MacCready Gossamer Albatross Man powered Flight

MacCready Gossamer Albatross
First Man Powered Flight Across the English Channel

MacCready Gossamer Inflight

Gossamer Albatross Inflight


To sustain level flight, the Ablatross required at least .25kW of power to the propeller. This factor alone ensured that the pilot had to be at peak fitness in order to complete the cross-Channel trip successfully. As well turning took another 20% more power.




Gossamer Albatross

Human Powered Flight

From the earliest of times man has dreamed of flying by his own means, even Da Vinci had such dreams and made designs as early as 1490. By the 1920s man was able to make successful human powered flight, though never making any great distances.

Clear up to modern times we still have had such dreams, and in the late 70's the dream was truly achieved. The Gossamer Albatross, designed by Dr. Paul MacCready, on June 12, 1979 flew across the English Channel piloted and powered by Bryan Allen. MacCready had been designing sail planes since the mid 70s his first major success was the Gossammer Condor which set a distance record of a 1 mile flight in 1977. He took up construction of these planes in response to a challenge made by industrialist Henry Kremer. Two years later another challenge was offered and met with the crossing of the English Channel.

Gabriel Poulain on Aviette
Paris, July 9, 1921: Gabriel Poulin and his Aviette at Longchamps racecourse, where he won 10,000-franc Prix Peugeot, the first prize for human powered flight.

Unlike just about any other flying craft, the machines that emerged from MacCready's workshop were built with one aim in mind: to break records.

The first of these the Condor, had a wingspan of 96 feet and was a pusher design, with a large two-bladed propeller mounted at the back and an auxiliary aero foil placed well forward. The pilot sat in an enclosed cabin directly below the main wing. For the record breaking flight which took place at Shafter, California, championship cyclist Bryan Allen was chosen as the pilot. On the hot August day in 1977, he flew the strange-looking Condor between the two pylons in 7 minutes 2.5 seconds.

Two years later, with Henry Kremer's challenge to fly across the English Channel, MacCready and his team build an improved version of the Condor, the Albatross. In many respects it was identical to the Condor and once again Bryan Allen piloted it on the journey. He landed at Cap Gris-Nez, near Boulogne, after pedaling 23 miles over the water.





MacCready Gossamer Albatross Inflight over the English Channel
Gossamer Albatross in flight over the English Channel.


Albatross Landing at Cap Gris-Nez
The Gossamer Albatross landing at Cap Gris-Nez, Near Boulogne, after pedaling 23 miles over water.

The Gossamer Albatross in its record setting 1 hour 9 minutes, and 3 second flight over Harper Dry Lake, California.

Condor Crash
Crashes like this were common with the Condor.

Albatross Crash

The Albatross had similar problems which lead Bryan Allen to say "The Albatross has crashed three times in the last 1/2 hour of flight testing. On two the these occasions I have suffered minor injuries... I think that you possibly have not realized that the philosophy of "fly, crash, repair, and fly again" which was used in the early stages of the Condor project is no longer a valid method. The pilot is going to maimed or killed if this philosophy is used on an aircraft which can so easily be popped up to 30 or 50 ft.

As well such a philosophy wouldn't work on his long journey across the English Channel.


Albatross Inflight


The aircraft was powered using pedals to drive a large two-bladed propeller. Piloted by amateur cyclist Bryan Allen, it completed the 22.2 mi crossing in 2 hours and 49 minutes, achieving a top speed of 18 mph and an average altitude of 5 feet.
The aircraft is of unusual "canard" configuration, using a large horizontal stabilizer forward of the wing in a manner similar to the Wright brothers' successful "Flyer" aircraft. The Gossamer Albatross was constructed using a carbon fiber frame, with the ribs of the wings made with expanded polystyrene; the entire structure was then wrapped in a thin, transparent plastic (mylar aka PET film). The empty mass of the structure was only 71 lb, although the gross mass for the Channel flight was almost 220 lb. To maintain the craft in the air it was designed with very long tapering wings (high aspect ratio), like those of a glider, allowing the flight to be undertaken with a minimum of power. In still air the required power was of the order of 300 W, though even mild turbulence made this figure rise rapidly.


The aircraft was designed and built by a team led by Paul B. MacCready, a noted US aeronautics engineer, designer, and world soaring champion. Gossamer Albatross was his second human-powered aircraft, the first being the Gossamer Condor, which won the first Kremer prize on August 23, 1977 by completing a specified figure-eight course.
MacCready's team built two Albatrosses; the back-up plane was jointly tested as part of the NASA Langley/Dryden flight research program in 1980 and was also flown inside the Houston Astrodome, the first ever controlled indoor flight by a human-powered aircraft. The Albatross II is currently on display at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington. The aircraft used in the channel crossing is on display at the Smithsonian Institution's Udvar-Hazy Center.

Solar-powered variants

A follow-up to the Albatross was the solar-powered Gossamer Penguin in 1980. The Penguin airframe had been built by the MacCready team as a third craft for the cross-channel attempt; in most of its dimensions it was three-quarters the size of the Gossamer Albatross, and was held in reserve as a speedier if slightly higher-powered alternative to be used if it were found that the Channel weather precluded success by the slower-flying Albatross. The Penguin was fragile and not very airworthy, but led to a better aircraft, the Solar Challenger. Designed by Paul MacCready, the Solar Challenger had a wingspan of 47 feet and a mass of 198 pounds. Its wings were covered with 16,128 PV cells, with a total output power of 2,600 watts, about enough to drive a pair of hair dryers. The Solar Challenger was capable of reaching an altitude of 12,000 feet . On July 7, 1981 the aircraft, piloted by Steve Ptacek, accomplished the 163 mile flight from Paris to Manston in the UK.


Aircraft Details

Manufacturer: MacCready
Model: Gossamer Albatross II
Year: 1979
Power Plant: Human powered
Serial Number: GA-II
Length: 34ft
Height: 16ft
Span: 98ft
Wing Area: 488ft²
Empty Weight: 70lbs
Gross Weight: 215lbs
Maximum Speed: 18miles/h
Range: 35miles

MacCready Gossamer Albatross