Bulletin January 2018 (Vol. 19 No. 2)

A dream to touch the sky brought together several generations of engineering alumni, along with a group of secondary school students, to build an aircraft and fly it around the world. Reaching for the Sky The aircraft for the round-the-world journey is a Van’s RV8 aircraft and this is the first Hong Kong registered homebuilt aircraft. It travelled across 20 countries and landed at 40 airports, with a total flying distance of approximately 50,000 kilometres. In a project appropriately called ‘Team Inspiration’, a group of HKU engineering graduates joined forces with students from St Paul’s Convent School to build the first Hong Kong-registered homebuilt aircraft then fly it on a three-month round-the-world (RTW) journey across 20 countries, landing at 40 airports. The project was launched by pilot Hank Cheng, and when HKU engineering alumni Gary Tat read about it in local newspaper Ming Pao , he knew he wanted to get involved. He had dreamed about becoming an aviator since secondary school and that ambition grew stronger when he was at HKU and became the first Mechanical Engineering student chosen to go to one of the best aviation colleges in the US, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU). and you follow the instructions step by step. But, to allow the aircraft to fly legally, it must be airworthy and comply with international and local aviation rules and regulations. Since there was no precedent in Hong Kong, we had to negotiate with the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department (CAD) on every single requirement in order to establish our compliance.” Later, when the Government gave them the green light, Mr Tat became one of the ‘certifying’ engineers for the aircraft so that during the RTW, he would follow the aircraft to perform maintenance. Cross-generational team And he soon got the next generation involved too. “I graduated from HKU in 2006, after which “I did a full-year exchange programme in 2004 to 2005, organised by HKU,” said Mr Tat. “At ERAU, I took two aircraft design courses and we got the chance to design our own aircraft as part of a competition. The winner would be sponsored to make their design into a model and take it for wind-tunnel testing. This sparked the thought that I wanted to have my own aircraft one day and to do a round-the-world trip in it – perhaps after my retirement.” The dream would become reality much sooner, when he read about Hank’s plan and tracked him down. “The project started with only Hank and myself. He did the building part and, given my work background, I dealt with the certification part. Building the aircraft was similar to buying furniture from IKEA – the manufacturer gives you the parts and a manual I joined Cathay Pacific (CX) as an engineering trainee. It is usual practice to help the next batch of trainees, and so I thought about getting more graduates involved. I simply asked them if they would be interested in building an aircraft.” He recruited Sam Chen, Mechanical Engineering Class of 2011, Cyril Li and Wing Go Ng who are both Mechanical Engineering Class of 2016 alumni. They planned to finish the entire project within three years, but in the end building and testing took seven years, then the eighth year was devoted to the RTW trip. Their proudest moment was when the plane took off for first time, but for Mr Tat the highlights of the RTW trip were leaving and returning to Hong Kong. “We left on August 28, 2016. The weather was not that good but we were finally being able to depart. As the first trip it was really remarkable to me that what we had dreamed became true and I was there.” He flew from Hong Kong and all the way cross Australia, then was part of the support team for Hawaii and the US, and followed the rest of the journey. “The return to Hong Kong was particularly exciting as obviously we were finishing the round-the-world trip as the first aircraft homebuilt in Hong Kong. It was inspiring and I felt honoured to be part of a great team.” Since the team’s RTW trip the Hong Kong Science Museum has held an exhibition about the expedition and the Inspiration team has published a book about their journey. For Mr Tat, the project was a dream come true and he hopes that it also inspires others to pursue their goals. “This was a group of passionate and professional aviation lovers doing what they love to do by sacrificing their own time to achieve a common goal. Our team went through many difficulties and problems, but we overcame each one. This symbolises the can-do spirit of Hong Kong and we want to tell people that if you have a dream, then you have to work hard at it and keep going.” He also has some advice for upcoming engineers. “As engineers, we are often labelled tech freaks who are not good at communicating with people but only at talking to a machine or doing coding. Without too many debates, I admit this is often the case, but think it is changing. The modern engineer will have to be able to communicate and to put what is in their minds into words, to materialise their visions so that other people can understand. I saw every teammate in this project develop and improve their ability to do this. “The scope for engineers has widened tremendously but the core value remains unchanged, which to me is to make our society or the world a better place to live in using our expertise. To do this, you have to be able to plan, to do and to communicate with the people. You may have an innovative idea but if you can't explain that idea to others, it will just become another sketch paper in the trash bin – for future engineers communication is the magic word.” █ The return to Hong Kong was particularly exciting as obviously we were finishing the round-the-world trip as the first aircraft homebuilt in Hong Kong. It was inspiring and I felt honoured to be part of a great team. Mr Gary Tat Gary (centre, seated) and a group of HKU engineering graduates devoted many hours of their personal time to certify B-KOO. (Courtesy of Cathay Pacific Corporate Communications) The first-ever homebuilt aircraft certified to fly under Hong Kong registration – B-KOO Inspiration – took off from the Hong Kong International Airport for the first time on November 15, 2015. (Courtesy of Cathay Pacific Corporate Communications) ‘Team Inspiration’ is led by Mr Gary Tat (left) and Mr Hank Cheng (right). Knowledge Exchange 31 | 32 The University of Hong Kong Bulletin | January 2018