Collection Item Long Description:
On August 23, 1977, the man-powered aircraft Gossamer Condor successfully demonstrated sustained, maneuverable manpowered flight and won the £50,000 ($95,000) Kremer Prize.
Pilot Bryan Allen took off from Shafter Airport, Shafter, California, at 7:30 a.m. and landed 7 minutes, 27.5 seconds later. The official circuit, a figure-8 course around pylons one-half mile apart with a 10-foot hurdle at the beginning and the end, covered 1.15 miles. The Gossamer Condor traveled a total of 1.35 miles from takeoff to landing. Its flight speed was between 10 and 11 mph, with Allen, a championship bicyclist and hang-glider enthusiast, developing one-third horsepower.
The Kremer Prize was established in 1959 by industrialist Henry Kremer. It was originally set at £10,000 ($14,000), but as the years passed with no winners, the value increased periodically for added incentive until it reached £50,000.
Dr. Paul B. MacCready and Dr. Peter B. S. Lissaman, both of Pasadena, California, designed the Gossamer Condor, which is made of thin aluminum tubes covered with mylar plastic and braced with stainless steel wires. The leading edges are made of corrugated cardboard and styrene foam. One advantage of the Gossamer Condor over previous manpowered aircraft was the facility with which it could be modified or repaired. After a crash, it could be returned to flying condition within twenty-four hours, enabling the aircraft to be tested extensively and easily modified. Also, MacCready’s team did not try to adapt a conventional aircraft design for manpower, as others had mistakenly done; they designed an aircraft solely for its manpowered mission.
The pilot sat in a semireclining position with both hands free for the controls. One hand held a handle that controlled both vertical and lateral movement. For turns, the other hand set a lever located beside the seat that controlled wires to twist the wing.
Dr. MacCready conceived the idea of building a manpowered aircraft in mid-July 1976. After building several models to test structure, Dr. MacCready and his team began building the first complete aircraft in October. The first significant flight, one of 40 seconds, took place on December 26. Throughout the first part of 1977, modifications steadily improved control and efficiency, and all efforts were rewarded with the August 23 prizewinning flight.
In January 1978 the Gossamer Condor was donated to the National Air and Space Museum.