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Gone West: 'Gossamer Condor' Designer Dr. Paul MacCready

Founder And Former Chairman of AeroVironment Was 81

It is with sadness Aero-News has learned Dr. Paul MacCready, internationally renowned and Caltech-trained scientist, innovator and entrepreneur, as well as founder and former chairman of the board of directors of AeroVironment, Inc., passed away in his sleep Tuesday, after a recent illness.

His passing occurred less than one week after the 30th anniversary of one of his most notable accomplishments -- the record-setting flight of his human powered airplane, the Gossamer Condor, according to the company.

"The world has lost a man of unique vision, and the people of AV have lost a mentor and friend," said Tim Conver, AeroVironment's chairman, chief executive officer and president. "Paul was an inspiration to so many people around the globe who were touched by his accomplishments and his innovative approach of 'doing more with much less.'"

"The people of AV are diminished today as a result of his passing. At the same time, we are better for having known and worked with him, and we re-dedicate our efforts to the important work that carries on his legacy. Of all his accomplishments, Paul's greatest contribution may have been his remarkable ability to demonstrate that 'impossible' is no match for human imagination and perseverance. On behalf of everyone at AeroVironment, I express my sincere condolences to Paul's wife Judy, his three sons and his two grandchildren," Conver continued.

Dr. MacCready regularly donated time and resources to education and to organizations promoting critical thinking, creativity and awareness of global challenges.

MacCready founded AeroVironment in 1971 and this month celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Kremer prize-winning flight of the Gossamer Condor (shown below), which made the world's first sustained, controlled flight powered solely by a human on August 23, 1977. The feat led to Dr. MacCready being nicknamed the "father of human-powered flight."

MacCready also designed and built a follow-up airplane, the Gossamer Albatross, which completed a successful crossing of the English Channel on June 12, 1979 -- winning the second Kremer prize in the process. Led by MacCready, AeroVironment later built the Gossamer Penguin, a 3/4 scale variant of the Albatross that utilized solar panels mounted above the wing to power the one-seat aircraft's small electric motor.

That slow and flimsy aircraft (shown at right) proved unable to cross the Channel... but a larger, more substantial solar-powered plane, the Solar Challenger, completed a trip from Paris to Manston on July 7, 1981.

The Los Angeles Times reports MacCready believed his successes, such as more than 30 prestigious awards, including the Collier Trophy for achievement in aeronautics and astronautics, plus five honorary degrees, was probably due to a nerdy childhood.

"I was always the smallest kid in the class," he told the National Aviation Hall of Fame. "I was not especially coordinated -- certainly not the athletic type -- and socially immature.

"And so, when I began getting into model airplanes, and getting into contests and creating new things, I probably got more psychological benefit from that than I would have from some of the other typical school things," he said. "Nobody seemed to be quite as motivated for the new and strange as I was."

MacCready was named Engineer of the Century by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and selected Graduate of the Decade by the California Institute of Technology. He was named one of the 100 greatest minds of the 20th century by Time Magazine.

In recent talks and presentations around the world he would typically leave his audiences with the following thought, reflecting his focus on the changing relationship between humans, nature and technology.

"Over billions of years, on a unique sphere, chance has painted a thin covering of life -- complex, improbable, wonderful and fragile. Suddenly we humans (a recently arrived species no longer subject to the checks and balances inherent in nature), have grown in population, technology, and intelligence to a position of terrible power: we now wield the paintbrush."

Plans for a private memorial service are pending.

FMI: www.aerovironment.com

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