Big Bigger Biggest

Tuesday 28th October 8.00pm

Concluding this week is the factual series that examines the evolution of modern engineering. The final episode focuses on the technological leaps that have allowed engineers to build the largest and most advanced telescope in the world – the Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona.

Standing 3,000 metres above the Arizona desert, the two 840cm mirrors of the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) can pick up light from stars more than nine billion light years away form Earth. “We can look at the constituent pieces of galaxies in formation,” says LBT director Dr Richard Green. The LBT represents the pinnacle of modern engineering, but it owes its existence to a number of historic advances in telescope design.

The story begins in 17th-century England when Isaac Newton invented the reflecting telescope. Thanks to his experiments into the nature of light, Newton realised that the lenses of the telescopes of his time blurred the images they captured through several points of focus. His solution was to do away with lenses altogether in favour of a 3cm mirror that reflected light from distant objects into a single point. Though Newton’s small telescope was made from ordinary household materials, it delivered the sharpest images in the world. “That telescope made people’s jaws drop in 1672,” says science historian Dr Allan Chapman. “It was more powerful than the conventional telescope of six feet long.”

In order to see deeper into space, engineers working on the Parsons telescope in Ireland in the mid-19th century needed to build a mirror considerably bigger than 3cm. Astronomer William Parsons designed a steam-powered machine to grind a mirror measuring 180cm in diameter. This was then mounted at the bottom of a 17-metre wooden tube, which was suspended from two concrete walls by chains. “When this telescope opened in 1845, it was one of the great scientific events of Victorian England,” says Dr Chapman.

At the beginning of the 20th century, powerful telescopes were picking up images of stars too far away to be resolved by the human eye. The solution was to take photographs of the night sky – but this threw up another problem. Owing to the rotation of the Earth, any image captured by a camera would become blurred. To counteract this movement, the designers of the 250cm Hooker telescope in 1906 mounted the instrument on a swivelling clockwork frame that moved in the opposite direction to the planet. As a result, the 100-ton telescope could remain locked on a single point in the sky. “You have something bigger than a locomotive moving with the accuracy of a watch,” says Dr Chapman.

Using images captured by the Hooker, Edwin Hubble came up with a revolutionary theory – that the universe was expanding. To test this principle, astronomers needed even clearer images of the night sky, for which they would have to counter the effects of light pollution. To rise above the urban glow of New York, engineers building the 510cm Hale telescope decided to locate their instrument high in the Californian mountains – some 3,000km away from the only factory capable of making such a huge mirror. Once the mirror was constructed in New York, it was transported by rail on a specially made train all the way to its new home. After completion in 1948, the Hale allowed astronomers to develop one of the most important scientific theories in history. “The Hale told us that the universe started with a big bang,” says Dr Chapman.

The last great obstacle for telescope designers came in the form of atmospheric interference. In 1990, the Hubble telescope was launched into orbit, where perfectly clear images of space could be captured at any time. However, any repairs to the Hubble’s various elements involve a shuttle launch. At the LBT, scientists believe they have hit upon the perfect solution – to use two mirrors mounted on motorised pistons to realign the light once it has made its way through the atmosphere. When the system is completed, astronomers believe they will be able to see not just the distant stars, but the planets that orbit around them.

Tuesday 13th October 8.00pm

Concluding this week is the factual series that examines the evolution of modern engineering. The final episode focuses on the technological leaps that have allowed engineers to build the largest and most advanced telescope in the world – the Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona.

Standing 3,000 metres above the Arizona desert, the two 840cm mirrors of the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) can pick up light from stars more than nine billion light years away form Earth. “We can look at the constituent pieces of galaxies in formation,” says LBT director Dr Richard Green. The LBT represents the pinnacle of modern engineering, but it owes its existence to a number of historic advances in telescope design.

The story begins in 17th-century England when Isaac Newton invented the reflecting telescope. Thanks to his experiments into the nature of light, Newton realised that the lenses of the telescopes of his time blurred the images they captured through several points of focus. His solution was to do away with lenses altogether in favour of a 3cm mirror that reflected light from distant objects into a single point. Though Newton’s small telescope was made from ordinary household materials, it delivered the sharpest images in the world. “That telescope made people’s jaws drop in 1672,” says science historian Dr Allan Chapman. “It was more powerful than the conventional telescope of six feet long.”

