From Icarus of Greek mythology to Leonardo da Vinci of Renaissance Italy, it seems that mankind has always wanted to take to the wing and fly like a bird. It is a yearning that clearly drives the participants of the International Birdman Competition to jump off of the pier at Bognor Regis in Sussex every year.
The annual event began in 1971 at Selsey, a little along the coast, before moving to Bognor in 1978. There are different classes, with winners judged on distance travelled, time in the air or fancy dress, with prizes up to £1,000. As well as using standard hang-gliders, competitors from around the world design and build their own flying machines which can have fixed or flapping wings and a propeller and which must be powered solely by the pilot – no catapults, balloons or rockets allowed! Or they simply don colourful or outrageous costumes and jump. A song and dance can be included in their pre-flight routine to entertain the masses of spectators who gather to watch the aerial action, to earn them extra points.
As the countdown clock reaches zero, each flying machine is launched off the pier and the pilot tries hard to delay the moment when they or their craft hits the sea, 6 metres below. Each year, inevitably, sees more sinking into the sea than soaring into the sky though, much to the amusement of the cheering crowd.