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Paul Brian MacCready
AeroVironment Chairman Paul MacCready shows a cross section of the AeroVironment/NASA Helios Prototype wing spar.
Born (1925-09-25)September 25, 1925
New Haven, Connecticut
Died August 28, 2007(2007-08-28) (aged 81)
Nationality American
Education Caltech

Paul B. MacCready, Jr. (September 25, 1925 - August 28, 2007) was an American aeronautical engineer. He was the founder of AeroVironment and the designer of the human-powered aircraft that won the first Kremer prize. He devoted his life to developing more efficient transportation vehicles that could "Do more with less".[1]


Born in New Haven, Connecticut to a medical family, MacCready was an inventor from an early age and won a national contest building a model flying machine at the age of 15.

MacCready graduated from Hopkins School in 1943 and then trained as a US Navy pilot before the end of World War II. He received a BS in physics from Yale University in 1947, an MS in physics from Caltech in 1948, and a PhD in aeronautics from Caltech in 1952. In 1951 MacCready founded his first company, Meteorology Research Inc, to do atmospheric research. Some of MacCready's work as a graduate student involved cloud seeding.

He started gliding after World War II and was a three-time winner (1948, 1949, 1953) of the Richard C. du Pont Memorial Trophy,[2] awarded annually to the U.S. National Open Class Soaring Champion. In 1956 he became the first American pilot to become the World Soaring Champion. He devised the MacCready Theory on the correct speed to fly a glider depending on conditions and based on the glider's rate of sink at different air-speeds. Glider pilots still use the "MacCready speed ring". With Dr. Peter B.S. Lissaman he created a human-powered aircraft, the Gossamer Condor, and thereby won the first Kremer prize in 1977. The award-winning plane was built out of aluminium tubing, plastic foam, piano wire, bicycle parts, and mylar foil for covering. In 1979, he built its successor, the Gossamer Albatross, which won the second Kremer prize for successfully flying from England to France.

He later created solar powered aircraft such as the Gossamer Penguin and the Solar Challenger. He was involved in the development of NASA's solar-powered flying wings such as the Helios, which surpassed the SR-71's altitude records and could theoretically fly on Mars (where the atmosphere is thin and has little oxygen). MacCready also collaborated with General Motors on the design of the Sunraycer, a solar powered car, and then on the EV-1 electric car.

In 1985 he was commissioned to build a halfscale[3] working replica of the pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus for the Smithsonian Institution, following a workshop in 1984 which concluded that such a replica was feasible.[4] The completed remote-controlled flying reptile, with a wingspan of 18 feet,[5] was filmed over Death Valley, California in 1986 for the Smithsonian's IMAX film On the Wing.[6][7] It flew successfully several times before being severely damaged in a crash at an airshow at Andrews AFB in Maryland.[5] The launch of the dinosaur model came off well but the radio transmitter link failed, perhaps due to the interference from some of the many base communications devices. The model nosed over and crashed at the runway side, breaking at the neck from the force of impact.

MacCready helped to sponsor the Nissan Dempsey/MacCready Prize which has helped to motivate developments in racing-bicycle technology, applying aerodynamics and new materials to allow for faster human-powered vehicles.

He was the founder (in 1971) and Chairman of AeroVironment Inc., a public company (AVAV) that develops unmanned surveillance aircraft and advance power systems. AV recently flew a prototype of the first airplane to be powered by hydrogen fuel cells, the Global Observer.[8]

MacCready died on August 28, 2007 from metastatic melanoma.

Awards and honors

[citation needed]

  • Induction to the U.S. Soaring Hall of Fame, 1954
  • Otto Lilienthal Medal of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, 1956 ("for his decisive victory in earning the title of World Soaring Champion in 1956")
  • California Institute of Technology, Distinguished Alumni Award, 1978,
  • 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
  • Engineer of the Century Gold Medal, 1980, by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers;
  • Spirit of St. Louis Medal, 1980
  • Inventor of the Year Award, 1981, by the Association for the Advancement of Invention and Innovation
  • Klemperer Award, 1981, Organisation Scientifique et Technique du Vol à Voile, 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")
  • Golden Plate Award, 1982, of the American Academy of Achievement
  • Gold Air Medal, of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale
  • Distinguished Service Award, of the Federal Aviation Administration
  • Public Service Grand Achievement Award, of 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 Design 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, February 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"
  • Philip J. Klass Lifetime Achievement Aviation Week Laureate Award, April 1999
  • Commemorated in Palau stamp, 1 of 16 "Environmental Heroes of the 20th Century", January 2000
  • Institute for the Advancement of Engineering William B. Johnson Memorial Award, February 2000
  • Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, National Design Award – Product Design, November 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 Society, May 2002
  • The 9th Annual Heinz Award in Technology, the Economy and Employment, 2003[9]
  • Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science, 2003
  • Honorary Doctorate, Washington & Jefferson College, May 2007


"Anyone who's not interested in model airplanes must have a screw loose somewhere"

—Paul MacCready

"I'm more interested in a world that works than what sells"

—Paul MacCready

"Doing more with less"

—Paul MacCready



  1. "AeroVironment, Inc.: Gossamer Albatross: 30th Anniversary". 1979-06-12. Retrieved 2010-08-25. 
  2. "Unofficial Listing of the Soaring Society of America Badges and Awards: The Richard C. du Pont Memorial Trophy". 1943-09-12. Archived from the original on 2006-10-25. Retrieved 2010-08-25. 
  3. "Unmanned Aircraft Systems". UAS Advanced Development. AeroVironment. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  4. Browne, Malcolm W (May 28, 1985). "Next best thing to a pterosaur nears first attempt at flight". Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Benningfield, Damond (Sep-Oct 1986). "Manmade reptile allows scientists to study flying". p. 43. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  6. Anderson, Ian (10 October 1985). "Winged lizard takes to the air of California". p. 31. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  7. Schefter, Jim (March 1986). "Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird, it's a plane it's a pterodactyl". pp. 78–79, 124.'s+a+bird%22+gossamer&source=bl&ots=StNVHGfhyb&sig=kX2BiJ9laTByX8Z2duAMnAPUky0&hl=en&ei=z16-TOT8BInQcbz1xb0N&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBIQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%22it's%20a%20bird%22%20gossamer&f=false. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  9. The Heinz Awards, Paul MacCready profile

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