Gossamer Albatross

From Academic Kids

The Gossamer Albatross was a human-powered aircraft built by Dr Paul B. MacCready. On June 12, 1979 it completed a successful crossing of the English Channel to win the second Kremer prize.

Missing image
The Gossamer Albatross II in flight.
Missing image
Gossamer Albatross, close up of the cabin.

The aircraft was powered using pedals to drive a large two-bladed propeller. Piloted by amateur cyclist Bryan Allen it completed the 35.8 km crossing in 2 hours and 49 minutes, achieving a top speed of 29 km/h (18 mph) and an average altitude of 1.5 metres.

The aircraft is of unusual configuration, using a large horizontal stabilizer forward in a manner similar to the Wright brothers successful craft. The Gossamer Albatross was constructed using plastic over a carbon fibre frame, with the structure of the wings provided with expanded polystyrene ribs. The entire structure was then wrapped in a thin, transparent plastic (MylarŪ). The empty weight of the structure was only 32 kg, although the gross weight for the Channel flight was almost 100 kg. To maintain the craft in the air it was designed with very long tapering wings, like those of a glider, allowing the flight to be undertaken with a minimum of power. In still air the required power was on the order of 0.3 horsepower, though even mild turbulence made this figure rise rapidly.


Length: 10.36 m
Span: 29.77 m
Height: 4.88 m

The aircraft was designed and built by a team led by Paul B MacCready, a noted US aeronautics engineer, designer, and world soaring champion, and Gossamer Albatross was his second human-powered aircraft. The first was 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. The back-up craft was also flown inside the Houston Astrodome, the first ever controlled indoor flights 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.

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 3/4ths 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.

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