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  Dr. Paul MacCready

Remembering Dr. Paul MacCready

Dr. Paul MacCready"The passing of the visionary Paul MacCready is a great loss to all of us at CAFE, everyone in aviation and all who ever dreamed of flying. I had the great pleasure of getting to know Paul these last 2 years during his avid support for CAFE's PAV Challenge. Just from the brief time shared when he and his son, Tyler, stayed at our home one night, , I recognized that Paul was truly a Galileo of our time. He had that magical combination of wonder, humor, experience, obsession, dedication and determination that make for heroes.

Paul believed that daydreaming was his most productive activity. He understood the value of an open mind and revered the concept of doing more with less. Paul greatly facilitated CAFE's production of the short film "Race to the Future" about PAVs. CAFE was deeply honored that Paul agreed to serve as keynote speaker at the First Ever Electric Aircraft Symposium on May 23, 2007 in San Francisco. We will all miss him dearly."

- Brien Seeley, CAFE President

Dr. Paul MacCready - Biography

Paul MacCready was born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1925. During his adolescence he was a serious model airplane enthusiast who set many records for experimental craft. At age 16, he soloed in powered planes. In World War II, he flew in the U.S. Navy flight training program.

In 1943 MacCready graduated from Hopkins School in New Haven. In 1947 he received his Bachelor of Science in physics from Yale University. His interest in flight grew to include gliders. He won the 1948, 1949 and 1953 U.S. National Soaring Championships, pioneered high-altitude wave soaring in the United States; and in 1947 was the first American in 14 years to establish an international soaring record. (The 1999 National Soaring Convention of the Soaring Society of America was dedicated to him.) He represented the United States at contests in Europe four times, becoming International Champion in France in 1956, the first American to achieve this goal.

During the decade 1946-56, MacCready worked on sailplane development, soaring techniques, meteorology, and invented the Speed Ring Airspeed Selector that is used by glider pilots worldwide to select the optimum flight speed between thermals (now commonly called the “MacCready Speed”). Concurrently, he earned a master's degree in physics in 1948 and a Ph.D. in aeronautics in 1952 from the California Institute of Technology, and in 1950-51 managed a weather modification program in Arizona. He founded Meteorology Research Inc., that became a leading firm in weather modification and atmospheric science research. He pioneered the use of small instrumented aircraft to study storm interiors and performed many of the piloting duties.

In 1971, MacCready founded AeroVironment, Inc., a diversified company headquartered in Monrovia, California. The company provides services, developments, and products in the fields of alternative energy, power electronics, and energy efficient vehicles for operation on land and in air and water. MacCready is Chairman of the Board of AeroVironment, and active in all the technology areas.

MacCready became internationally known in 1977 as the "father of human-powered flight" when his Gossamer Condor made the first sustained, controlled flight by a heavier-than-air craft powered solely by its pilot's muscles. For the feat he received the $95,000 Henry Kremer Prize established in 1959. Two years later, his team created the Gossamer Albatross, another 70-pound craft with a 96 foot wingspan that, with DuPont sponsorship, achieved a human-powered flight across the English Channel. That flight, made by "pilot-engine" Bryan Allen, took almost three hours. It won the new Kremer prize of $213,000, at the time the largest cash prize in aviation history.

Subsequently, the AeroVironment team led by MacCready developed, under DuPont sponsorship, two more aircraft, this time powered by the sun. In 1980, the Gossamer Penguin made the first climbing flight powered solely by sunbeams. In 1981, the rugged Solar Challenger was piloted 163 miles from Paris, France to England, at an altitude of 11,000 feet. These solar-powered aircraft were built and flown to draw world attention to photovoltaic cells as a renewable and non-polluting energy source for home and industry and to demonstrate the use of DuPont's advanced materials for lightweight structures.

Some years later, first with DOD and then NASA support, his teams moved Solar Challenger technology into a series of solar-powered stratospheric fliers. The 100' Pathfinder achieved 71,500' in 1997. The 120' Pathfinder climbed over 80,000 feet in 1998. August 2001 the giant 247' Helios reached 96,863' – over 2 miles higher than any plane had ever sustained level flight! Development is ongoing for the battery or regenerative fuel cell system that powers night flight using excess energy stored during daylight, and for a liquid hydrogen system which can provide power for several weeks without solar cells. Eventually, such non-polluting fliers will probe conditions in the stratosphere, perform surveillance, and serve as 11 mile high, station-keeping “SkyTower™” radio relays for multichannel, wide bandwidth telecommunications.