In order to see deeper into space, engineers working on the Parsons telescope in Ireland in the mid-19th century needed to build a mirror considerably bigger than 3cm. Astronomer William Parsons designed a steam-powered machine to grind a mirror measuring 180cm in diameter. This was then mounted at the bottom of a 17-metre wooden tube, which was suspended from two concrete walls by chains. “When this telescope opened in 1845, it was one of the great scientific events of Victorian England,” says Dr Chapman.

At the beginning of the 20th century, powerful telescopes were picking up images of stars too far away to be resolved by the human eye. The solution was to take photographs of the night sky – but this threw up another problem. Owing to the rotation of the Earth, any image captured by a camera would become blurred. To counteract this movement, the designers of the 250cm Hooker telescope in 1906 mounted the instrument on a swivelling clockwork frame that moved in the opposite direction to the planet. As a result, the 100-ton telescope could remain locked on a single point in the sky. “You have something bigger than a locomotive moving with the accuracy of a watch,” says Dr Chapman.

Using images captured by the Hooker, Edwin Hubble came up with a revolutionary theory – that the universe was expanding. To test this principle, astronomers needed even clearer images of the night sky, for which they would have to counter the effects of light pollution. To rise above the urban glow of New York, engineers building the 510cm Hale telescope decided to locate their instrument high in the Californian mountains – some 3,000km away from the only factory capable of making such a huge mirror. Once the mirror was constructed in New York, it was transported by rail on a specially made train all the way to its new home. After completion in 1948, the Hale allowed astronomers to develop one of the most important scientific theories in history. “The Hale told us that the universe started with a big bang,” says Dr Chapman.

The last great obstacle for telescope designers came in the form of atmospheric interference. In 1990, the Hubble telescope was launched into orbit, where perfectly clear images of space could be captured at any time. However, any repairs to the Hubble’s various elements involve a shuttle launch. At the LBT, scientists believe they have hit upon the perfect solution – to use two mirrors mounted on motorised pistons to realign the light once it has made its way through the atmosphere. When the system is completed, astronomers believe they will be able to see not just the distant stars, but the planets that orbit around them.

Tuesday 29th September 8.00pm

Concluding this week is the factual series that examines the evolution of modern engineering. The final episode focuses on the technological leaps that have allowed engineers to build the largest and most advanced telescope in the world – the Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona. Standing 3,000 metres above the Arizona desert, the two 840cm mirrors of the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) can pick up light from stars more than nine billion light years away form Earth. “We can look at the constituent pieces of galaxies in formation,” says LBT director Dr Richard Green. The LBT represents the pinnacle of modern engineering, but it owes its existence to a number of historic advances in telescope design.

The story begins in 17th-century England when Isaac Newton invented the reflecting telescope. Thanks to his experiments into the nature of light, Newton realised that the lenses of the telescopes of his time blurred the images they captured through several points of focus. His solution was to do away with lenses altogether in favour of a 3cm mirror that reflected light from distant objects into a single point. Though Newton’s small telescope was made from ordinary household materials, it delivered the sharpest images in the world. “That telescope made people’s jaws drop in 1672,” says science historian Dr Allan Chapman. “It was more powerful than the conventional telescope of six feet long.”

In order to see deeper into space, engineers working on the Parsons telescope in Ireland in the mid-19th century needed to build a mirror considerably bigger than 3cm. Astronomer William Parsons designed a steam-powered machine to grind a mirror measuring 180cm in diameter. This was then mounted at the bottom of a 17-metre wooden tube, which was suspended from two concrete walls by chains. “When this telescope opened in 1845, it was one of the great scientific events of Victorian England,” says Dr Chapman.

At the beginning of the 20th century, powerful telescopes were picking up images of stars too far away to be resolved by the human eye. The solution was to take photographs of the night sky – but this threw up another problem. Owing to the rotation of the Earth, any image captured by a camera would become blurred. To counteract this movement, the designers of the 250cm Hooker telescope in 1906 mounted the instrument on a swivelling clockwork frame that moved in the opposite direction to the planet. As a result, the 100-ton telescope could remain locked on a single point in the sky. “You have something bigger than a locomotive moving with the accuracy of a watch,” says Dr Chapman.

