Paul MacCready (born 1925), known as the “father of human-powered flight,” first gained fame when he won the Kremer Prize for inventing an aircraft powered solely by human effort. He went on to develop a solar-powered plane and car and a radio-controlled replica of a giant pterodactyl. MacCready helped develop the Impact demonstrator electric vehicle, which, in 1991, inspired California’s zero-emissions mandate.
Through his life, Paul MacCready turned his mind, energy and heart toward his two passions: flight and the Earth. His early training as a fighter and glider pilot (glider pilots still use the “MacCready speed ring” he developed after World War II) led him to explore nontraditional flight and nontraditional energy sources.
In the 1970s, he and his company, AeroVironment, designed and built two record-breaking human-powered planes: the Gossamer Condor, the first human-powered aircraft to complete a one-mile course set by the Kremer Prize, and the Gossamer Albatross, the first to cross the English Channel. The planes’ avian names reveal the deep insight that MacCready brought to the challenge — that large birds, in their wing shape and flying style, possess an elegant secret of flight.
He then turned his wide-ranging mind toward environmentally responsible design, informed by his belief that human expansion poses a grave threat to the natural world. His team at AeroVironment prototyped an electric car that became General Motors’ pioneering EV-
1. They explored alternative energy sources, including building-top wind turbines. And they developed a fleet of fascinating aircraft — including his Helios solar-powered glider, built to fly in the very top 2 percent of Earth’s atmosphere, and the 2005 Global Observer, the first unmanned plane powered by hydrogen cells.
Tyler MacCready appeared on a PBS Scientific American Frontiers program that mostly paid tribute to his late father Dr. Paul MacCready who is also the father of human-powered aviation and a huge inspiration to anyone aspires to creative engineering. In the segment about walkalong gliding, son Tyler uses his head–and I mean that literally–and his hands to keep his invention aloft. Viewing that amazing program was my first exposure to surfing with air and it blew me away. Dr. Tyler MacCready educates the program’s host Alan Alda a bit about how it works as well as speaking a little about its early development.