Documentary: Impossible Engineering


Bill Condie reviews the Discovery Science documentary series Impossible Engineering


HMS Queen Elizabeth – Discovery Channel

Impossible Engineering Discovery Science (2015)

This has potential to be a great series, examining engineering mega projects being carried out today and putting them in historical context.

None of these projects would be possible without the pioneering work and designs of early engineers that go back hundreds of years in some cases.

The first program in the series looks at HMS Queen Elizabeth, the huge new Royal Navy flagship being built in Scotland. It is the largest and most sophisticated ship ever to be built in the United Kingdom.

The statistics are jaw-dropping: the 65,000 tonne ship will be 280 metres long, with a deck area representing 1.6 hectares of sovereign British territory. It can carry up to 40 aircraft including the F-35 Lightning fighter-bomber.

It is, of course, the job of a lifetime for the excited engineers employed on the project. But the history of the aircraft carrier itself is fascinating. The concept dates back to the middle of the 19th century.

The first air attack launch from the sea was in 1849, when an Austrian ship launched a balloon with the aim of dropping bombs on Venice. The attack was foiled when the wind changed.

With the advent of aeroplanes new attempts were made, but early on carriers were simply that – platforms to transport seaplanes that were lifting on to and from the water with cranes.

Pilot Charles Samson became the first to take off from a moving battleship, using the vessel’s forward motion to get added lift. But it was not until 1918, when William Beardmore built HMS Argos that a recognisable carrier – a template for all that followed – was produced.

Coming up in the following five episodes are spacecraft, aircraft, a three-kilometre bridge in Greece, the 632-metre Shanghai Tower and the super-fast MagLev train.

The Australian television premiere of this six-part series will be broadcast on Foxtel’s Discovery Channel from 16 February 2016 at 7:30pm

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