MARTYN STANLEY PRESSNELL
24 September 1936 - 8 January 2017
Born in Southend, Martyn was an aviation enthusiast since childhood, becoming an experienced designer of model aircraft at the age of 18 for Contest Kits of Leigh-on Sea. His particular interest was free-flight rubber competition, an interest he pursued all his life.
After a degree in aeronautical engineering from London University, he trained as an airframe structures engineer at Handley Page, working in the stress office on the Victor programme, the HP115 and other projects. He was chairman of the Hertfordshire Pedal Aeronauts (mainly HP staff) who in 1967, backed with members’ money and a £600 grant, started the design and building of the Toucan man-powered aircraft. Spanning 139ft (42.4m), construction in members’ garages and a portable building in the Radlett car park took five years. Finally, powered by two men, the aircraft flew at Radlett aerodrome in 1972, achieving a best flight of 640m. He later became vice-chairman of the Royal Aeronautical Society Man Powered Aircraft Group and was involved in specifying the rules for the Kremer prizes over the years.
After the closure of Handley Page in 1970 Martyn joined Hatfield Polytechnic (later Hertfordshire University), as a lecturer in the Mechanical, Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering Division. He rapidly gained promotion to a principal lecturer and remained in that post until his retirement in 1997. He was also the Division’s industrial training officer. He was well respected by staff and students, valued for his expertise as an aeronautical engineer, his lecturing skills and his continuous commitment to the education and industrial training of students. Each year he inspired and motivated first year undergraduates by arranging field trips to Duxford. He recognised that it was essential to address real engineering problems and incorporate them into lectures and project work.
As a consultant with the Engineering Sciences Data Unit he became involved with hybrid airships and qualified as a CAA chief stress engineer on airships. He was on the design team for the German government-sponsored Cargolifter project in the late 1990s. He claimed to spot a serious flaw in the project – namely when you have delivered the 75-tonne payload how do you hold the carrying airship down to stop it flying away!
Prior to this, he was involved in the development of the SkyCat lifting body airship in its early days and certainly made the first flight of a fully working one sixth scale demonstrator model dubbed the ‘Sky Kitten’. It was radio controlled and electric powered and flew outside the airship sheds at Cardington in July 2000.
Throughout his career he maintained an interest in free-flight model aircraft. He was a founder member of the Vikings Free Flight Group, formed from St Albans and Norwich club members. He was Chairman of the St Albans Model Aero Club for many years from the 1980s onwards. He worked tirelessly to develop the club, transforming it from a small group flying on a public site to a well regulated club with a private flying site, sound finances, training schemes, social events and support for local charities. At the Millennium he organised the publication of a club history for 1910-2000. He designed a range of glass-filled nylon model aircraft propellers for RAM Ltd in 1997, using his aerodynamic skills, and St Albans MAC members did the testing.
He was instrumental in the development of different forms of turbulators and invigorators to improve the airflow over model aircraft wings and published articles on the performance of rubber-powered models. He wrote Aerofoils for Aeromodellers and, in 2015, Model Planes: Aerofoils and Wings. In retirement he published re-drawn plans for classic designs from the ‘40s and ‘50s, trading as MSP plans. He built the replicas of some of these aircraft which are currently on display in the National Aerospace Library at Farnborough.
With thanks to John Taylor, Brian Rapier, Michael Campbell, Trevor Breckell and Roger Newman for additional material.