Students’ giant magpie glider helps British Consul-General take flight at Moomba Birdman Rally

Students’ giant magpie glider helps British Consul-General take flight at Moomba Birdman Rally

RMIT students designed and built a glider resembling a giant magpie, which carried the British Consul-General for Victoria above the Yarra River as part of the 2024 Moomba Birdman Rally on Sunday 10 March.

With the assistance of RMIT students, the Consul-General launched the 6-metre ‘Lord of the Pies’ magpie glider from a ramp over the Yarra River.

‘Lord of the Pies’ managed to travel 7m, falling slightly short of the 12m distance the winning entry travelled, but showcasing a fantastic collaboration between some important Melbourne institutions.

13 March 2024


RMIT team and British Consul-General for Victoria, Stephen Lysaght, holding flying contraption overlooking Yarra. Nothing is more Melburnian than being swooped by a magpie while cycling – a notion which RMIT UAS Team Leader, Kimberley Bull, said inspired the design.

The design of the glider

When the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Sally Capp, reached out for help with an entry in the Moomba Festival’s Birdman Rally, RMIT’s Uncrewed Aircraft Systems Research Team came back with four Melbourne-themed options for the final design.

The options included a seagull stealing an oversized chip, a rainbow lorikeet, a fruitbat, and the winning magpie swooping a cyclist design by student Abaigeal Wynter and illustrated by Kimberley Bull. 

Avid Collingwood Football Club supporter, Lord Mayor Sally Capp, chose the magpie and construction began on the body and the wings. 

“The glider is constructed primarily from fibreglass rods, covered in ripstop nylon, painted to look like a magpie and complete with feathers,” explained Kimberley Bull, the RMIT UAS Team Leader, who was on hand on Sunday to help guide the Consul-General into the River.

“The head is 800mm 3D printed using one of RMIT’s industrial printers from the Advanced Manufacturing Hub."

“We wanted the concept to be uniquely Australian and particularly Melburnian, and nothing is more Melburnian than being swooped by a magpie while cycling, which is why the Consul-General will be dressed as a cyclist.”

Professor Jennifer Palmer, the Associate Dean of Aerospace Engineering and Aviation at RMIT, has overseen the process.

“The students have brought to the project a high level of skill in conceptual design, computer-aided engineering, aerodynamics and systems integration, as well as artistic flair and dedication to seeing the project completed,” said Palmer.

“We used a computer-aided design created by the students and a resin 3D printer to create the head, which took over three days to print.”

The student team worked with the Lord Mayor to fund and source the materials required for the gliding system. 

“The troubleshooting was the most interesting part of the project, because none of us knew exactly how to create a giant magpie that would gracefully glide above the river before entering the water,” said Palmer. 

Launching a diplomat above the Yarra River

The project was a collaboration between RMIT University, Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Sally Capp and the British Consul-General for Victoria, Stephen Lysaght.

The collaboration raised funds for the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, a philanthropic organisation that advocates for a variety of causes close to the heart of Melburnians, and which is celebrating its centenary in 2024. 

RMIT team pictured with British Consul-General for Victoria, Stephen Lysaght, and Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Sally Capp. The RMIT creation was flown by British Consul-General for Victoria, Stephen Lysaght, and supported by the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Sally Capp (pictured).

The Consul-General said that he was excited to take part in Moomba and the Birdman Rally once again. 

“I hope I proved the old adage right – a diplomat is someone sent overseas to fly for their country!"

“Everyone told me to be wary of splashing in the Yarra, but I was more worried about crash landing in Government House, after all the work the fabulous students at RMIT did building my flying machine!” he said.

“The Birdman Rally was a great chance to be able to help raise awareness and funds for the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, which supports organisations like the fabulous Salvation Army, whose people and work I have been privileged to see in action.”

The Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Sally Capp, thanked the Consul-General for his bravery in taking to the skies for a worthy cause.  

“This year’s Moomba Birdman Rally saw British Consul-General take to the skies to raise funds for the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation,” she said.

“As patron of the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and also as an avid Collingwood supporter, I’m delighted that not only did he fly – but he flew as a magpie!” 

“The LMCF is one of Australia’s leading not-for-profits. It’s making significant strides across a range of social issues including homelessness, which it is supporting through the City of Melbourne’s transformative Make Room project.”

“We are incredibly grateful to all who donate, and to Stephen Lysaght for bravely taking up the gauntlet of this worthy cause.” 


Story: Finn Devlin

13 March 2024


  • STEM
  • Aerospace & Aviation
  • Student experience
  • Advanced Manufacturing
  • Engineering
  • Design

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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.