Do they have the right stuff? Aerospace firm joins Birdman Rally bid

Do they have the right stuff? Aerospace firm joins Birdman Rally bid

March 12, 2022

Engineers have built a new plane at an aerospace company’s hangar in Melbourne in an under-the-radar entry into one of the country’s most famous flying competitions.

The Age has learnt that the human champion of the project is a diplomat — the British consul-general in Melbourne, Steph Lysaght, who will attempt to fly the aircraft across the Yarra River on Sunday morning.

The British consul-general’s entry in the 2022 Moomba Birdman Rally.

It’s all in the name of charity and laughs – Mr Lysaght is an entrant in the 2022 Moomba Birdman Rally, in which wannabe aviators aim to soar over the Yarra but end up plunging off a platform into the river.

But Mr Lysaght has brought in a heavy hitter, high-flying aerospace company BAE Systems Australia, to build his model.

The company, a local subsidiary of a British parent firm, maintains and repairs jet fighter trainer aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force and builds frigates for the navy.

Designs for the Birdman Rally entry dubbed the Liver Bird.

Designing and building Mr Lysaght’s Birdman Rally entry was a novel experience for BAE aeronautical engineer David Chipperfield, whose day job is working on airworthiness for fast jets.

Mr Chipperfield said that growing up in Melbourne, “I always thought about entering [the Birdman Rally] but never had.”

He has designed small radio-controlled planes but “nothing quite as ludicrous as this”.

He and colleague Ben Emonson, a mechatronics engineer, modelled their Birdman Rally plane on World War I fighter biplanes such as the Sopwith Camel.

A Sopwith Camel, a fighter biplane used in World War I.

The Birdman Rally model, made of PVC pipe and foam, plus “hope and aspiration”, said Mr Chipperfield, has a five-metre wingspan and is 2.5 metres long.

Mr Lysaght has named the craft the Liver Bird, after the mythical avian symbol of his home town, Liverpool. The Birdman Rally raises funds for charity, and he wanted to support the Salvation Army’s work with international students.

At a function at the Salvos’ headquarters in Bourke Street in December, he “half jokingly” asked lord mayor Sally Capp, “Do you fancy jumping in the river?”

But somehow it is Mr Lysaght, and not Cr Capp, who has entered the rally.

British consul-general in Melbourne Steph Lysaght.

He said he was in it more to raise money than to win. He has already raised almost $10,000 for the Salvos.

“As a Pom, I understand my role in Australia is to get beaten and laughed at,” Mr Lysaght said. “I might end up playing it too well. But hopefully I’ll put up a better show than some of our [English cricket side’s] batting this summer.”

Honorary consul for Monaco Andrew Cannon, a friend of Mr Lysaght’s, will push him off the platform in the rally. The hope is that from now on, each year one of Melbourne’s consulates will enter.

Mr Lysaght said that inspecting the platform last week he realised “it’s quite a lot higher than I thought. It’s going to be good fun, but hopefully I’ll get out of it in one piece.”

The Moomba Birdman Rally by the Yarra River starts at 11am at Birrarung Marr.

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