether the crate will start spinning uncontrollably.
If it does, it'll be impossible to stop
and the glider might be destroyed, even if the release system works.
So, to be on the safe side, we nick the airfield's windsock to act as a stabiliser.
This is the first time a glider has been in the crate.
This isn't the final glider, this is the prototype, which you will
remember being test flown off the hill.
We're not going to drop our proper one for the first time, cos that would just be too risky.
The success of this operation now, everything we've done,
the wind tunnel, the design, the new wings, calculating the glide ratio,
building it in the hangar, it all really hinges on Sim's woodwork
and an electromagnet that we had left over from another project.
This actually has to work.
If this doesn't work, I'm not sure what we can do in time for tomorrow.
Here we go.
Hey, the windsock works!
Look at that! That's tremendous!
'Time for the release mechanism. Here we go.'
-Yes! Look at that!
That's the best thing I've ever seen! That's just fabulous!
MUSIC: "99 Balloons" by Goldfinger
It's beautiful as well, look at it!
Look at that!
-Don't sound so amazed.
-I'm not amazed, I knew it would work,
-but it's just, when you first see it and you think, "yes!"
You've got that ugly, no offence, Sim, that ugly, square box,
and then this beautiful thing drops out of it and flies.
It is Lazarus, isn't it, because that thing is like a tomb
and then the glider lives, it's raised, except it's lowered.
That's a terrible analogy, cut it out.
Absolutely awesome sauce.
This is really just a very, very convoluted
and elaborate woodwork project, but everything about it works.
All we need now is a decent bit of weather, and that's all we need.
And then we'll make model aviation history.
Great. Shall we have a pint and talk about it?
-Let's do that.
'Oh, yes. The weather.
'Just as we're packing up and preparing to go to the pub, the phone rings.'
Oh, somebody's ringing in. Oh, it's him, it's Charlie from the Met Office.
Charlie. Hello. How are you?
I'll try you later on, then.
All right. Thanks very much. Cheers. Bye. Bye.
Is that off? Yes.
That's remarkable - there's a man who actually does speak like a weather forecast.
Even though I was just asking him casually, he was saying,
"And in the morning we'll see some bright, sunny patches,
"but with cloud cover increasing towards the middle of the day
"and there may be some light showers from 3..."
Do you think he speaks like that at home?
His wife says, "Would you like a cup of tea, darling?"
"I'm interested in the cup of tea approaching from the kitchen in a westerly direction,
"temperature roughly 80 to 85 degrees C, becoming colder".
It's just remarkable. I thought I'd rung up the telly.
Anyway, the gist of it is tomorrow is good in the morning
but there will be quite a bit of cloud, and the wind is favourable,
and the wind isn't favourable in the afternoon, but with
light showers developing and the cloud base increasing and lowering.
So, tomorrow's pretty bad. Umm...
Which will mean crossing from England to Wales will be difficult.
-Scotland has seen some heavy showers with a risk of snowfall.
-LAUGHTER OFF CAMERA
Actually, this isn't funny.
The bad weather forecast, as feared, could ruin everything.
We can only afford one shot at the record.
'Cancelling the helicopters at this late stage
'would be prohibitively expensive.
'The flight will have to go ahead.'
SOARING ORCHESTRAL MUSIC
Good morning. It's Friday, it's launch day.
In a moment this will be hoisted aloft
and dropped from the special crate.
I will be jumping into a very fast boat, which is why I'm dressed like this,
to pursue it across the Bristol Channel,
and the weather is not perfect, to be honest,
but these helicopters and all these people cost a lot of money
and we have no choice but to go for it. On the plus side, the glider is,
and the production crew think this is extremely funny, piloted by me.
So what could...? What terrible thing could befall it?
It's difficult to imagine. Look. Look, it's me.
'Moments before the launch, I convene the crew to go over the perfectly simple plan.'
Dover is now Devon and France is now Wales.
The balloon is now a helicopter
and we launch from Simmy's glider coffin at a height
of at least 8,000 feet if we want to set the 22-mile record.
I'll follow in a speedboat so I can recover the glider
when it hits the deck, and there'll also be a second helicopter
with a glider spotter to keep an eye on it. Simple!
'Despite the early hour, I'm experiencing that same
'frisson of excitement I felt as a ten-year-old.
'Our glider is finally going to take wing.'
Right, here we go, and we're heading for Wales,
but that obviously is a bit academic.
It's a free flight glider.
The whole point is you let it go and you see what happens.
