Senator John Heinz

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The Heinz Awards

2003

Paul MacCready

Paul B. MacCready, the "father of human-powered flight", receives the Heinz Award for Technology, the Economy and Employment for his visionary work in creating non-fossil fuel aircraft and automobiles.

This intrepid inventor and unconventional thinker has spent his life creating and building impossible things. His employees call him "Chief Visionary Officer."

Dr. MacCready's fascination with aerodynamics was apparent at an early age. He became a serious model airplane enthusiast as a teenager, yet he had little use for commercial kits. His custom-made miniature planes set records in model airplane competitions.

He soon learned to fly real planes and flew in the U.S. Navy training program during World War II. After the war, he shifted his interest to sailplanes, a type of glider, and won the U.S. National Soaring Championships three times and the international championship in France in 1956. Between all that flying, he earned his bachelor's degree in physics at Yale and a master's and a doctorate in aerosciences at the California Institute of Technology. Armed with the technical knowledge to match his passion for flying, he began to invent astonishing machines.

His theoretical understanding of the soaring patterns of hawks and turkey vultures inspired him to devise a unique way for a person to fly. With balsa wood, cardboard, Mylar plastic, cellophane tape and piano wire, he built a plane with a 96-foot wingspan. A single pedal-driven propeller powered the 70-pound aircraft. The human-powered Gossamer Condor made history in 1977 by flying a mile-long figure eight route to win the prestigious Kremer Prize. The aircraft is now on permanent display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. The following year, its successor, the Gossamer Albatross, flew across the English Channel.

Dr. MacCready's inventiveness has not been limited to flying machines. His company, AeroVironment, designed the solar-powered Sunraycer automobile for General Motors in 1987 and three years later developed the GM-Impact electric car.

AeroVironment is currently creating the Helios aircraft for NASA, which uses the sun's energy to fly to almost 97,000 feet, two miles higher than any plane has flown steadily. The Helios is being tailored to stay for months above 60,000 feet to provide efficient radio communications and to conduct studies on the effects of greenhouse gases on the earth's environment. AeroVironment was also involved in developing a widely used, remote-controlled electric spy drone for the Defense Department.

Paul MacCready is not only a brilliant inventor. He is also a deeply committed environmentalist who has used his genius to control pollution and develop alternative energy sources for transportation. He summed up his philosophy in an essay in 1996: "The sky is not the limit; the Earth is."

Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.


REMEMBERING

Paul MacCready passed away on August 28, 2007.


UPDATES SINCE RECEIVING THE HEINZ AWARD

January 2007 - AeroVironment IPO Launches Skyward. - SeekingAlpha.com

July 2006 - Who Killed the Electric Car? debuts in movie theaters. This documentary explores the issues surrounding General Motors' EV1, the electric car invented by MacCready in 1996. - The Chicago Tribune

August 2005 - MacCready receives the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership's Technology Leadership Award for his breakthrough contributions to the world of aviation. He received his award in front of hundreds of friends, business partners, and family who had gathered in Pasadena to pay tribute to his career. - The San Gabriel Valley Tribune

November 2004 - MacCready delivers the sixth William E. Boeing Distinguished Lecture, sponsored by Purdue University's School of Aeronautics & Astronautics. His lecture is entitled "Powering Devices with Minimum Renewable Energy" and concerns ideas about how power and energy can be conserved by simply "paying attention to fundamentals." - Purdue University Aeronautics and Astronautics

April 2003 - MacCready receives a Bower Award from the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia for being "the father of human-powered flight." He is honored for carrying on the traditions of men like the Wright Brothers who took risks and pushed the limits of aeronautics. - The Philadelphia Inquirer

Speech

3/3/2003 - Acceptance Speech

Well, thank you Teresa. And ladies and gentlemen, in two minutes it's hard to give much substance to the thoughts that you've had, but I'll make a stab at it starting with the enthusiasm that you saw in the video for model airplanes as a youngster, but got deeply involved in it. And then after World War II and pilot training, getting involved in sail planes as a hobby and flying light planes as a hobby, but soon these became serious dedications. The sail planning got me connected with people who were very effective at convincing me I should get advanced degrees and do a lot of research. And the power plane flying got me into doing cloud seeding, and because that field was just getting started when I was in school. And flying planes in the company Meteorology Research. Then the company became that largest group in the country, in the world, doing research on how weather modification would work, a subject that I continued in very actively for about 10 years. But that's all because you found if you seeded some place, it made a lot of people happy, but the people who were unhappy with the possible added rainfall would sue. And as a result no large organization has ever gotten involved in the weather modification work.

