Saturday, September 01, 2007

Farewell to a high-flying innovator

It was with sadness and a fair bit of nostalgia that I read of the death this week of Paul MacCready. I remember vividly watching the short film "The Flight of the Gossamer Condor" when I was a teenager. MacCready's quest, to design and build a human-powered aircraft, thrilled and inspired me.

He was one of the great innovators of the twentieth century. Through the combination of dreams and hard work, he created inventions of lasting significance, including solar-powered cars and airplanes, in addition to his human-powered craft, the Gossamer Condor and the Gossamer Albatross, the first human-powered airplane to fly across the English Channel.

And if you think that necessity is not the mother of invention, consider this, from the Wall Street Journal's obituary of Mr. MacCready:

When a new design he came up with for catamarans lost $100,000, he was determined to recoup his investors' losses. So he decided to vie for the Henry Kremer Prize, established by a British industrialist in 1959 for sustained human-powered flight. "The Kremer Prize, in which I'd had no interest, was just about equal to my debt," he told the authors of "Inventing Modern America" in 2003. "Suddenly human-powered flight seemed important."