Dr. Paul MacCready

From Human to Solar Powered Flight

Paul MacCready's company specializes in innovating efficient, alternatively-fueled vehicles for land, sea, and air. In 1977, his Gossamer Condor won the $95,000 award offered by British industrialist Henry Kremer for the first sustained, controlled human-powered flight. MacCready used aluminum tubes, balsa wood, cardboard, Mylar plastic, and piano wire to construct a plane which had a 96-foot wingspan but weighed only 70 pounds. It was powered by a single pedal-driven propeller, and was steered by twisting the wing-tips. In 1977, MacCready's Gossamer Condor made history by flying the 1-mile long, figure-8 route required by the Kremer prize, at about 10 feet of altitude and a speed of 10 miles per hour. Two years later his Gossamer Albatross flew across the English Channel. In 1981, his solar-powered Solar Challenger airplane -- the world's first – flew its pilot to England from Paris. More recently, MacCready, whose interest in ecology matches his interest in technology, has led the team that developed the battery-powered "Impact" car for General Motors (which they turned into the commercially available EV-1).

In 1998, his solar-powered Pathfinder II, a remotely-piloted descendant of the Solar Challenger reached the stratospheric altitude of 80,200 feet. In 2001 AeroVironment's solar-powered 247-foot
wingspan Helios aircraft shattered the world altitude record for non-rocket powered aircraft by flying steadily at 96,863 feet. As part of the NASA-sponsored program, multi-day flight capability will be demonstrated this summer with a Helios solar/electric airplane using a fuel cell system powered by stored hydrogen. Eventually Helios aerial vehicles, using two-way fuel-cell-based energy systems, will have flight durations between landings of six months or more.
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See the Gossamer Condor
at the Smithsonian, NASM
Link: AeroVironment UAV's