Good Night, Sweet Icarus
September 1, 2007 4:36 PM   Subscribe

R.I.P Paul B. MacCready Paul MacCready, inventor of the Gossamer Condor, the first human powered heavier-than-air aircraft, and the Gossamer Albatross, the first human powered aircraft to cross the English Channel, has died, according to AeroVironment, the company he founded.
"You can do all kinds of things if you just plunge ahead," he said in an interview with Science in 1986. "It doesn't mean you're any good at them, but you can be good enough."
posted by paulsc (13 comments total)
That project always impressed me. Everyone else thought powered flight was enough to fulfill the dream of human flight - but he took it one step further. It's a hobby I could get in to (human powered plane races!).

My old boss worked on the craft that surpassed gossamer.
posted by phrontist at 4:41 PM on September 1, 2007

I remember seeing a documentary on the flight across the English Channel and being amazed that they pulled it off. Thanks paulsc.
posted by vronsky at 5:42 PM on September 1, 2007

"... Everyone else thought powered flight was enough to fulfill the dream of human flight - but he took it one step further. ..."

As MacCready told it however, he initially became seriously interested in the possibility of human powered flight, as a way to get out of debt. And taking it further was just a way to pay off the rest of the debt he had, that wasn't covered by winning the first Kremer prize.
posted by paulsc at 5:42 PM on September 1, 2007

yeah, I was awestruck by this accomplishment.....
posted by Rumple at 6:19 PM on September 1, 2007

I was wondering how much work it would take to fly by your own power. 200W sustained in still air. Question answered. Awesome :)

Loved that clip of the Solar Challenger wings starting to curve upwards until the bottom lifted off the runway.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:35 PM on September 1, 2007

"He believed that daydreaming was his most productive activity"

Fantastic. What a man. That sentence alone is worth so much.
posted by marvin at 9:22 PM on September 1, 2007

posted by jewzilla at 10:25 PM on September 1, 2007

I'm too young to really remember the famous flights, I was three when the Gossamer Albatross flew the channel, but I've always been impressed by the event, and the machine involved.

posted by sotonohito at 3:55 AM on September 2, 2007


The Gossamer Condor completely owns all the other exhibits at the Air & Space Museum in DC.
posted by scruss at 6:06 AM on September 2, 2007

There's a good book about him titled "More with Less: Paul MacCready and the Dream of Efficient Flight," paperback is $17 at Amazon.
posted by centerpunch at 3:08 PM on September 2, 2007

In the mid 80's, the Smithsonian Institute paid MacCready to build a working model of a pterodactyl. A lot of film was shot of the beasty flying in the dry lake beds out west, but MacCready also brought his machine for a demo flight in DC. If I remember correctly, the local demo didn't go off properly, but MacCready, in conjunction with the event, gave a lecture at one of the Smithsonian buildings downtown.

I don't recall if it was my idea, or my father's, but we went to hear MacCready speak. I suppose what I remember most from that evening when I was about 16 was him talking about driving across country listening to his kids, sitting in the back seat, reciting Monty Python sketches.

I also remember being totally inspired by what the man had achieved...
posted by jburka at 6:41 PM on September 2, 2007

It is taken for granted now, but at the time the general feeling was that human powered flight was simply impossible. The many failures confirmed these feelings.

The people who create these prizes, and the creative people like MacCready who successfully win them help humanity get over these mental obstacles.
posted by eye of newt at 11:08 PM on September 2, 2007

The Gossamer Albatross has always been one of my favorite things.
posted by OmieWise at 6:53 AM on September 4, 2007

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