Human-powered aircraft: Gossamer Albatross made history by flying over the English Channel
After aeronautical engineer Paul MacCready won the first Kremer Prize in 1977 for the flight of his human-powered Gossamer Condor over a closed circuit course, he decided to cross the English Channel by air on human-power only, according to a report by The Museum of Flight.
He thus built the Gossamer Albatross aircraft from the lessons learned with the Condor. “This light and fragile aircraft was pushed by a propeller connected through a series of gears to a constantly pedaling pilot,” explained an article in The Museum of Flight.
"A new class of ultralight designs which are characterized by low power requirements"
Meanwhile, a NASA contractor report from 1982, that reported on activities during two periods: the flight tests from January through May 1980, and data analyses from April through December 1981, described exactly how the vehicle was made.
“The Gossamer series of man-powered aircraft (...) represent a new class of ultralight designs which are characterized by low power requirements (less than 0.5 horsepower, or 373 watts); very low wing loadings (under 0.5 pounds/ feet squared); flight at low airspeeds (around 10 to 15 miles per hour),"stated the report.
The report added that the aircraft consists of "unusual configurations (canard elevator, pusher propeller); advanced composite plastic structure (carbon-filament-reinf arced epoxy tubing); and novel control techniques (tilting canard rudder).”
A historic flight across the English Channel
The design proved successful and on June 12, 1979. The Albatross, powered and guided by the same pilot who flew the Condor Bryan Allen made a historic flight across the English Channel. The flight covered a distance of 22.25 statute miles (35.6 kilometers) in two hours and 49 minutes.
It broke records and won a second Kremer Prize for MacCready and his team. Today there is no word on where the Albatross is but the Albatross II is on display at the Museum of Flight.
This prototype was built as a backup to the record-breaking Albatross aircraft. According to NASA, it was “fitted with a small battery-powered electric motor and flight instruments for the NASA research project in low-speed flight. The minimal power required to fly this 94-foot-span aircraft suggested it could be solar-powered, and led to numerous later record breaking projects involving solar energy.”
An intensive six-week program
NASA completed its flight testing of the Gossamer Albatross II and began analysis of the results in April, 1980 in what would be a six-week program where the vehicle was flown in three configurations; using human power, with a small electric motor, and towed with the propeller removed.
“Results from the project contributed to data on the unusual aerodynamic, performance, stability, and control characteristics of large, lightweight aircraft that fly at slow speeds for application to future high-altitude aircraft,” said NASA.
Notably, it was the first human-powered aircraft to make a controlled flight inside an enclosed structure: the Houston Astrodome. Gossamer Albatross was later donated to The Museum of Flight by Paul MacReady and can still be seen there today.
The aircraft on display has a wingspan of 97.67 feet, a length of 34 feet, and a height of 16 feet. It also has an empty weight of 70 pounds with a maximum speed of 18 miles per hour.
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