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Society Stories: HPFStrath

The engineering challenge of building a Human-Powered Aircraft (HPA) has been attempted by few and achieved by even fewer.

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Kit Buchanan is one of those rare few to have flown such an aircraft – in fact, fewer people have flown in one of these things than have been to space - and last Monday Strathclyde’s very own Human-Powered Flight society, HPFStrath, was personally invited along to a talk by Kit himself for an evening of inspiration, vibrant discussion and brilliant ideas.

A former contributor and pilot of the record-breaking aircraft AeroCycle, Kit is a trailblazer in the world of HPAs. He spent the evening recounting his achievements so far, and his current ongoing efforts to build his very own Human-Powered Aircraft – from his garden shed. A valiant challenge, and definitely reassuring to us at HPFStrath; if one person can build an entire aircraft by themselves, then the odds are looking good for a team of university students doing the same.  

Before all the action of building our aircraft though, we first had to face our toughest challenge yet: getting to Prestwick for the Royal Aeronautical Society-hosted talk! Once there, we were able to get to know a roomful of some of the most inspiring people in flight – and that’s before Kit even got there. We learned more about working with aircrafts than a google search ever could have taught us, and a little bit about flying them too – one person we spoke to had flown over 80 types of aircraft! The best was saved until last, however, as the packed auditorium was finally presented with their eagerly awaited speaker.  

It is extremely gratifying to hear firsthand from someone who has flown this type of aircraft, and throughout his talk, “Long Builds and Short Flights”, Kit spoke about his experiences at the competition in HPAs are flown. The Icarus Cup (think of this like the Olympics of Human-Powered Flight) has borne sight to the record-breaking flights made by many – including Kit with a history-making flight in 2019 – and is an opportunity to display HPFStrath’s very own (hopefully) fully functioning aircraft upon its planned completion in 2024. Kit also detailed how he is taking inspiration from other famous aircraft on his quest to build his own. As we now fully integrate ourselves into the world of HPAs, it is clear HPFStrath has a lot to live up to.  

While all Human-Powered Aircraft are pedal-powered, have a massive wingspan and lightweight structure to allow them to fly, they also typically adopt similar construction techniques to each other that have been proven to be effective. An under-explored construction technique, 3D printing, is another way Kit is stepping outside of what is known for these incredible feats of engineering.  Kit was able to tell us about the trial and error of using a 3D printer for aircraft parts, and how the successful trials have now produced a potentially stronger, lighter and, cheaper aircraft than the use of alternative methods. With this knowledge, HPFStrath’s future HPA has the potential to unlock the same results, while building on the knowledge we've gained to create something entirely new.

We are, now more than ever, raring to go on the construction of our aircraft. This excitement is only supplemented by the knowledge that the work going into these aircraft produces not only the structures themselves, but also a community of passionate, like-minded people who are up for challenging reality. That is, after all, what building a Human-Powered Aircraft is – a challenge! But one we at HPFStrath are more than up for. Keep your ears open and your eyes peeled, as we could be up in the air very soon.


Read more about HPFStrath here

Written by Emma Mullarkey

Edited by Alex McDougall-Page


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