Technology invented to kill people could help alleviate hunger in conflictby Wendell Steavenson / June 21, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
The idea for the Pouncer was born out of a chance conversation Nigel Gifford had with an RAF officer. Gifford is a businessman in his early 70s, ex-Army Catering Corps, sometime mountaineer and aeronautical engineer, a hale, enthusiastic boffin. They were talking about all things military when the RAF officer said: “I’m going to take off my uniform now and ask you—because we’ve been trying—how to get food into Aleppo?”
They had tried JPADS (Joint Precision Airdrop Systems—one of those ironically straight-faced military acronyms), parachuting tons of supplies out of planes. But parachutes are inaccurate: “they say they can get them within 300 metres of a target, but they are often further away,” said Gifford. Most of the food they dropped was falling into the hands of the bad guys. They had even tried freefall, essentially chucking bags out of airplanes from 24,000 feet. The RAF officer talked about his idea of flying remotely-controlled model airplanes into the besieged city, each carrying a scant two kilos of food.
Gifford told him, off the top of his head: “I wouldn’t do that. I would built drones out of food.” And the more Gifford thought about it, the more it made sense to him.
A mixture of the military and the culinary runs in the family. Gifford’s father joined the Army Catering Corps when it was created in 1941, went to Normandy just after D-Day and later badly burned his legs trying to light a petrol stove in the dark in Nijmegen. After the war he opened a restaurant in Dorking and the young Nigel would sit under the pastry table as his father banged out hundreds of scones and the flour drifted through the room like fog.
As a boy, he really loved planes. “I wanted to fly them, but I couldn’t because I was colour-blind. I was gutted.” After…