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30 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 04 March 2014

From feathers to the Welsh-built wings of the giant Airbus A380 and a 60 year-old mystery concerning millionaire aviator Howard Hughes, Adam Walton explores the science of flight.

  • Flight

    The theme of this week’s programme is flight. Adam Walton explores the science that gets everything from the smallest single-seater aircraft to the world’s largest passenger airliner off the ground. It may seem like a miracle at times but of course it’s all actually only a matter of physics.


    Adam’s first stop is the Airbus factory at Broughton in Flintshire where the wings for the company’s aircraft – including the giant A380, capable of carrying over 800 passengers – are made. He meets design engineer Rhian Perrin who explains how a modern airliner wing is built to combine lightness, aerodynamic efficiency and safety.


    At Glyndwr University in Wrexham, Nick Burdon explains the aerodynamic principles that create lift and keep a wing in the air. He also reveals how he’s solved a sixty-seven year old aviation mystery involving millionaire Howard Hughes. Hughes’ giant seaplane Spruce Goose only ever made one flight – a short ‘hop’ which didn’t take it higher than 70 feet into the air – and debates have raged ever since about whether it could have flown properly. Nick believes he’s found the answer using Glyndwr University’s flight simulator and he puts Adam at the controls of Spruce Goose – with disastrous results.


    And from geese to pigeons… Science Café producer Jeremy Grange visits Bangor University’s pigeon loft at Treborth Botanic Garden where he meets animal physiologist Dr. Charles Bishop. Charles explains how birds’ bodies are adapted to flight – and what we can learn from them when we’re designing aircraft.


Adam Walton

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