Paul MacCready (1925-2007)
“…the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up to all the world and say, ‘This was a man!’ (from Shakespeare’s “Julius Ceasar”)The man who showed humans how to fly under their own power now soars in history. He was tactiturn yet funny, quiet yet articulate, gentle yet stronger than steel, reasonable yet firm of opinion, unconventional yet profoundly practical. Human-powered flight had long been considered theoretically possible. But nobody could figure out HOW. Paul did it. With one word: EFFICIENT.Paul MacCready, Jr., 1925 - 2007. (click to enlarge)There is no doubt that Nature would stand up for Paul. He stood up for Nature. He loved the heights, be it soaring or hiking the San Gabriel Mountains above Pasadena. There was never a better champion of New Energy (or a better friend to NewEnergyNews).Scrolling through this long list of Paul’s accomplishments and awards could cause carpal tunnel syndrome. What it comes down to is this: From the time he was a boy winning national acclaim building model airplanes, he got the most by keeping it simple.WHO
Dr. Paul MacCready, Jr., Ph.D., winner of the Kremer Prize for creating the first human-powered flight aircraft, 3-time U.S. National Soaring Champion, the first U.S. World Soaring Champion, founder of AeroVironmentWHAT
Paul died August 29, 2007, at his home in Pasadena. He was 81. Beside the cockpit of the Gossamer Condor, pointing the way. (click to enlarge)WHEN
- Paul was born September 29, 1925. He married Judy Leonard MacCready on May 18, 1957. They had three sons, Parker, Tyler and Marshall, and two grandchildren.Paul and Judy with Parker, Tyler and Marshall. (click to enlarge)
- On August 22, 1977, Paul’s entirely human-powered “Gossamer Condor” became the first aircraft ever to fly the course and distance required by the Kremer Prize as proof of “human-powered flight.” On June 12, 1979, his “Gossamer Albatross” flew over the English Channel entirely by human power.
- AeroVironment was founded in the summer of 1971. It remains a leader in flight as well as cutting edge energy and transportation.WHERE
Paul was born in New Haven, Connecticut. After putting in a brief stint training as a U.S. Navy pilot at the end of WWII, he completed his Bachelor’s Degree at Yale and migrated to Pasadena. He earned a Master’s Degree and Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology (CalTech).WHY
- Paul began his professional career with efforts to change the weather. He ended it having changed the world.
- His first company, started in 1958, was Atmospheric Research Group, a cutting edge venture that made research flights into the core of storms and experimented with cloud-seeding.
- Though he had long been engaged in soaring and gliding, his work with human-powered flight began seriously in 1976 when a large business debt caused him to notice the large cash award attached to the British Kremer Prize. All he had to do was figure out how to get a heavier-than-air craft off the ground to an elevation of at least 10 feet entirely under human power and fly a figure-eight course of at least a half-mile.
- While on a family vacation in 1976, he was studying the soaring habits of turkey vultures and explaining it to his sons when he realized the secret to human-powered flight. After consulting with colleagues on these unique insights, he gathered an intrepid crew of stalwart volunteers. The project he had optimistically estimated would take 6 weeks took a year. To do what nobody else ever did.
- Paul was one of the first to recognize the implications of the 1970s oil and economic changes. His insight made him a pioneer in solar-powered cars and airplanes, electric cars and efficiency. Aerovironment was the company charged with building the ill-fated electric car of the 1990s. Paul drove an electric car as long as he drove.Paul and an early solar-powered car. (click to enlarge)QUOTES
- “Nobody seemed to be quite
as motivated for the new and strange as I was.”
- “I alternate between pessimism and optimism
, and I've found the best pessimism summary comes from the great philosopher, Woody Allen, who said, "Civilization is at a crossroads. One road leads to misery and devastation, the other to total destruction. We must choose wisely." And there is a lot more to that statement than you might think.”
- Paul on his own life
...I probably had some manifestations that would be called dyslexia now. Not a basket case but, certainly in some things, a short attention span. If I would start reading a paragraph of history, by the time I was to the second sentence my mind would be a thousand miles away. And even in physics classes, I would tend to daydream about other things…Paul and an early Gossamer. (click to enlarge)
...Having a brain that works a little differently than what best fits the school system, you learn to cope…I did most of my learning during the homework rather than the class period. A lot of dyslexics are very creative people…
...I remember a newsreel in, let's say, 1938, when I was 13 years old, that showed a sailplane flying over a slope at El Mirage…It was such a wonderful kind of flying. And I found that it was a wonderful, addicting hobby.
...I don't think of myself as especially competitive…If you are in a contest, there is always some motivation towards trying to win, but the real value is just entering in the competition.
...The last flight I had in competition, in the 1956 International contest in France that I won, I got in circumstances where whether I survived or didn't just was a flip of the coin. Whether the turbulence went that way, or that way…Paul doing something he loved: Sharing his insights. (click to enlarge)
...I was doing the scaling laws for all of these different flight devices, natural and artificial, in my mind…And while working on that, I thought back about human-powered flight and realized, why yes, there was a very simple, straightforward way of doing it. Which was merely, you can take any airplane, conceptually, keep the size the same -- I mean, keep the weight the same -- but let the size just get bigger and bigger and bigger in all dimensions, and the power goes down and, conceptually, you can make it big enough so it can get by on the tiny power that a person puts out…The simplest analogy I can think of is Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic in 1927, which was really a pretty bum airplane. Well tailored for that purpose, but…there was no reason ever to make another one…
- “The overall goal is a sustainable world
. Not consuming nonreplenishable resources, not steadily more dependent on foreign oil, and not causing global climate change.”
Further reading:More With Less: Paul MacCready and the Dream of Efficient Flight
Gossamer Odyssey: The Triumph of Human-Powered Flight