MacCready thinks his stature may have been a contributing factor that led him to aviation in high school. “I was always the smallest kid in the class… by a good bit, and was not especially coordinated, and certainly not the athlete type, who enjoyed running around outside, and was socially kind of immature, not the comfortable leader, teenager type. And so, when I began getting into model airplanes, and getting into contests and creating new things, I probably got more psychological benefit from that than I would have from some of the other typical school things.”
- Won three National Soaring Championships – 1948, 1949 and 1953.
- In 1956 was the first American to win the World Champion Soaring Contest in France.
- Designed and built the Gossamer Condor.
- Made the first sustained controlled human-powered flight in 1977, staying aloft for seven minutes, flying a figure eight course and winning the $100,000 award offered by British industrialist Henry Kremer.
- In the Gossamer Albatross won $200,000 Kremet Award for a human-powered flight from England to France in 1979 and received the Collier Trophy for the Albatross.
- Flying the Bionic Bat, a human-powered airplane, he won two speed prizes sponsored by Kramer in 1984.
- In 1987 the MacCready Group, with General Motors, built the GM Sunraycer, which won the solar race across Australia.
Dr. Paul MacCready, with an academic background in physics and aeronautics, has become meteorologist, inventor, world champion glider pilot, and explorer of new horizons in conserving energy and the environment. He received a bachelor of science degree in physics from Yale in 1947 and holds master’s and doctorate degrees from California Institute of Technology.
At age 21, MacCready flew his Screaming Wiener to a second place finish at the National Soaring Contest. He won the three subsequent National Soaring Championships he entered in 1948, 1949 and 1953. During these years he pioneered the concept of high altitude wave soaring. He attained international recognition in the soaring community when, in France, he won the 1956 world championship. MacCready was the first American to win this coveted honor.
During a ten year period between 1946 and 1956, MacCready devoted much time to sailplane development, soaring techniques and meteorology. After his graduate studies at the California Institute of Technology, MacCready conducted cloud-seeding experiment and pioneered the use of aircraft to study weather phenomena. In 1971, MacCready founded AeroVironment, Inc., a company that provided air quality and hazardous waste services and consulting, development of alternative energy sources, design and manufacturing of products for atmospheric monitoring, and creation of efficient vehicles for land, sea and air.
MacCready designed and built the Gossamer Condor, and in 1977 won a prize that had stood for 18 years, the $100,000 award offered by British industrialist Henry Kremer for the first sustained, controlled human-powered flight. The Condor stayed aloft for seven minutes while flying a figure eight course. The Condor now hangs in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. It is displayed adjacent to the Wright Brothers 1903 Flyer and Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis. It is one of five vehicles developed by MacCready’s teams that have been acquired by the Smithsonian.
In 1979, the Condor’s successor, the Gossamer Albatross, won aviation’s largest prize, the $200,000 Kremer Award for human-powered flight from England to France. The Albatross weighed 70 pounds and had a wing span some 96 feet. MacCready received the Collier Trophy–awarded annually for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics–for his design and construction of the Albatross.
In 1981, MacCready’s Du Pont-sponsored Solar Challenger carried a pilot 163 miles from Paris to England, at 11,000 feet, powered solely by sunbeams. Another human-powered airplane, the Bionic Bat, won two speed prizes sponsored by Kremer in 1984. Under the sponsorship of the National Air and Space Museum and Johnson Wax, MacCready’s team developed a radio-controlled, wing-flapping, flying replica of a giant pterodactyl, a prehistoric creature from 70 million years ago. The replica serves as a major actor in the IMAX film, On the Wing.
In 1987, his group, working in conjunction with General Motors, built the GM Sunraycer, which won the solar race across Australia. The GM Sunraycer completed the race 50 percent faster than its closest competitor. The same group subsequently created the GM Impact, a high performance battery-powered car.
MacCready’s exploits have been featured internationally in museum exhibits, television documentaries, and many publications and journals. He is president of the International Human Powered Vehicle Association and is the recipient of the 1982 Lindbergh Award and the Engineer of the Century Gold Medal, presented in 1980 by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
AeroVironment has been in business over 20 years and MacCready continues to serve as the company’s chairman and chief executive officer.
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