Paul MacCready

Paul MacCready

MacCready shows a cross section of the AeroVironment/NASA Helios Prototype wing spar.
Born Paul Beattie MacCready Jr.
September 25, 1925
New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.
Died August 28, 2007 (aged 81)
Nationality American
Education Caltech

Engineering career

Projects AeroVironment

Paul B. MacCready, Jr. (September 29, 1925 – August 28, 2007) was an American aeronautical engineer. He was the founder of AeroVironment and the designer of the human-powered aircraft that won the first Kremer prize. He devoted his life to developing more efficient transportation vehicles that could "Do more with less".[1]


Born in New Haven, Connecticut to a medical family, MacCready was an inventor from an early age and won a national contest building a model flying machine at the age of 15.

MacCready graduated from Hopkins School in 1943 and then trained as a US Navy pilot before the end of World War II. He received a BS in physics from Yale University in 1947, an MS in physics from Caltech in 1948, and a PhD in aeronautics from Caltech in 1952. In 1951 MacCready founded his first company, Meteorology Research Inc, to do atmospheric research. Some of MacCready's work as a graduate student involved cloud seeding.

He started gliding after World War II and was a three-time winner (1948, 1949, 1953) of the Richard C. du Pont Memorial Trophy,[2] awarded annually to the U.S. National Open Class Soaring Champion. In 1956 he became the first American pilot to become the World Soaring Champion. He devised the MacCready Theory on the correct speed to fly a glider depending on conditions and based on the glider's rate of sink at different air-speeds. Glider pilots still use the "MacCready speed ring".

With Dr. Peter B.S. Lissaman he created a human-powered aircraft, the Gossamer Condor, and thereby won the first Kremer prize in 1977. The award-winning plane was built out of aluminium tubing, plastic foam, piano wire, bicycle parts, and mylar foil for covering. In 1979, he built its successor, the Gossamer Albatross, which won the second Kremer prize for successfully flying from England to France.

He later created solar-powered aircraft such as the Gossamer Penguin and the Solar Challenger. He was involved in the development of NASA's solar-powered flying wings such as the Helios, which surpassed the SR-71's altitude records and could theoretically fly on Mars (where the atmosphere is thin and has little oxygen). MacCready also collaborated with General Motors on the design of the Sunraycer, a solar-powered car, and then on the EV-1 electric car.

In 1985 he was commissioned to build a halfscale[3] working replica of the pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus for the Smithsonian Institution, following a workshop in 1984 which concluded that such a replica was feasible.[4] The completed remote-controlled flying reptile, with a wingspan of 18 feet,[5] was filmed over Death Valley, California in 1986 for the Smithsonian's IMAX film On the Wing.[6][7] It flew successfully several times before being severely damaged in a crash at an airshow at Andrews AFB in Maryland.[5] The launch of the pterosaur model came off well but the radio transmitter link failed, perhaps due to the interference from some of the many base communications devices. The model nosed over and crashed at the runway side, breaking at the neck from the force of impact.

MacCready helped to sponsor the Nissan Dempsey/MacCready Prize which has helped to motivate developments in racing-bicycle technology, applying aerodynamics and new materials to allow for faster human-powered vehicles.

He was the founder (in 1971) and Chairman of AeroVironment Inc., a public company (AVAV) that develops unmanned surveillance aircraft and advance power systems. AV recently flew a prototype of the first airplane to be powered by hydrogen fuel cells, the Global Observer.[8]

MacCready died on August 28, 2007 from metastatic melanoma. He was an atheist and a skeptic.[9]

Awards and honors


Wikiquote has quotations related to: Paul MacCready
"Anyone who's not interested in model airplanes must have a screw loose somewhere"
Paul MacCready
"I'm more interested in a world that works than what sells"
Paul MacCready
"Doing more with less"
Paul MacCready



  1. "AeroVironment, Inc.: Gossamer Albatross: 30th Anniversary". 1979-06-12. Retrieved 2010-08-25.
  2. "Unofficial Listing of the Soaring Society of America Badges and Awards: The Richard C. du Pont Memorial Trophy". 1943-09-12. Archived from the original on 2006-10-25. Retrieved 2010-08-25.
  3. "Unmanned Aircraft Systems", UAS Advanced Development, AeroVironment, retrieved October 20, 2010 |chapter= ignored (help)
  4. Browne, Malcolm W (May 28, 1985), "Next best thing to a pterosaur nears first attempt at flight", The New York Times, retrieved October 20, 2010
  5. 1 2 Benningfield, Damond (Sep–Oct 1986), "Manmade reptile allows scientists to study flying", The Alcalde, (University of Texas at Austin, alumni magazine): 43, retrieved October 20, 2010
  6. Anderson, Ian (October 10, 1985), "Winged lizard takes to the air of California", New Scientist (No.1477): 31, retrieved October 20, 2010
  7. Schefter, Jim (March 1986), "Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird, it's a plane it's a pterodactyl", Popular Science: 78–79, 124, retrieved October 20, 2010
  9. "Paul MacCready, the inventor, defines it thus: "A secular humanist does not believe in God, and doesn't steal."" Paul Kurtz, Is Secular Humanism a Religion?.
  10. The Heinz Awards, Paul MacCready profile
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