And when the Swallow drops out of that ugly crate,
it will be transformed from a scientific experiment into a magical thing,
and it isn't magic, really, it's physics, it's about aerofoils
and weights and balance and air flow and all the other things we've talked about.
But actually, it IS magic. To the boat!
MUSIC: "When The Levee Breaks" by Led Zeppelin
'This is it. The clouds are threatening, the plan is convoluted, but the team is ready.'
Is it working?
'We appear to have reverted to impatient ten-year-olds,
'but in reality we are a crack team. Every second counts.'
VOICE FROM WALKIE-TALKIE
Unlock the van.
'Sadly, Fatty Carswell, our Australian cameraman,
'has confused his van keys with a fun-sized Mars bar, costing us vital seconds.
'As the glider helicopter flies on oblivious,
'we drive frantically to the harbour and our waiting speedboat.'
There's no boat.
'I don't believe this.'
Yeah, there's absolutely nobody here.
'Boarding the glider recovery speedboat was meant to be
'like something from the opening sequence of a Bond film.
'Meanwhile, our helicopter is already starting its ascent to launch height.'
'With chaos fast overtaking us, it's up to the director to keep a level head.'
The slip road to the harbour?
-it's at the wrong
-place, it should be at the
'Meanwhile, in the chopper, our glider spotter,
-'Tom, is having his own doubts.'
-James, this is Tom.
Roger, go ahead, Tom.
We are currently at 4,000 feet above the coastline, slightly
concerned about the amount of cloud out here in the Bristol Channel.
At the moment we can't see Oxwich.
Roger, can you stand by? We have a slight boat problem.
As soon as we're in it, we'll make a decision.
'The cloud cover is fast becoming an even bigger issue than the boat.
'Neither of our helicopters is permitted to fly in cloud.
'Our pilots have to be able to see the ground at all times.
'On top of that, two helicopters flying blind next to each other
'could end in what pilots call "the drink",
'especially when one of them is swinging a two-tonne woodwork project on a rope.
'But look on the bright side. Our speedboat has now turned up,
'meaning we will at least be able to recover the chopper crews.'
Golf, Oscar, Alpha, this is James,
just to confirm you are west of Ilfracombe, is that correct?
-Roger. We're almost ready for you to launch.
Give us a minute or two to position.
Currently if we launched from this location
we would be almost directly into cloud.
I can't see them. Can anybody see them?
The delay with our boat has meant the weather has closed in.
The helicopter's rotors are now beating the base of the clouds.
Tom, our glider spotter, has an emergency remote control
to abort the flight if it's about to crash into an orphanage,
but flight regulations say we can't launch if he can't see.
They will launch the glider, might go into cloud,
in which case it'll have to abort.
It's an impossible situation.
We can't fly higher, we can't launch into cloud,
and we can't wait any longer.
Right, Tom, is there a case for launching slightly lower
so that we miss the cloud?
Yes, I would say so, if we were in 500 feet of the cloud base.
OK, do the descent by 500 feet and then we'll go for distance.
Reducing altitude by 500 feet so that we clear the cloud.
The helicopter is forced to descend to 2,900 feet, massively lower
than the 8,000 we were hoping for, to search for a break in the clouds.
James, we are now visual with the boat, say again, visual with your boat.
Right, there's the film chopper, there's the launch chopper.
Right, this is James in the boat.
Golf, Oscar, Alpha, Golf, X-ray, X-ray,
please launch at will at your discretion, and report when done.
Four, three, two, one,
We can see that, thank you very much, that's gorgeous. Fabulous.
Look at that!
James, autopilot is engaged.
Roger, autopilot engaged.
Cloud base not your fault, Oscar Alpha, thank you.
Yeah, all right, Tom. Anyway, our glider is finally in the air,
but the observant among you will have noticed something wrong.
Shouldn't it be heading out to sea?
James, we're getting a lot of pitching fluctuation at the moment.
Actually, I can see that from down here.
James to Tom, it's quite difficult to see from here.
Which way is it actually heading?
Heading east along the coastline.
Well, that's not right.
We're not sure if it's an autopilot malfunction or just a fear of the Welsh,
but either way, the Swallow appears to be heading back to base.
-It's going the right way now.
OK? Chase it skipper.
Good. We've got to pick up speed.
'The glider is now at altitude 1,000 and still tracking towards Oxwich Bay.'
Roger, 1,000 Oxwich Bay. It looks lovely from down here, how does it look from up there?
'The view is absolutely gorgeous.'
Look at it.
