The Birdman was created in 1971 in Selsey when aviators were given the challenge of flying 50 yards, (about 46 metres) by launching themselves from the Lifeboat Pier.
In 1978 organisers were informed they could no longer use the pier and the event was moved to Bognor Regis where the event thrived for 29 years. Unfortunately Bognor Pier experienced some structural problems in 2008 which meant that the event could no longer be safely held in Bognor and so for the 2nd time in its history the competition moved along the coast this time to Worthing. The last Worthing Birdman was in 2015. Read press release to see why it has stopped.
Why Move to Worthing?
The organisers were informed in 2008 that the pier in Bognor would need to be shortened for safety reasons and this meant that the depth of water did not meet diving recommendations. Worthing came forward to be the new home of the Birdman and the Worthing Town Centre Initiative, with great support from Worthing Borough Council and West Sussex County Council took on the role of event organisers.
History of the Event
After its inception in 1971 at the nearby resort of Selsey, the Birdman Rally as it was then known continued successfully until 1977 with initially a £1000 and later a £3000 prize on offer for anyone who could fly 50 yards, (about 46 metres). David Cook came closest to the prize in 1974 with a 44 metre flight in the face of fierce competition from Mary Poppins, Peter Pan and a naked man called John.
In 1978 the organisers were told that they could no longer use the lifeboat pier, and at Selsey there was no other available so the Birdman flight moved to Bognor Regis. With the move came an increase in the height of the take off platform and therefore the likelihood of someone achieving the prize. Also the event began to grow at this stage into something akin to the huge spectacle it is today with media interest from all around the world.
Through the late 70s and early 80s the plucky British contingent represented by Wonder Woman, The Red Baron and the Apollo Space Programme repeatedly attempted to flout the laws of physics whilst over the Channel a storm was gathering: The German and Swiss teams arrived in 1981.
1983 saw the Swiss take first prize, the arrival of TV crews from the BBC, Canada and the USA, along with the first pantomime link when two brothers jumped as a racehorse!
1984 was a historic year, when jubilant German Harold Zimmer flew 57.8 metres and walked away with £10,000 narrowly ahead of the pope, a flying squirrel and Donald Duck!
With almost ruthless efficiency and attention to detail, the Germans continued to dominate the serious entries during the eighties, while in the comic section there were sugar plum fairies, Sinclair C5's and in 1989 an Australian film crew witnessed ski jumper Eddie the Eagle eclipse all his Olympic performances by managing 11 metres before splashdown!
By 1990 the record stood at 71 metres with the Germans taking 1st, 2nd and 3rd places, beating a 10 metre Concorde, 4 penguins, 4 Ninja Turtles and an inmate from Ford Open Prison - minus his passport! The jackpot distance was now 100 metres, the prize a cool £25,000.
In 1992 the record was smashed again by local lad: Dave Bradshaw whose flight of 89.2 metres is still unbeaten, and a Japanese documentary crew witnessed the lunacy of flying donuts, ice cream and vampires.
The highlight of the 2001 event was Dick Chitolie's surreal giant bug, complete with four training shoes to absorb its impact with the English Channel, the £1000 distance prize going to Ron Freeman, a hangliding instructor from Northumberland, for the third year running.
Ron continued his dominance in 2002 with a flight of 52.6 metres despite the strong headwinds, which were the undoing of several competitors, and returned in 2003 with an impressive winning distance of 81.2 metres. Other winners from 2003 included Paul Harland the Black Pegasus and Henry Morris with his Carbon Condor.
30,000 people watched the event in 2003 and many more followed the trials and tribulations of the birdmen through press and media reports around the globe. With the support of Virgin Atlantic the 2003 event raised in excess of £70,000 for worthwhile causes.
In 2004, despite the rain, a skateboarding cow, Dr Who and his Tardis and many more took to the skies. Anva Luc made history by being the first blind competitor and Ron's 6 year reign came to end, when he was beaten by Tony Hughes who flew an impressive 82.5 metres.