Using images captured by the Hooker, Edwin Hubble came up with a revolutionary theory – that the universe was expanding. To test this principle, astronomers needed even clearer images of the night sky, for which they would have to counter the effects of light pollution. To rise above the urban glow of New York, engineers building the 510cm Hale telescope decided to locate their instrument high in the Californian mountains – some 3,000km away from the only factory capable of making such a huge mirror. Once the mirror was constructed in New York, it was transported by rail on a specially made train all the way to its new home. After completion in 1948, the Hale allowed astronomers to develop one of the most important scientific theories in history. “The Hale told us that the universe started with a big bang,” says Dr Chapman.

The last great obstacle for telescope designers came in the form of atmospheric interference. In 1990, the Hubble telescope was launched into orbit, where perfectly clear images of space could be captured at any time. However, any repairs to the Hubble’s various elements involve a shuttle launch. At the LBT, scientists believe they have hit upon the perfect solution – to use two mirrors mounted on motorised pistons to realign the light once it has made its way through the atmosphere. When the system is completed, astronomers believe they will be able to see not just the distant stars, but the planets that orbit around them.

Tuesday 22nd September 8.00pm

Continuing this week is the factual series that examines the evolution of modern engineering. This edition studies the leaps in structural technology that led to the development of the world’s largest free-standing dome – the Kyushu Oil Dome in Oita, Japan.

Home to the J League football club Oita Trinita, the Kyushu Oil Dome measures over 270 metres across and stands at 20 storeys high. Made of steel, Teflon and titanium, the roof can open at the flick of a switch, and allows sunlight into the stadium below even when closed. The pinnacle of modern structural engineering, this gargantuan dome owes its existence to nearly 2,000 years of innovation.

In 2nd-century Rome, Emperor Hadrian decided to cap a colossal temple to the gods, the Pantheon, with a 43-metre dome. However, the material with which much of Rome was built, concrete, was far too heavy for a structure of this magnitude. To prevent the dome from collapsing under its 20,000-ton weight, Roman engineers had to develop a lighter alternative. They replaced the basalt aggregate with pumice, tapered the walls of the dome, hollowed out the panels and left the apex open to the elements. To stop the bottom of the dome splaying outwards, they placed seven concrete ‘tension rings’ around the outside. “Here we have a building that’s nearly 2,000 years old and it’s still the biggest un-reinforced concrete dome in the world,” says civil engineer Ed McCann.

It was not until more than a millennium later that the Pantheon dome was bettered. The 45-metre dome atop the grand cathedral in Florence, known locally as Il Duomo, stumped engineers in the 15th century. More than a century after work on the cathedral had begun, watchmaker and Renaissance man Filippo Brunellesci came up with a design for the huge brick roof. Brunellesci employed a revolutionary method of bricklaying that allowed the dome to be constructed entirely without scaffolding. The dome took 300 men 15 years to complete – and remains to this day the largest brick dome in the world.

To expand beyond the 45-metre mark, a wholly new material was needed. At the turn of the 20th century, Col Lee Sinclair took inspiration from bridge design to come up with the roof for the West Baden hotel in Indiana. The 60-metre dome is supported by six steel bridge trusses joined together in the centre with a steel compression ring. To cope with the expansion and contraction of the metal supports, they are set on rollers. “From a hot day to a cool evening, this dome can travel an inch and three quarters,” says architect George Ridgway.

In 1965, the opening of the 196-metre Astrodome in Houston, Texas, was hailed as an architectural triumph. Designed to house the local baseball team, the stadium featured a lightweight Perspex roof. To eliminate shadows on the pitch, designers added a layer of microscopic prisms to divert the sun’s rays and diffuse the light. However, players complained of a blinding glare, which eventually led to the roof being painted over and to the development of an artificial grass substitute – Astroturf.

After fire ripped through the Bradford City ground in 1985, stadium engineers across the globe had to incorporate new safety features into their blueprints. Four years after the Bradford disaster, the 227-metre Georgia Dome in Atlanta included a high-tech ventilation system designed to dispose of smoke as soon as fire is detected.

Today, the largest dome in the world features a giant concrete tension ring, steel trusses, a glassfibre and Teflon roof to allow sunlight through and a robotic fire-fighting system. In addition to all these developments, the Oita Dome also has a fully retractable roof mounted on a complex network of trolleys, cables and rails. At the touch of a button, the two halves of the roof part like a giant eye. “The designers were trying to achieve in this space what they call a ‘second nature’ – and I think they’ve achieved it,” says structural engineer Alan Burden.

