Gossamer Albatross

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


Design and development

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 had won the first Kremer prize on August 23, 1977 by completing a mile-long figure-eight course. The second Kremer challenge was then announced as a flight across the Channel recalling Louis Blériot's crossing of 1909.

The Albatross was powered using pedals to drive a large two-bladed propeller. Piloted by amateur cyclist Bryan Allen, it completed the 35.8 km (22.2 mi) 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 (5 ft).

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 32 kg (71 lb), although the gross mass for the Channel flight was almost 100 kg (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 0.4 horsepower (300 W), though even mild turbulence made this figure rise rapidly. The Albatross I is on display at the Smithsonian Institution's Udvar-Hazy Center.

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.

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