Southend Man-Powered Aircraft Group

Operated from c.1961 to c.1965

Founders/Directors – B.A. Kerry, A.G. Drescher, M. Prentice, K. Barbeary and B.C. Basu

With the formation of the Royal Aeronautical Society’s ‘Man-Powered Aircraft Group’ in 1959, a rather pronounced clamour to produce man-powered aircraft suddenly emerged, no doubt driven further by the £5,000 Kremer Award that had subsequently been offered to the first aircraft of this type to fly a fixed, figure-of-eight course. Indeed by 1961, four distinct organisations based at an equal number of locations around the UK had already started building their own machines. Sufficed to say, one of these groups was based at Southend. The SMPAG was initially formed and run by five Aviation Traders employees (although this concern had nothing to do with ATEL itself) and by the spring of 1962, this organisation had expanded to around 30 members.

Based in a Nissan hut at the rear of the airport, the building of their 146lb, two man machine commenced in September 1961 after having been awarded a £750 grant from the Royal Aeronautical Society who had approved their previously submitted plans. The aircraft itself was constructed from a mixture of spruce, ply and balsa. Three 30ft, Meculon covered wing sections were built while the front, rear and all moving tailplane parts of the aircraft would also be produced separately due to the size constraints of the Nissan hut that the group was confined to. While flying the aircraft, the two man crew would each have individual tasks. One would provide the bulk of the power to the 10ft tractor propeller by peddling as fast as he could while the other would provide a measure of residual pedal power, but would concentrate primarily on flying the aircraft.

However, it was the Southampton based SUMPAC that would eventually claim the prize, making their first flight on November 23rd 1961 while the second machine the Hatfield Puffin, flew one week later. Construction nevertheless continued on the Southend contraption with the first attempt to fly being made on Sunday July 18th 1965, although this was ultimately unsuccessful due in part to the failure of a pedal pin which quite naturally reduced the power that could be provided to the large prop. Further attempts were made in August but sadly, this infernal machine refused to leave the ground and it would seem that at this point, the project was finally abandoned.

With thanks to Neil Punnett and to Flightglobal for the picture and information above.


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Many thanks from the SAAD Admin Team.