Tuesday 15th September 8.00pm

Continuing this week is the factual series that examines the evolution of modern engineering. This edition studies the six technological leaps forward that preceded the construction of the world’s biggest cruise liner – the 160,000-ton Independence of the Seas.

Powering through the waters of the Caribbean, the Independence of the Seas is longer than New York’s Chrysler Building is tall and wider than the White House is long. The largest cruise liner in the world, this 18-deck leviathan cost some $800million to build and generates enough electricity through its six diesel-electric engines to power the city of Southampton. The Independence carries 4,370 passengers in unrivalled luxury, while some 1,360 staff work behind the scenes in the control rooms, kitchens and engine rooms. Nearly four million square feet of steel in the form of prefabricated blocks were required to build the ship, while hi-tech ‘azipod’ propulsion units and bow thrusters make it incredibly manoeuvrable for a vessel of its size.

However, the Independence of the Seas was not built in a day. The 160,000-ton giant and the maritime engineers that designed it relied on a number of historic engineering achievements. ‘Big, Bigger, Biggest’ charts the technological developments that preceded the completion of the Independence, focusing on six iconic ships that embodied the advancements of their ages.

In 1838, Isambard Kingdom Brunel developed revolutionary construction techniques to reinforce the hull of the SS Great Western – the first purposebuilt Atlantic steamship. Five years later, Brunel required brand new propulsion technology to power the SS Great Britain – the largest vessel afloat upon its launch in 1843. Weighing in at 3,675 tons and measuring 322ft in length, the Great Britain used screw-propellers to carry up to 730 passengers from Bristol to New York.

It was the Italians who made the next leap with the completion of the 48,500-ton SS Conte di Savoia ocean liner in 1932. At 814ft long, this colossus required innovative control systems to remain stable in rough seas.

When the 79,000-ton SS Normandie entered service in 1935, it was the world’s biggest and fastest ship. Groundbreaking layout designs were developed to allow the vessel’s construction, while four turbo-electric propellers produced a massive 200,000hp. The Normandie maintains the distinction of being the most powerful steam turbo-electric propelled passenger ship ever built.

The next leap forward was the development of a super-sleek hull in RMS Queen Mary, which allowed the 81,000-ton giant to cut through the ocean at an unprecedented 28.5 knots. Built by John Brown and Company in Scotland, the Queen Mary sailed the North Atlantic for over 30 years until it was retired from service in 1967.

Through a combination of CGI displays, live-action visual effects and practical demonstrations, ‘Big, Bigger, Biggest’ shows how the Independence of the Seas incorporated all of the ingenious maritime developments that preceded it to evolve into the ultimate cruise ship.

Tuesday 8th September 8.00pm

Continuing this week is the factual series that examines the evolution of modern engineering. This edition studies the technological leaps forward that have allowed the construction of the world’s largest hydroelectric dam – the Three Gorges Dam in China.

The Three Gorges Dam harnesses the power of China’s great Yangtze River. The gigantic structure is over two kilometres long, towers over 60 storeys high and creates a reservoir of 600 kilometres in length. On completion, the scheme will be able to generate 22,500 megawatts of power – enough to supply electricity to 60 million people.

However, the Three Gorges Dam has some important predecessors to thank for its existence. It stands on the shoulders of engineering achievements that have made its immense scale possible. This film charts the stories of six historic inventions, embodied by six landmark dams. One by one, the incredible stories behind these structures, and the technology that allowed them to grow bigger and bigger, are revealed.

In the late 19th century, innovative engineering techniques allowed the Debdon Dam in England to generate power. Novel water-building technology was developed to construct the Marèges Dam in France, and a revolutionary concrete-cooling system was critical to the completion of the Hoover Dam in America. In 1942, groundbreaking spillway systems were used to construct the Grand Coulee Dam, while the 1964 Krasnoyarsk Dam in Russia employs an innovative ship lift to hoist boats over the barrier.

Over 50 per cent of ‘Big, Bigger, Biggest’ is set in a stylish CGI world, where the six inventions and landmark buildings come to life. Combined with liveaction visual effects and practical demonstrations, the show provides the ultimate explanation of how ingenious technology enabled dams to evolve.

