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Jet-pack postie recreates German's cross-Solent rocket delivery bid

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Richard Browning shortly after taking off from Hurst Castle (Photo: BBC)
Richard Browning shortly after taking off from Hurst Castle (Photo: BBC)

A ROCKET-PROPELLED postman flew from the New Forest to the Isle of Wight to recreate delivery of letters that got lost in the mail during a madcap enterprise nearly 85 years ago.

The cross-Solent stunt from Hurst Castle in Milford to Yarmouth was a modern take on a bizarre idea by German entrepreneur Gerhard Zucker to send letters and packages by firing them off in a rocket.

In 1934 he tried to launch a delivery of about 600 items to Yarmouth from the then Lymington Golf Course, near Pennington – but, fortunately for Islanders, the package was blown backward and crashlanded into the marshes instead.

The Rocket Post story is being retold by Inside Out South presenter Jon Cuthill on BBC1 tonight (Monday).

He told the A&T: “Delving deep into records at the Postal Museum we discover cutting edge science may have come second place to get-rich-quick scheming.

“And we finish what Zucker started by flying a letter with one of his original Isle of Wight rocket stamps from Hurst Castle in Hampshire to Fort Albert on the Isle of Wight.”

The 1930s Lymington effort followed previous experiments on the South Downs in Sussex and again in Scotland, where the rocket exploded into pieces between the islands of Scarp and Harris, showering more than 1,000 letters below.

Mr Zucker’s idea was to sell stamps – but the likelihood of his post-rockets landing safely sparked concerns at the time about whether he was a genuine businessman or a “scallywag” aiming to get rich quick, said Mr Cuthill.

Richard Browning flew by jetpack between Hurst Castle and Yarmouth (Photo: BBC)
Richard Browning flew by jetpack between Hurst Castle and Yarmouth (Photo: BBC)

To recreate the German’s vision, this summer the BBC arranged for a letter to be carried from Hurst Castle in Milford by jetpack by British inventor Richard Browning, of Salisbury-based Gravity Industries Ltd.

Flying across the Solent, he carried a modern-day envelope addressed to the Lord-Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight, Susie Sheldon.

It even carried one of the original stamps created by Mr Zucker – which, to save him money, had come from the Scottish operation with the destination overprinted with the Isle of Wight.

The Royal Mail refused then to have anything to do with his Rocket Post which was judged to be a danger to the public, as well as posing a potential threat to its monopoly.

Mr Zucker is said later to have been arrested after leaving a load of gunpowder in a railway station cloakroom.

He was deported to Germany soon afterwards and reportedly served in the Luftwaffe during the Second World War.

The story will be told in full tonight (Monday) by Inside Out South on BBC1 at 7.30pm.

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