In 1976 I got the strange mission of the human powered airplane. The mission was because I owed $100,000 to a bank that I had asked to provide money for a friend to start a company. The company didn't succeed, and I was stuck with the debt. And when I realized that the human-powered flight which had been started 17 years earlier and nobody had come close to winning a $100,000 prize associated with it, I suddenly became an enthusiast for human-powered flight and worked out a way eventually that was very simple and straightforward. Just keep the weight of the plane very light. Even though the plane swelled up in size to 96 feet wingspan, it only weighed 70 pounds as it flew and that was the main secret to it. I got various friends involved in it, did the project, succeeded in '77, but unfortunately two thirds of the $100,000 was spent doing the project. So there wasn't enough to handle that debt. But Henry Cramer who put up the prize, now put up a new prize for something he thought would take another 18 years to win ... a flight across the English Channel. And we designed a plane to do that, which is just the basic original plane cleaned up a bit using modern materials, because if you cut down the power required by about 20 percent, a person can put out that power for a much longer period of time if you have the right person, and we did. We were very lucky to have Brian Allen flying the plane. And the flight across the English Channel worked in '79. And then there was a $200,000 prize and when all debts were paid, that was just enough to handle this $100,000 note at the bank. And I did not do any more human powered flights.

But that lead to other subjects and I started a solar plane project because it seemed essential to get the country thinking more about he use of solar cells for power. To fly an airplane with them didn't really seem very practical, but it was something that I could do that would make people sit up and think about solar cells, and got Dupont to sponsor the project and we did a solar, actually two solar powered, airplanes. First fixed up a small version of the human powered plane with a solar panel instead of pedals. My son, Marshall, actually made the first solar powered flight. Marshall is actually with me here tonight. That was on May 18, 1980 which my wife Judy alleged later had been our anniversary day for our marriage. And I should remember it in the future. And also Mount St. Helen's blew up that day, and I have remembered that date.

These projects were interesting, getting to be more a part of my activities. And then I got the Lindberg Award in 1982 and had to make a presentation to the Lindberg Foundation which was the occasion for me to focus all my attention on what I really had been doing, what subjects I was involved in, what I was interested in, and found that they fitted very well. Charles Lindberg's last 15 years when he was an environmentalist and I gave that presentation, but for the first time it got me thinking clearly about what I was interested in. And what I was enthused about was a world that works, a world that will be effective in 2000, 2050, 2100 and so on. And as I looked around at various projects, I pretended I was a space traveler who would visit the earth every 5000 years and just see what was going on. And for the previous 1000 visits just saw the same flora and fauna growing and things going on, but the last time, sort of right now, I saw this huge difference of humans dominating the society. And found that 98 percent of the vertebrate life mass on land and air is now humans and their livestock and pets. And only two percent of vertebrate mass in air and ground is wild nature. Ten thousand years ago, our 98 percent was not even 1/10th of one percent. Now it's 98 percent. And we just have to understand the huge effect that humans have on Earth. We tend to think, we sort of look around us, ourselves, and see what's here now, and may think about how it's going to change a little bit if you let your mind search a few 100 years in the past, a few 100 years in the future, you got a much bigger view and much more important one.

Now I'm trying to see if I can make an impact on these big effects that are going on in the world. The kind of consumption we have. I personally believe we can cut down our use of power, at least the kind of power that we can get from natural things not from fossil fuel. We can cut that power down by a factor of ten or so, from what we're using. We don't realize it until still we start thinking about it and calculate, and yes, you can make that big of a difference in the amount of energy we're using. And we have to if you try and think of what is civilization going to be in 50 years. In 100 years, we've got to be using less not more on one specific on cars. You heard that the company developed the impact car. It became the EV-1 that General Motors produced but now has taken back ... that suddenly batteries have gotten super efficient for cell phones and microcomputers. And you now could make a battery-powered car that would go 200, 250 miles, a regular five-passenger car. And if you do research on it and get the batteries working a little better, you could probably have 350, 400 mile electric car not using any fossil fuel. There's no car company that is interested in this subject right now. But we're putting pressures on them to get them interested and this is not just for this country. It's for many countries, and it's just one example of when you really start doing things that are important for the future.

It's amazing what you can do; things that were mildly efficient a few years back become very efficient and you focus on them. Just a ceiling fan, turns out you can get six times or use one sixth the amount of electricity to run it, and get the same amount of air flow when you want it. So just things like that you keep working on and the future is very exciting, and more exciting than the past has been.

We thank Teresa for this honor.
Paul MacCready
Paul MacCready