Tuesday 25th August 8.00pm

Continuing this week is the factual series that examines the evolution of modern engineering. This edition studies the leaps in structural technology that led to the development of the world’s largest free-standing dome – the Kyushu Oil Dome in Oita, Japan.

Home to the J League football club Oita Trinita, the Kyushu Oil Dome measures over 270 metres across and stands at 20 storeys high. Made of steel, Teflon and titanium, the roof can open at the flick of a switch, and allows sunlight into the stadium below even when closed. The pinnacle of modern structural engineering, this gargantuan dome owes its existence to nearly 2,000 years of innovation.

In 2nd-century Rome, Emperor Hadrian decided to cap a colossal temple to the gods, the Pantheon, with a 43-metre dome. However, the material with which much of Rome was built, concrete, was far too heavy for a structure of this magnitude. To prevent the dome from collapsing under its 20,000-ton weight, Roman engineers had to develop a lighter alternative. They replaced the basalt aggregate with pumice, tapered the walls of the dome, hollowed out the panels and left the apex open to the elements. To stop the bottom of the dome splaying outwards, they placed seven concrete ‘tension rings’ around the outside. “Here we have a building that’s nearly 2,000 years old and it’s still the biggest un-reinforced concrete dome in the world,” says civil engineer Ed McCann.

It was not until more than a millennium later that the Pantheon dome was bettered. The 45-metre dome atop the grand cathedral in Florence, known locally as Il Duomo, stumped engineers in the 15th century. More than a century after work on the cathedral had begun, watchmaker and Renaissance man Filippo Brunellesci came up with a design for the huge brick roof. Brunellesci employed a revolutionary method of bricklaying that allowed the dome to be constructed entirely without scaffolding. The dome took 300 men 15 years to complete – and remains to this day the largest brick dome in the world.

To expand beyond the 45-metre mark, a wholly new material was needed. At the turn of the 20th century, Col Lee Sinclair took inspiration from bridge design to come up with the roof for the West Baden hotel in Indiana. The 60-metre dome is supported by six steel bridge trusses joined together in the centre with a steel compression ring. To cope with the expansion and contraction of the metal supports, they are set on rollers. “From a hot day to a cool evening, this dome can travel an inch and three quarters,” says architect George Ridgway.

In 1965, the opening of the 196-metre Astrodome in Houston, Texas, was hailed as an architectural triumph. Designed to house the local baseball team, the stadium featured a lightweight Perspex roof. To eliminate shadows on the pitch, designers added a layer of microscopic prisms to divert the sun’s rays and diffuse the light. However, players complained of a blinding glare, which eventually led to the roof being painted over and to the development of an artificial grass substitute – Astroturf.

After fire ripped through the Bradford City ground in 1985, stadium engineers across the globe had to incorporate new safety features into their blueprints. Four years after the Bradford disaster, the 227-metre Georgia Dome in Atlanta included a high-tech ventilation system designed to dispose of smoke as soon as fire is detected.

Today, the largest dome in the world features a giant concrete tension ring, steel trusses, a glassfibre and Teflon roof to allow sunlight through and a robotic fire-fighting system. In addition to all these developments, the Oita Dome also has a fully retractable roof mounted on a complex network of trolleys, cables and rails. At the touch of a button, the two halves of the roof part like a giant eye. “The designers were trying to achieve in this space what they call a ‘second nature’ – and I think they’ve achieved it,” says structural engineer Alan Burden.

Tuesday 18th August 8.00pm

Continuing this week is the factual series that examines the evolution of modern engineering. This edition studies six developments that have made the construction of a giant floating oil rig possible. The 45,000-ton Perdido platform lies in the Gulf of Mexico with pipes stretching 3,000 metres into the sea. This feat of offshore engineering is largely due to six design breakthroughs stretching back to the first oil rig over water in 1891.

In the Gulf of Mexico, engineers prepare to float a state-of-the-art oil rig to a location 350km from the shore. When fully assembled, the Perdido rig will weigh 45,000 tons and float 2,380m above the surface. From there it will tap into three new oilfields. The huge assembly operation involves flipping the top part of the rig upright in the water and then using a floating crane to lift the 10,000- ton upper deck into place.

This modern-day achievement is only possible thanks to over a century of technological innovation. The first breakthrough came in Ohio in 1891, when prospectors decided to tap oil underneath the man-made Grand Lake St Mary. Despite being only two metres deep, the lake presented a major challenge to workers who had never drilled through water. A typical ‘percussion’ drill was ineffective in water, so drillers tackled the problem by sealing it inside an air-tight tube.

