Men have dreamed of flying under their own power for thousands of years. For Paul MacCready, an aerospace engineer with an independent streak, building a human-powered airplane took only a year, but required all his 51 years of experience. "With my particular skills, strengths, and weaknesses, it was almost as though the [challenge] was designed for me," he says. "Nobody seemed to be quite as motivated for the new and strange as I was." On August 23, 1977, MacCready's plane, the 55-pound Gossamer Condor, took flight above a California air strip, powered by a human bicyclist.
Flying like a bird
One inspiration for MacCready was watching hawks soar in the wind. He realized that if you made a bird-like wing bigger, it required less power to keep it aloft. If you made it a lot bigger, it required a lot less power. And if you made it just big enough96 feet wide, for examplea good bicyclist could create enough power to make it fly. "With the basic idea of large and light, the problem was solved," MacCready says.