It really is a spectacular sight,
but nothing can disguise the fact that what with the weather,
the boat, the autopilot and the Mars bar, we were just too low.
'Glider's in the water. James, run it down.'
Roger, we have visual. Thanks.
-How far from shore are we?
-Two and a half miles.
Two and a half miles, that's hopeless.
I think it's struggling.
Top work. Beautiful.
'Two and a half miles, nearly 20 miles short of the record,
'and still in sight of Devon.
'The child's dream dashed anew in adulthood.'
'But the next day, dawn's recreation reveals a spotless golden sky.
'Andrew, our launch helicopter pilot,
'has to take a bride to a wedding at lunchtime.
'Tom, our glider spotter from Brunel University,
'is meant to be on his Saturday job delivering groceries for Waitrose.
'But history won't remember all that bunk.
'I think we should try this again.'
MUSIC: "Baba O'Riley" by The Who
I know I said yesterday that that would be our only chance,
and strictly speaking it was.
All these people, helicopter pilots, Simmy, the boat man,
they're now all on very expensive overtime, but look at the weather.
Look at the sky, it's clear.
The helicopter can go as high as it likes.
The problem is, though, you will remember
we were going to extend the hand of friendship to Wales,
we were going to go from North Devon over to the bay here at Oxwich.
The problem is the wind today is a dead easterly.
It's going that way, which makes it virtually impossible,
but then we discovered the Isle of Lundy down here,
directly to the west of our launch point,
and more to the point, that is a distance of 22 nautical miles,
almost exactly the same as the Channel.
That's where we'll fly to, and I know it's not Wales,
and that's a bit disappointing, but we thought for the purposes of this film,
we'll spell Lundy with two Ls and we'll call it Llundy.
# Sally, take my hand
# We'll travel south cross land
# Put out the fire And don't look past my shoulder... #
To the boat!
# The exodus is here
# The happy ones are near
# Let's get together before we get much older. #
We're going to go halfway between Ilfracombe and Lundy,
wait for news of the glider's launch,
which we won't be able to see because it's going to be at at least 8,500 feet,
and then, following directions from our satellite navigation tracker,
who's sitting on a hilltop, we'll learn how fast it's going,
which direction it's going in towards Lundy, hopefully,
and chase it and hopefully meet it as it comes in to an elegant landing.
While we head out to sea, the helicopters describe huge ascending spirals over Ilfracombe
as they climb to launch altitude.
'We're just coming up to 5,000 feet.'
'OK, 6,000 feet now.'
Roger, 6,000 feet. Sounds excellent.
So, we're already more than twice as high as we were yesterday.
'OK, so it's six to 7,000 now.'
Roger, 7,000, can you keep going?
-'Yeah, we can, definitely'
We're now just shy of our 8,000 foot launch height, but the weather is
so good, the choppers can go higher than we ever thought possible.
'9,000 feet now.'
MUSIC: "I Can See For Miles" by The Who
'And half a mile in your 8 o'clock clearing.'
# I can see for miles and miles
# And miles and miles and miles. #
At a final altitude of 10,000 feet plus a length of rope, we're ready.
The island is behind us and at sea level the wind is
directly in my face, as I look east, so it's going to be
behind the glider and it's going to go belting along.
It's probably going to have an air speed of something like 35 knots.
'OK, we're ready.'
'Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four,
'three, two one. Release.'
'That's glider gone.'
Golf, X-ray, X-ray, this is the boat.
Can you give us an approximation of the glider ground speed please?
'OK, James, it looks like we're making 30 knots ground speed.'
Hey! Roger, 30 knots, thank you.
-'James, this is Tom.'
-Tom, fire away.
'The glider seems to be tracking well towards Lundy.'
We're already a mile offshore with the glider and we've only lost
-about 1,000, well less than 1,000, feet, so yeah, we need to crack on.
'This is the fastest boat in Ilfracombe,
'but it isn't fast enough. I do a quick calculation.
'Even though we can't see the glider yet,
'I know we're never going to beat it to Lundy.
'It's just flying too well for that.'
It's remaining relatively stable.
OK, and do we think, I know you don't know it exactly,
but is it at best distance glide speed?
I would say it's looking very promising at the moment.
So, we've done a mile and a bit and we've only lost 1,000 feet,
so it's gone nearly two miles, well it'll just make it at this rate.
Yeah, but it may not clear the cliffs,
but if it lands on the beach, I count that as a success.
It's going a mile per 1,000 feet now.
Sorry, two miles per 1,000 feet.
Being told how well the swallow is flying is very gratifying,
but no match for seeing it with our own eyes.
