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Revolutions: Planes Series Premiere Tues 23 Jul on BBC Four

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In this major new landmark series for BBC Four, co-produced by PBS, Jim Al-Khalili explores the extraordinary story of six remarkable inventions: The Aeroplane, The Car, The Rocket, The Smartphone, The Telescope, The Robot. They are familiar, yet hidden within them are thousands of years of thought, struggle, sacrifice, determination and insight.

The aeroplane gave us our great superpower – the ability to fly. But how we got it is a story full of passion, danger and death. Jim Al Khalili explores the story of the visionaries who took humans to the sky. Based on new research and he peers inside their original notebooks and sketches, he brings these stories to life using state of the art experiments, breathtaking drama and CGI.

From an 11th Century Moorish scholar who strapped feathers to his arms and leapt off a cliff, to a young Leonardo Da Vinci who obsessively deconstructed bird’s wings and invented the first flying machine with beating wings like a bird, and the British nobleman from Scarborough who, inspired by gliding seagulls, spent 50 years building a fixed wing glider and then sent a 10 year-old boy into the sky: the first human to fly in an untethered aeroplane.

We discover how a French inventor’s revolutionary toy plane (that was driven by a twisted rubber band), and the tragic death of a pioneering German aviator, inspired the two young Wright Brothers to adapt their bicycle business to build and fly the first modern aeroplane.

We see how World War I accelerated the plane’s development to breakneck speed and brought about new dangers. As planes went higher and faster, losing sight of the horizon was all too often fatal. We learn how it took Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s iron ship, The SS Great Britain, and another children’s toy, the humble gyroscope, to trigger the next revolution in flight – the artificial horizon, which enabled pilots to fly blind.

From record-breaking aviators like Wiley Post who, inspired by a diving suit, created the world’s first pressure suit and pioneered high altitude flight, to Frank Whittle, a trainee RAF pilot who dreamt up a completely new kind of engine that compressed high altitude air and burned fuel in it, using the expanding gas to shoot itself backwards in a jet. He called it the jet engine.

We owe our lives to the pioneers of the past. Without them, we’d never have learned to fly.

Airdate: Tuesday 23 July 2019 from 9.00pm-10.00pm on BBC FOUR

Season 1 Episode 1

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