Tom Small, a former Air Cadet of 211 (Newbury) Squadron, Air Training Corps, recently undertook an amazing TV Challenge. Working alongside James May and a BBC Production team, Tom, along with his colleagues from Brunel University, was involved in a “James May’s Toy Stories: Flight Club” being aired over the festive period.
In early 2012, Brunel University’s Aerospace Engineering department was approached by the production company to look into the feasibility of flying a model balsa wood glider from the UK to France. Whilst the plan was feasible, the French proved slight hostile towards the idea, and soon the project was downgraded – flying from the British mainland (Ilfracombe) to the small island of Lundy – but still breaking records as it did it!
Tom, who graduated from Brunel University in 2012 with a BEng in Aviation Engineering with Pilot Studies, took the whole project in his stride and was involved from the initial design work, the construction phase in April 2012, through the flight testing and actually ended up flying the model glider remotely from a nearby helicopter. At the time of filming the final challenge, Tom was working at Waitrose in Newbury and was a little worried about not being able to film the last few days – but with the production company contacted Waitrose directly and organised for his leave in order for him to make model aviation history!
Ex-Cadet Tom said “The whole experience for me has been a bit surreal, but utterly amazing. The chance to get to work alongside a famous and well respected individual such as James May, along with a BBC production team, and actually significantly contribute was, I feel, a once in a lifetime experience. I feel exceptionally proud to have been involved in the process and extremely satisfied that I managed to provide assistance in the making of the show. The opportunity to not only help build the glider but to also actually fly it whilst in a helicopter for the final filming of the television show was unbelievable. Sometimes I find it difficult to put into words just how good it was. My excitement builds every day and now I just cannot wait to see the programme on television over the festive period. The excitement at not only hopefully seeing myself on TV, but also the absolutely stunning footage we got from the filming helicopter that I was in, is brimming.”
On his experiences with the Air Training Corps, Tom went on to say “I have always been interested in aviation from a young age, one of the main reasons I joined the Air Training Corps. Whilst with 211 (Newbury) Squadron I took full advantage of the opportunities available to me, gaining Gold Wings (AGT) at 612 VGS in the Vigilant followed by an Air Cadet Flying Scholarship at Tayside Aviation in Dundee where I flew solo in a powered aircraft for the first time. This paved the way for my flying career, where I continued to progress and gain my JAA Private Pilot Licence alongside my first year at Brunel University. My thanks go out to 211 Newbury Squadron, and the ATC as a whole, for providing me with these fantastic opportunities and the foundation for my career.”
“Whilst being a keen aviator in the light aircraft world, I always wanted to learn how to fly remote control aircraft and hoped that one day I would possess my own aircraft. Whilst at 211 I befriended some modellers at a local airfield and my enthusiasm helped me to become part of their modelling family, which led me to learn to fly a variety of model aircraft and, most recently, helicopters.”
“James May’s Toy Stories: Flight Club” airs on Sunday 23rd December at 21:30 on BBC 2 – keep an eye out for Tom!