Aeronautical engineer and inventor
(1925-2007) earned the title
"birdman" becoming internationally known in 1977 as the "father of
human-powered flight" when his Gossamer Condor made the first sustained,
controlled flight by a heavier-than-air craft powered solely by its pilot's
muscles. For the feat he received the $95,000 Henry Kremer Prize; and the Condor is
now housed at the
Two years later, his team created the Gossamer Albatross, another 70-pound craft with a 96-foot wingspan that, with DuPont sponsorship, achieved a human-powered flight across the English Channel. That flight, made by "pilot-engine" Bryan Allen, took almost three hours. It won the new Kremer prize of $213,000, at the time the largest cash prize in aviation history.
Next, MacCready and his team developed two more aircraft, this time powered by the sun. In 1980, the Gossamer Penguin made the first climbing flight powered solely by sunbeams. In 1981, the rugged Solar Challenger was piloted 163 miles from Paris to England, at an altitude of 11,000 feet. These solar-powered aircraft were built and flown to draw world attention to photovoltaic cells as a renewable and non-polluting energy source for home and industry, and to demonstrate the use of DuPont's advanced materials for lightweight structures.
In 1983, MacCready's team built the 70-pound, human-powered (with on-board battery energy storage) Bionic Bat, partly to vie for new Kremer speed prizes and partly to explore new technologies leading toward practical, long-duration, unmanned vehicles and quiet, slow-speed, piloted aircraft. In 1984, the Bionic Bat won two speed prizes.
In 1984, the team developed a large radio-controlled, wing-flapping, flying replica of the largest animal that ever flew: the long-extinct pterodactyl Quetzalcoatlus northropi, whose giant wings spanned 36 feet. The QN replica became the lead "actor" in a 1986 wide-screen IMAX film titled "On the Wing", a film depicting the interrelation between the developments of biological flight and aircraft.
Interesting Link: A website, dedicated to Paul MacCready and his work.
Image: The Gossamer Albatross II at Dryden Flight Research Center in 1980
This article was originally published in May 2008, and has been updated for the
March 2011 paperback release.
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