AeroVironment, Inc. is a leader in Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Electric Vehicle Charging Systems, and Power Cycling & Test Systems.40 Years of Human Power™

Dr. Paul MacCready Biography

August 29, 2007

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.

"One of the neat things about working at AeroVironment is the creative culture that has been created over the years. People are encouraged to go outside of their technical comfort zone, and learn new things."
AeroVironment Project Manager - 11 years of changing the future


We offer competitive salaries to attract and retain the best minds in our industries. All employees participate in an annual Fiscal Year incentive bonus program.


Health And Fitness Benefits

Health Care

We offer two medical plan choices that include hospital, physician, surgical and prescription drug coverage for employees and their dependents. Coverage is effective on the employee's hire date. AeroVironment shares in the cost of this benefit with the employee.

Dental Care

We provide dental coverage for employees and their eligible dependents. The cost for employee coverage is paid by AeroVironment. We also contribute to the cost for dependent coverage. Coverage is effective on the employee's hire date.

Flu Shots

Company paid flu shots are offered annually to all employees.

Health Club

AeroVironment maintains a corporate membership with 24 Hour Fitness that gives employees a waiver on initiation fees and a discount on membership fees.

Vision Care

Vision services are available through a voluntary program. Vision services include annual eye exams, standard lenses, frames and contact lenses. The cost for this benefit is paid by the employee.

Financial/Savings Benefits

401(k) Plan

AeroVironment maintains a 401(k) plan that allows employees to tax defer up to 75% of their pay (subject to IRS restrictions and limitations). Employees may join the 401(k) plan upon completion of one full pay period with the company. After the completion of one full year of service, AeroVironment will make matching contributions up to 5.75% of eligible compensation. Vesting of the Company match is 20% per year and begins on the employee's hire date.

Life Insurance/AD&D

AeroVironment provides Life/AD&D insurance for all employees. This benefit becomes effective on the employee's hire date and is paid for by AeroVironment. Employees can also purchase additional Life/AD&D insurance for themselves and their spouse and children through a voluntary benefit program.

Long-Term Disability

Long-term disability insurance is provided for all employees. This benefit becomes effective on the employee's date of hire and is paid for by AeroVironment.

Voluntary Supplemental Insurance

AeroVironment in coordination with AFLAC provides several voluntary benefit plans, which offer supplemental financial support for a variety of situations. The cost for these programs are paid by the employee. The types of policies offered include:
  • Flexible Spending Accounts - medical & dependent care
  • Accident Indemnity Plan
  • Cancer Indemnity Plan
  • Disability Income Protector: Short Term

Long Term Care

Long Term Care coverage is available through a voluntary program. This type of coverage provides needed resources for care when an individual requires help with two or more activities of daily living or when an individual suffers a severe cognitive impairment. The cost for this benefit is paid by the employee.

Credit Union

Employees may join the Technology Federal Credit Union, which provides a wide array of services for a nominal membership fee. This benefit is available to all employees and their family members. Tech Fed is now among the top 1% of the nation's largest credit unions. Tech Fed is affiliated with other Credit Unions to make benefits accessible to employees in all locations.

Other Benefits


AeroViroffers discount programs at various local attractions. In addition, we sell movie tickets for several theater chains at a discounted price.

Casual Dress

Every day is "casual Friday."

Ride Share Program

AV is committed to environmental and energy objectives. As such, we encourage employees to ride share or use alternative methods of commuting to and from work. The company provides cash and gift incentives for those employees who make significant efforts to decrease the number of single vehicle trips they make to and from work.


Coffee, cocoa and tea are free and available in all facilities.

Company Sponsored Events

Throughout the year, AeroVironment sponsors events for employees and their families. Each year we have a family picnic and a holiday party. We often surprise our employees with T-shirts to commemorate new products and company accomplishments.

Time Off and Employee Service


We offer a generous vacation plan that starts to accrue upon an employee's hire date.


AeroVironment recognizes 10 or 11 paid holidays per year:
  • Memorial Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas Season: (The company closes from December 24th through January 1st each year.)
The total number of holidays recognized vary from year to year depending on where Christmas falls in the week. Eligibility for the Christmas season holidays is in accordance with an employee's hire date.

Sick Leave

Sick leave benefits start to accrue upon an employee's hire date and can also be applied for medically related appointments, caring for a sick child, or for a serious illness or death in your family. Employees with excellent attendance may participate in our Sick Leave / Vacation Conversion Plan.

Child Care Policy

AeroVironment acknowledges that there are times when employees need to care for children that are inconsistent with work related responsibilities. Whenever possible, we try to accommodate these needs while meeting business requirements.
  • Employees can use their accrued sick leave to assist in the nurture and care of their newborns or newly adopted children.
  • Employees may use their accrued sick leave to care for an ill child.
  • As long as it does not have an adverse effect upon business, AeroVironment will accommodate flexible work hours.

Employee Assistance Program

The EAP provides confidential assessment, referral and follow-up services to help assist employees and their family members in managing issues that affect their daily life.

Personal Development

Educational Assistance Program

AeroVironment encourages personal learning and growth. To help foster an environment that supports these goals, we have an educational assistance program, which is designed to provide financial assistance for pre-approved educational courses or seminars.

AeroVironment University

As part of our ongoing commitment to employee development, we have an e-Learning program called "AeroVironment University." e-Learning is a developmental tool that employee's can utilize to expand their knowledge base, in their own time, and at their own pace regardless of their location.

NOTICE: You are leaving the AeroVironment, Inc. website and are being directed to a website maintained by a third party that is not related to AeroVironment, Inc.

We are not, by referring or linking to such third party website, incorporating its contents. We do not endorse or guarantee, and we disclaim any responsibility for: the content, products or services offered on such linked website, its performance or interaction with your computer, its security and privacy policies and practices, and any consequences that may result from visiting such linked website.