More pioneering aircraft emerged from the AeroViroment teams: video camera-equipped tiny (6", 2 ounce gross weight) surveillance aircraft; various other battery or fueled flying vehicles from ½ ounce to 300 lbs, including the 9', 9 pound Pointer surveillance plane (commercially produced now for 16 years); the hybrid-powered (human muscle and battery) Bionic Bat that in 1984 won two small Kremer Prizes and laid the groundwork for technologies leading toward practical, long duration unmanned vehicles, and quiet, slow-speed piloted aircraft; and in the mid-80s a half-scale flying replica of the largest known flying creature – the 36' span Quetzalcoatlus northropi (QN). The flying replica starred in the Johnson Wax-National Air & Space Museum IMAX film “On the Wing”, a film comparing and contrasting the developments of natural and technological flight.

His team's first land vehicle was the GM Sunraycer, for which AeroVironment provided project management, systems engineering, aerodynamics and structural design, power electronics development, as well as construction and testing for General Motors and Hughes Aircraft. In November 1987, this solar-powered car won the 1,867 mile race across Australia, averaging 41.6 mph (50 percent faster than the second place vehicle in the field of 24 contestants). The goal of the Sunraycer, in addition to winning the race, was to advance transportation technology that makes fewer demands on the earth's resources and environment, and to inspire students to become engineers. AeroVironment also helped with the GM-sponsored educational tour of the Sunraycer, spearheaded a course at Caltech on the Sunraycer engineering design (course notes were distributed in book form by SAE), and helped manage, for GM, the Sunrayce, the event in which solar-powered cars from 32 university groups raced from Florida to Michigan in July 1990. In January 1990, the GM Impact was introduced, a battery-powered sports car with snappy "0 to 60 mph in 8 seconds" performance. GM later turned the Impact into the production vehicle EV 1. In 1985 the AeroVironment team had proposed to GM the initial concept for the Impact. In 1988-89 GM supported AeroVironment to handle program management, systems engineering, design of the electrical and mechanical elements, and building the vehicle, integrating the participation of a dozen GM divisions. This pioneering car became a catalyst for the initial California Zero Emission Vehicle Mandate and the related global developments of battery-powered and alternatively-fueled vehicles.

The unique vehicles produced by MacCready's teams have received international attention through exhibits, books, television documentaries, and innumerable articles and cover stories in magazines and newspapers. They, MacCready, and AeroVironment have become symbols for creativity. The Gossamer Condor, Gossamer Albatross, Solar Challenger, QN, and Sunraycer were all donated to the Smithsonian. The Gossamer Condor is on permanent display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. A film about it, "The Flight of the Gossamer Condor", won the Academy Award for Best Documentary - Short Subject in 1978. The Gossamer Albatross, after touring U.S. science museums, was for some years hung in the central atrium of the London Science Museum. Now it is displayed in the new NASM Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles. The almost-identical backup vehicle, Gossamer Albatross II, was flown in the Houston Astrodome, and on a NASA research project. It now hangs at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. The Gossamer Penguin was exhibited in the U.S. Pavilion of the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee. The Solar Challenger was displayed at the National Air and Space Museum, and at Expo '86, and is now at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond. The QN flight replica, after being on display at the National Air and Space Museum in conjunction with showing the "On the Wing" film, subsequently stayed at the Smithsonian Zoo. The Sunraycer is displayed at the Smithsonian American History Museum.

MacCready's achievements have brought him many honors, including:

  • Distinguished Alumni Award, 1978, California Institute of Technology
  • Collier Trophy, 1979, by the National Aeronautics Association ("awarded annually for the greatest achievement in Aeronautics and Astronautics in America")
  • Reed Aeronautical Award, 1979, by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics ("the most notable achievement in the field of aeronautical science and engineering")
  • Edward Longstreth Medal, 1979, by the Franklin Institute
  • Ingenieur of the Century Gold Medal, 1980, by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers; also the Spirit of St. Louis Medal, 1978
  • Inventor of the Year Award, 1981, by the Association for the Advancement of Invention and Innovation
  • Klemperer Award, 1981, OSTIV, Paderborn, Germany
  • I.B. Laskowitz Award, 1981, New York Academy of Science
  • The Lindbergh Award, 1982, by the Lindbergh Foundation ("to a person who contributes significantly to achieving a balance between technology and the environment")
  • Engineer of the Year Award, 1982, Engineers’ Council, National Engineers Week
  • Golden Plate Award, 1982, American Academy of Achievement
  • Gold Air Medal, by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale
  • Aircraft Design Award, 1982, AIAA
  • Distinguished Service Award, Federal Aviation Administration
  • Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Advance of Applied Meteorology, 1984, American Meteorological Society
  • Public Service Grand Achievement Award, NASA
  • Frontiers of Science and Technology Award, 1986, first award in this category given by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal
  • The "Lipper Award", 1986, for outstanding contribution to creativity, by the O-M Association (Odyssey of the Mind)
  • Guggenheim Medal, 1987, jointly by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the Society of Automotive Engineers, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers
  • National Air and Space Museum Trophy for Current Achievement, 1988
  • Enshrinement in The National Aviation Hall of Fame, July 1991, Dayton, Ohio
  • SAE Edward N. Cole Award for Automotive Engineering Innovation, September 1991
  • Scientist of the Year, 1992 ARCS (Achievement Rewards for College Scientists), San Diego Chapter
  • Pioneer of Invention, 1992, United Inventors Association
  • Chrysler Award for Innovation in Design, 1993
  • Honorary Member designation, American Meteorological Society, 1995
  • American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Ralph Coats Roe Medal, November 1998
  • Howard Hughes Memorial Award, Aero Club of Southern California, January 1999
  • Calstart’s 1998 Blue Sky Merit Award, February 1999
  • 1999 National Convention of the Soaring Society of America, dedicated to Paul MacCready, Feb. 1999
  • Special Achievement Award, Design News, March 1999
  • Included in Time magazine’s “The Century’s Greatest Minds” (March 29, 1999) series “on the 100 most influential people of the century”
  • Lifetime Achievement Aviation Week Laureate Award, April 1999
  • Commemorated in Palau stamp, 1 of 16 “Environmental Heroes of the 20th Century”, Jan. 2000
  • Institute for the Advancement of Engineering William B. Johnson Memorial Award, Feb. 2000
  • Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, National Design Award – Product Design, Nov. 2000
  • Hoyt Clarke Hottel Award, American Solar Energy Society, April 24, 2001 (“lifetime achievement as an inventor, specifically for inventing the world’s first two solar-powered aircraft”)
  • 2001 World Technology Award for Energy, England, July 2001
  • Prince Alvaro de Orleans Borbon Fund, First Annual Award, October 2001, from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, Switzerland
  • The 2002 Walker Prize, Museum of Science, Boston, March 2002
  • International von Karman Wings Award, Aerospace Historical Soc., May 2002
  • Aerospace Award, 13th Annual Discover Magazine Award for Innovation in Science and Technology, July 2002
  • Heinz Award for Technology, the Economy and Employment, The Heinz Family Foundation, March 2003
  • Bower Award and Prize in Scientific Achievement, The Franklin Institute, April 2003

MacCready has many professional affiliations, including membership in the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society, and Fellow status in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the American Meteorological Society (he was also an AMS Certified Consulting Meteorologist, and was a member of the AMS Council), and the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. For two decades he was International President of the International Human-Powered Vehicle Association; and in 1999 helped create the Dempsey-MacCready One Hour Distance Prize. He has served on many technical advisory committees and Boards of Directors for government, industry (public and private corporations), educational institutions, and foundations; and is at present a Director of the Lindbergh Foundation and the Society for Amateur Scientists. He has fifteen patents.

He has been awarded seven honorary degrees (including Yale 1983) and made numerous commencement addresses. He has written many popular articles, and authored or co-authored over one hundred formal papers, reports, and journal and book articles in the fields of aeronautics; soaring and ultralight aircraft; biological flight; drag reduction; surface transportation; wind energy; weather modification; cloud physics; turbulence, diffusion, and wakes; equipment and measurement techniques; and perspectives on technology, efficiency, and global consequences and opportunities. As keynote/invited speaker he lectures widely for industry and educational institutions, emphasizing creativity and the development of broad thinking skills, and also treating issues such as future paths for energy and transportation, and the changing relationship between humans, nature, and technology. He is not slowing down.

MacCready lives in Pasadena, California, with his wife Judy. Their three sons, Parker, Tyler, and Marshall, were all involved in the human- and solar-powered aircraft developments.

825 S. Myrtle Avenue, Monrovia, CA 91016
(626) 357-9983




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