Series Finale

Thursday 11th December at 7:30pm

Robert Llewellyn hosts the show that examines the machines, processes and structures that form the backbone of 21st-century living. In the final programme of this series, Robert is in Milford Haven to visit one of the UK’s largest oil refineries, where 88 million tons of crude oil are turned into petrol, diesel, jet fuel and all manner of other useful products every year. Robert also learns how the classic American fire engine is built, and explores how air traffic control at Hong Kong International Airport handles more than 300,000 flights a year.

Back in the 1860s when prospectors started drilling for oil in Pennsylvania, they stored the stuff in old whiskey barrels, each of which could hold over 40 US gallons. Luckily, the modern industry no longer has to rely on whiskey barrels –since the world consumes over 84 million barrels of oil every day. Around 100,000 of those barrels arrive at Murco’s oil refinery in Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire.

Robert’s first trip this week takes him to the huge installation in south Wales, where every 159-litre barrel is heated to over 300°C, at which point it separates out into 75 litres of petrol, 34 litres of fuel oil, 15 litres of jet fuel and another 41 litres of other products –from propane and tar to petroleum jelly.
A small gain in the process means that the volume of the liquid increases by about five per cent.

A fully loaded US fire truck weighs over 30 tons and carries a crew of ten, but is capable of reaching
speeds of over 60mph. This is all thanks to what lies beneath the bright-red paintwork –a mighty 13-litre, 525-horsepower engine. However, the engine’s work is not over when the truck reaches the fire, because it also powers a 45-metre telescopic ladder. These ladders alone take five weeks to assemble, and are designed to be capable of smashing through windows, doors and even walls –while also reaching over ten storeys high.

Robert’s final voyage of discovery this series takes him to Hong Kong’s International Airport, one of the
fastest growing and busiest airports in the world. Here, the air traffic control team handles almost 50 million passengers and 300,000 flights a year. To keep such a busy airport running smoothly, the 250 air traffic controllers can each look after up to 12 planes at a time, meaning that they must translate the two-dimensional information on their radar screens into a three-dimensional image in their minds to ensure each plane is a safe distance and height from the next one. Each sector of air space is looked after by a separate team of controllers, so responsibility for the plane is passed on like a baton as it moves from one sector to the next. Finally, controllers in the tower combine their computer and radar information with good old binoculars to watch the plane as it moves from touchdown right up to the gate.

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