We've made visual. We can see you. Fantastic!
Hello, X-ray, X-ray, you're dead above us.
Isn't that cool?
'As I said, you spend hours on it, but it's all worth it.'
That's miles up!
'Upper air turbulence is giving the autopilot a hard time,
'but no matter.
'Wood, glue and a few bits of finger have rewarded us
'with the gift of flight.'
'James, this is Tom.'
'Hello, Tom, go ahead.'
Glider is flying fantastically.
'Altitude, 4,500 feet.'
We should cross the island at this rate at just under 2,000 feet, which would be absolutely fantastic.
We can land it where we like. We can fly it through the lighthouse keeper's kitchen window.
WELSH MALE VOICE CHOIR SINGS
'We have to dock our speedboat at a jetty round the side of Lundy.
'For the first time since midway, we're forced to lose sight of our toy.
'Although, to be fair, the goodwill will be dampened
'if we drop all the camera kit in the sea.'
Ah, what a shame we can't actually see it, look it's...
I CAN see it!
Ah, it's just gone behind the headland.
I just saw it, see there's the chopper,
I just saw it, we'll see it emerge in a minute, I think.
There it is. Can you see it?
The Swallow soars over Lundy at an amazing 2,300 feet above sea level.
It's still flying fantastically.
'The GPS on the Swallow has been programmed for the landing strip
'on the south side of the island.
'Until then, technically it will be circling that point
'until it loses all its height.
'But from the ground, our toy glider is doing victory laps.'
It's one of those things in childhood when you think,
"If only I could have my bicycle at the top of a really long hill
"so I could enjoy riding downhill all day," and it's the same with a glider.
You always think, "If only I could throw it out of something thousands of feet high
"rather than just the bedroom window." That's what we've done.
And that's what it will do.
I know it's only a toy glider, but allow me to be a bit emotional about it.
After nearly an hour of heroic gliding,
it's time for the migrating Swallow to land.
Come on, come on.
-James this is Tom. The glider has landed on Lundy.
How many feet would you say that is off the runway?
-Approximately 20 feet off the runway.
22 nautical mile, that's just brilliant.
From almost beyond the horizon, from the other world, we are pioneers,
we are discoverers setting foot on this strange place with no cars in it.
And so I head across the island to bring our glider home.
But, like Captain Cook's landing party,
first the Swallow must survive an encounter with the natives.
It's a play one.
It says it's from James.
Oh, look, there's a little man in the front. Somebody's made it, haven't they?
I know which guy that is off Top Gear. He's the really stupid one.
'Luckily for them, it takes the stupid one
'so long to hike across the island that the locals have run away.'
Bye, if I'm on TV!
-Thank you very much.
If you look behind you very briefly you will see where our glider has come from,
Ilfracombe sticking out over there,
only just visible in the slight haze.
This has been a pioneering flight by a toy glider, one that's never been made before,
and it set off like the Mayflower or Apollo VIII,
not really knowing if this was possible, but here it is,
the first, and remember the first to do something stays in the record book for ever.
In my lifetime, there have been two very important announcements made
concerning historic moments in aviation.
"The eagle has landed", and "The Swallow has flown".
Happy Christmas, and I hope all your toys work as well as ours did.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
In this epic Toy Stories Christmas special, James gets to the heart of the nation's childhood love affair with the model plane and sets out to achieve what seems an impossible dream: the first cross-channel flight ever achieved by an engineless, homemade supersized toy. If it survives the perilous 22-mile journey, James's classic toy glider, lovingly built from over 1,000 pieces of balsa, will smash the British distance record.
James's mission is dedicated to making the dream of flight come true for the generations of children who, like James himself, slaved for hours over balsa and glue only to see their fragile and much-loved planes smash tragically on to the unyielding concrete of reality.
During his quest, James turns Indiana Jones to unearth surprising new evidence that identifies children as the true pioneers of flight and wrestles with an underperforming glider that threatens to barely leave the ground. And what starts as a simple yet noble aim takes James in many unexpected directions - to a mysterious and barely inhabited island, to helicopters lost in the fog and missing speedboats, and what can only be described as the world's first flying coffin for gliders.
Throughout, James is beset by a series of dramatic problems requiring inspired solutions, near-disasters and breakthroughs, which culminate in a thrilling and visually stunning last throw of the dice.
Underpinned throughout by James's own infectious passion for flight, a passion he's had since he first put glue to balsa as a ten-year-old, Flight Club is an epic journey into the unexpected.