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 (Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi). 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 became the first American in 14 years to establish an international soaring record. 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.
From 1946 through 1956, 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. He founded Meteorology Research Inc., which became a leading firm in weather modification and atmospheric science research. He pioneered the use of small, instrumented aircraft to study storm interiors and personally performed many of the piloting duties, some of the more harrowing examples of which he would recount in later years.
In 1971, MacCready founded AeroVironment, Inc., a diversified company headquartered in Monrovia, California. The company is a leader in unmanned aircraft systems and efficient electric energy systems. He was Chairman of the Board of AeroVironment and was an active mentor to the engineering staff.
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 the first known human-powered flight across the English Channel. That flight, made by "pilot-engine" Bryan Allen, lasted nearly three hours. The accomplishment won MacCready the new Kremer prize of $213,000, at the time the largest cash prize in aviation history.
With sponsorship from DuPont, the AeroVironment team led by MacCready subsequently developed 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 the U.S. Department of Defense and then with NASA support, MacCready and AeroVironment transitioned Solar Challenger technology into a series of unmanned, solar-powered stratospheric aircraft. The 100 foot wingspan Pathfinder achieved a peak altitude of 71,500 feet in 1997. The 120 foot wingspan Pathfinder Plus climbed over 80,000 feet in 1998. In August 2001 the giant, 247 foot wingspan Helios reached 96,863 feet, over 2 miles higher than any plane had ever sustained level flight.
The AeroVironment team's first land vehicle was the GM Sunraycer, with the company providing 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. 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 build 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. MacCready and AeroVironment have become symbols for creativity. The Gossamer Condor, Gossamer Albatross, Solar Challenger, QN, Sunraycer, and Pathfinder Plus were all acquired by 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 is displayed in the NASM Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles. The Sunraycer is displayed at the Smithsonian American History Museum, and the Pathfinder Plus is in the NASM Udvar-Hazy Center.
MacCready's achievements have brought him many honors, the including the following:
- 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
- Camarillo Air Show, Grand Marshall, August 2005
- 2005 Technology Leadership Award, San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership, August 2005
MacCready had 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 President of the International Human-Powered Vehicle Association. In 1999 he helped create the Dempsey-MacCready One Hour Distance Prize and provided $46,000 for expenses and prizes; the event concluded in July 2006 when 86 km was achieved. In April 2006 he donated a 1/6th scale Gossamer Albatross model to Hopkins School – the only product from a graduate on permanent display for this school that was established 340 years ago. He has served on many technical advisory committees and Boards of Directors for government, industry (public and private corporations), educational institutions, and foundations; and was most recently 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 lectured widely for industry and educational institutions, emphasizing creativity and the development of broad thinking skills.