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Paul MacCready
Paul MacCready
Profile of Paul MacCready Biography of Paul MacCready Interview with Paul MacCready Paul MacCready Photo Gallery

Paul MacCready Biography

Engineer of the Century

Paul MacCready Date of birth: September 25, 1925
Date of death: August 28, 2007

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  Paul MacCready

Paul MacCready Biography Photo
Paul MacCready was born to well-to-do parents in New Haven, Connecticut. From an early age, he was an enthusiastic builder of model airplanes and gliders. Throughout his teens he won competitions and set records with flying models of his own design. He began flying in his teens, and received formal flight training in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

After the war, he earned a physics degree at Yale University and a doctorate in aeronautical engineering from California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. At the same time, he took up soaring, that is, flying sailplanes or gliders as they are often called. He won U.S. soaring championships in 1948, 1948 and 1953, and represented the U.S. in international competition on four occasions. In 1956, he became the first American to win the world championship. He was the inventor of the MacCready Speed Ring, used by glider pilots the world over to select optimum flight speed.

MacCready founded his first company, Meteorology Research, Inc., in 1951, to pursue weather modification and atmospheric research. In 1971 he founded AeroVironment, Inc., in Monrovia, California. The company consults on environmental issues and wind power. It also designs remote-controlled electric planes, as toys and as reconnaissance tools for the Department of Defense.

Paul MacCready Biography Photo
A debt MacCready incurred helping a relative in business difficulties inspired him to pursue the prize offered by British millionaire Henry Kremer and the Royal Aeronautical Society to the designer who could create a human-powered flying machine. For 18 years, the prize had gone unclaimed. MacCready's Gossamer Condor made history in 1977, when it flew a figure-eight course over a distance of 1.15 miles and became the first human-powered vehicle to achieve sustained, maneuverable flight.

Kremer offered another prize of 100,000 British pounds for the first human-powered crossing of the English Channel. In 1979, the Condor's successor, the Gossamer Albatross, flew across the Channel, and won the second Kremer Prize. MacCready's Bionic Bat won a third Kremer Prize for human-powered air speed. The bat (short for battery) uses human power not only to power the aircraft directly, but to continually recharge a battery, which stores power for continued flight.

In addition to these, MacCready created the Gossamer Penguin, the world's first successful totally solar-powered airplane, and the Solar Challenger. Unlike MacCready's previous creations, the Solar Challenger was not designed to win a competition, but to awaken the public to the possibilities of solar energy. In 1981, the Challenger flew from Paris, France to Canterbury, England, a distance of 163 miles, rising to an altitude of 11,000 feet.

Paul MacCready Biography Photo
In 1985, the Smithsonian Institute commissioned MacCready to build a life-size, flying replica of the pterodactyl, a prehistoric flying reptile with a 36-foot wingspan. This remote-controlled flying model can be seen in the IMAX film On the Wing.

MacCready did not limit himself to the development of unique aircraft. His interest in environmentally sound technology led him to develop innovative surface vehicles as well. In 1987, he built the solar-powered Sunraycer, to compete in a race across Australia. In 1990, a collaboration with General Motors resulted in the Impact, an electric car that could accelerate from zero to 60 mph in eight seconds.

Paul MacCready Biography Photo
Paul MacCready's contributions to flight technology were recognized formally in 1991, when he was inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame, but MacCready and his collaborators at AeroVironment had not yet exhausted their ingenuity. In 1995 their remote-controlled, solar-powered Pathfinder reached an altitude of 50,500 feet. Whatever shape the air and surface vehicles of the future may take, it is certain they will be marked by the singular genius of Paul MacCready.

On the front lawn of his home in Pasadena, California,
Paul MacCready playfully demonstrates how wind currents
can propel a paper model of a stealth B-2 bomber.

This page last revised on Dec 04, 2013 17:13 EDT
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