Sir Richard Branson will today take flight from Bognor Pier as an entrant in the International Bognor Birdman. Virgin Atlantic is sponsoring the annual event as part of a series of initiatives for 2003 to commemorate 100 years of flight.
Dressed in a silver costume, flanked by dancers dressed in red and purple carnival outfits, Sir Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Atlantic said:
“I am very excited to be taking part in this challenge today. A lot of hard work and dedication has gone into the crafts designed by the competitors and I wish everyone the best of luck. The Bognor Birdman is now an internationally recognised event with entrants from all over the world. It celebrates our desire to fly as well as our limited ability to do so without power and showcases some of the most unusual ways to take flight.
“This year we’re celebrating the centenary of the Wright Brothers first powered flight and the 150th anniversary of the first ever manned flight in a plane designed by an Englishman, Sir George Cayley. My attempt will pay tribute to Britain’s role in aviation history.”
This famous competition challenges individuals to achieve human powered flight from the end of the pier in Bognor Regis, where competitors aim for the coast of France although they traditionally land in the English Channel. The furthest distance achieved to date stands at 89.2m. There are three categories; Kingfisher for most eccentric attempt, Leonardo for the most unique craft design and Magnificent Flight where competitors attempt to go over 100m.
Richard will be competing in the Kingfisher class along with 13 competitors all raising money for charities and good causes. Richard is aiming to raise in excess of £50,000 in aid of Chestnut Tree House, a new children’s hospice near Arundel. Chestnut Tree House is the only children’s hospice in Sussex.
Sir Richard Branson commented:
“With the money we raise for Chestnut Tree House, we are hoping to create a new area for play/art therapy. This will allow for a variety of activities, including music sessions to aid therapy and support at the hospice.”
John Stride, Chairman of the International Bognor Birdman Steering Group at Arun District Council commented:
“We are delighted that Sir Richard Branson has decided to join our competitors all taking up the challenge to attempt human powered flight. We are also pleased that Virgin Atlantic is supporting this event which increases in popularity every year. It promises to be one of the best events to date.”
John Ayers, Owner of Bognor Regis Pier commented:
“We are very honoured that Virgin Atlantic has chosen The International Birdman on Bognor Pier to celebrate the 100 years of flight. The participation of Richard Branson will hopefully make this growing event even more popular.”
Virgin Atlantic also has a team of apprentice engineers entering the competition in the Magnificent Flight category aiming to beat the existing record of 89.2m and to scoop the £25,000 prize for achieving a distance over 100m. The apprentices have developed a flying machine made from mylar skin over an aluminium tube frame. One of the apprentices Simon Williams is planning to pilot the aircraft. Richard and Simon have been on special diets and exercise regimes to prepare for the event.