The maths behind Guy Martin’s Great Escape

It’s probably one of the most famous Second World War films.

The Great Escape revels in crafty PoWs outwitting their captors, the menace of Nazi Germany, and war-time spirit of derring-do – captured brilliantly by Steve McQueen’s character Lieutenant Hilts, who fails in his attempt to jump a barbed wire border fence on a stolen motorbike.

Hopefully, twenty-first century daredevil Guy Martin will avoid the same fate – with the expert advice of Trinity’s Dr Hugh Hunt, Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at Cambridge.

All will be revealed on Channel 4 this Sunday in Guy Martin’s Great Escape.

Guy Martin on a Triumph Scrambler 1200 in the same field in Germany where Steve McQueen made the original jump.

The documentary sees Guy visit Poland to learn about the original escape from Stalag Luft III, where a secret tunneling team used kitchen cutlery and bed boards to excavate three tunnels – known as Tom, Dick and Harry – intended to get 200 PoWs out. In the 1963 film, Lieutenant Hilts, a fictional character, is one of those escapees, who then tries to jump the border fences to safety in Switzerland.

Guy Martin spent months preparing with a stuntman after coming to Trinity to meet Dr Hunt and get to grips with the maths behind jumping a  motorbike – a modern version of the original Triumph ridden by Steve McQueen in the iconic scene.

The documentary features the pair on Trinity’s Backs experimenting with tennis balls, a remote controlled car, and Guy riding a bicycle over ramps of different sizes.

Dr Hugh Hunt and Guy Martin at Trinity

Dr Hunt said:

It was fabulous to host Guy Martin at Trinity and run through a series of experiments. It was all about understanding how speed, height and the angle of take-off interact. Guy was really interested – hopefully he took away something useful for what is a big feat. Of course the maths is one thing – on the ground in Germany Guy will have to use his experience of riding motorbikes to take into account local conditions.

Can Guy achieve what McQueen’s Hilts could not? Find out this Sunday, Channel 4, 9pm, in Guy Martin’s Great Escape and beforehand watch When Guy Martin came to Cambridge.

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