The next breakthrough was the foundation of oil rigs in the open sea. In 1948, the Grand Isle 18 platform was anchored in 14m of water off the coast of Louisiana. The structure relied on hollow steel legs that served as guide frames for pins that anchored the rig to the sea floor. “It was a huge structure – the ‘giant of the Gulf’ as they called it at the time – and they realised that they could put living quarters on top,” says one expert. This meant that workers could spend up to a week at a time offshore, thus increasing the rig’s productivity.

The third major leap was the design of oil rigs that could stand firm on the ocean floor. The Beryl Alpha rig, constructed in the 1970s, has a massive base cast in concrete, which – unlike steel – does not flex. Engineers found an innovative way of using a hydraulic ‘climbing frame’ to cast the base as one solid block, making it strong enough to withstand the currents of the North Sea.

Further innovation came with the complex assembly of the Cognac rig in the Gulf of Mexico. This 310m-high steel structure was built in four parts underwater. “Cognac was pushing the limits of deep-sea design,” says one expert. Technology from the space programme was incorporated as computer-controlled barges lowered the sections into place. But some jobs still had to be completed by deep-sea divers. To minimise the risk of ‘the bends’, these divers were kept in a pressurised environment for a week, followed by two weeks in a decompression chamber.

The 1990s saw further advances with the launch of a unique floating oil platform called the Augur. This design enabled rigs to drill at even greater depths. The success of the platform in the Gulf of Mexico opened up hitherto unexplored realms. “The entire industry was abuzz about Augur and the whole perspective on the potential of deepwater [drilling] changed,” says an expert. All of these achievements, and further improvements in fire safety following the Piper Alpha disaster, have found their way into the ground-breaking design of the Perdido oil rig.

Tuesday 11th August 8.00pm

Continuing this week is the factual series that examines the evolution of modern engineering. The third instalment explores the leaps in aviation technology that led to the development of the world’s largest cargo plane – the Antonov An-124. Weighing in at 392 tons, the Antonov An-124 can carry tanks, trains and even other aircraft to the farthest corners of the globe. The pinnacle of modern aeronautical engineering, this gigantic cargo plane owes its existence to nearly 100 years of innovation.

During World War I, just ten years after the first aeroplane had taken to the skies, Russian aviator Igor Sikorsky realised that a craft capable of carrying bombs would sell well to the fledgling Russian air force. However, the best engines of the day could produce barely enough thrust to lift a pilot, let alone tons of explosives. Sikorsky’s solution was to mount four engines onto the wings of a craft, as opposed to one in the centre. “It may seem obvious now, but at the time putting four engines on an aircraft was an extraordinary idea,” explains aviation expert Kieran Daly. On 10 March 1915, Sikorsky’s five-ton Miromets flew into enemy territory and dropped 45 bombs onto a German railway station.

To go beyond the capabilities of the Miromets, it was necessary to revolutionise wing design. To provide the rigidity necessary for take-off, early biplanes had two sets of wings supported by struts and cables –which in turn created drag. The longer the wing, the greater the drag – such that heavy planes would never get off the ground. In order to cope with the vast amount of mail moving between Berlin and London in the 1920s, German engineer Hugo Junkers set about designing a plane with a single wing. The wing of the Junkers G-38 was two metres thick, but its streamlined shape and aluminium shell meant it could cut through the air with ease, despite its 21-ton bulk.

The next step was to make planes safe enough for large numbers of passengers. In 1936, Pan American airlines wanted to run the first commercial service across the Atlantic, so issued a challenge to engine manufacturers. Boeing’s solution was to design an aeroplane that could also function as a boat. The 38- ton Boeing Clipper had luxurious cabins, a hull, an anchor and wings. In 1939, the Clipper completed a flight from Baltimore, Maryland to Foynes in Ireland. The safety of the Clipper got its first real test in 1947 when a commercial flight was forced to crash-land in the sea. Despite huge waves, the Clipper managed to stay afloat long enough for all the passengers to be rescued. “It’s a great tribute to Boeing’s design,” says Kieran Daly.

With World War II came the need to transport cargo across Europe as quickly as possible. The Germans relied upon the Messerschmitt ME 321 glider, but this craft had big limitations. Without wheels or engines, each 321 could only make a single one-way journey. In order to turn the 321 into a useful cargo plane, German engineers had to fit it with big engines, permanent wheels and serious suspension. The result was the 43-ton Messerschmitt Gigant.

For the 349-ton C-5 Galaxy of the 1960s, the challenge was unloading. Used by the US Air Force to transport military equipment to hostile territories during the Cold War, the Galaxy had to unload while airborne. But opening a cargo door during flight puts incredible pressure on a plane’s fuselage. Designers got round this problem by fixing a second sealed fuselage to the top of the craft, making a rigid backbone capable of coping with enormous downforces.

On the back of these incremental developments, the Antonov An-124 was developed in 1982. It is 67 metres long and 20 metres high. Thanks to its rigid fuselage and four turbofan jet engines, it has a payload of 150 tons – 25 per cent more than the Galaxy – and can travel some 15,000km without refuelling. It is currently the largest aeroplane in the world. “In flight it is the most extraordinary sight,” says Kieran Daly.

Tuesday 4th August 8.00pm

Continuing this week is the new series of the show that explores major leaps in engineering. The second instalment reveals how six technological breakthroughs enabled the construction of gigantic submarine the USS Pennsylvania.

First commissioned in 1989, the USS Pennsylvania is the biggest submarine in the western world. However, the construction of this mammoth underwater warship would not have been possible without six key innovations…

The first submarine was the Turtle, built during the American war of independence in 1776. American warships were no match for the might of the British navy, so engineers designed a vessel that could carry a bomb underwater. The Turtle was built from two hollowed-out pieces of oak, held together with iron hoops and sealed with tar. Former submarine commander Jonty Powis is stunned when he gets inside the Turtle. “I’ve been in it for two minutes and I already feel like I want to get out,” he says. However, the air in the Turtle lasted for just 25 minutes. The Pennsylvania uses electrolysis to split sea water into air – producing 4,000 litres of oxygen every hour.

Manoeuvrability was the next major leap in submarine technology. During the American civil war in 1864, engineers invented the spa torpedo – a barrel of gunpowder that sat on a spike pole. To deliver the bomb, the submarine had to drive at the same depth as its target. Confederate engineers copied the physiology of a fish by putting metal fins on the side of submarine the HL Hunley. Inside the vessel, the fins were moved up and down using levers. The pressure allowed the captain to control the depth and angle of his attack. The Pennsylvania still uses this technology today by transmitting operators’ instructions electronically to fairwater planes. “We can essentially fly the ship much like an airplane under water,” says captain Bradford S Neff.

Submariners now needed a way of attacking ships from a distance. During the second world war, the Germans developed the U-66 submarine. The first torpedoes were propelled by a tank of compressed air, but they left a tell-tale trail of bubbles. The U-66 carried 22 torpedoes, powered by a batteryoperated electric motor. This arsenal could attack multiple targets and was responsible for sinking 33 ships. Aboard the Pennsylvania, the torpedoes are not limited to firing in a straight line. Optic fibres spooling out of the back of the torpedo carry commands, allowing the weapon to steer toward its target. On-board sensors then guide it in for the kill.

However, the U-66 needed to be refuelled regularly, making it a sitting duck for enemies. Engineers had to find a way of making fuel last longer, and it was provided by the dawn of the atomic age in 1945. American scientists developed the first nuclearpowered submarine, the USS Nautilus, in 1954. A nuclear reactor broke down uranium, triggering a release of heat. Steam shot through turbines, forcing them to rotate at high speed and driving the propellers. “The impact of the Nautilus was tremendous,” says Jonty Powis. “Suddenly you had a submarine that could travel anywhere in the world.”

The development of the Nautilus meant that submarines could stay at sea for longer, but the race was on to build the first submarine with a rocket-powered atomic bomb. Built in 1960, the USS George Washington used a compressed air seal to shoot rockets. Moments before launching, the seal was blown apart and a valve opened, shooting compressed air into a launch tube. Nuclear warheads on this submarine were more powerful than all the bombs dropped in both world wars combined. The George Washington actually prevented war, because the concept of warfare between nations possessing these devastating vessels became unthinkable.

The remaining problem for thePennsylvania was stealth. The ship needed to remain undetected, but the noise produced by the propeller could give its position away. Could engineers develop a quieter propeller with enough thrust?

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