Friday, June 12, 2015

Wither Human Powered Flight?

Is the future of purposeful human-powered flight, recreational or otherwise, a non-starter? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Back in June 12, 1979, It seems that the “dawn” of human-powered flight was already at hand when Bryan Allen, pedaling continuously for 2 hours 49 minutes, became the first pilot to successfully cross the English Channel under his own power via the first “man-powered airplane”, the Gossamer Albatross. Unfortunately, when the 1980s came and went, the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration never issued guidelines and licenses for “recreational man-powered aircraft”. Given the aeronautical engineering challenges, is human-powered flight a non-starter due to the low power-to-weight-ratio of the “human machine”? 

Bryan Allen’s Gossamer Albatross flight back in June 12, 1979 may be the most successful demonstration of human-powered flight given that none comparable attempt had happened since, but mankind has successfully flown before under his own power some years before. Back in 1962, John Wimpenny holds the international record for successfully flying a specially designed aircraft for more than half a mile in which he himself was the engine. 

John Wimpenny’s dream of a “human-powered flight” was first given impetus back in 1959 when a British plastics manufacturer named Henry Kremer offered a UK £5,000 prize for the first successful flight of an aircraft based on a human propulsion system. In November 1961 a group of aircraft engineers and technicians headed by Whimpenny completed construction of a plane which they christened the “Puffin”, built primarily of wood and covered with plastic skin. Fundamentally, it was a cross between an airplane and a bicycle because the “cockpit” enclosed a single-wheel cycle; the pilot pumped the pedals, turning the wheel for takeoff momentum and at the same time spinning the propeller for in-flight thrust. 

On May 2, 1962, Whimpenny, who had warmed up for the flight by cycling 5 miles to work every day for 2 years took the pedal-powered Puffin to an altitude of 8 feet and traveled for 993 yards. The flight set a record, but won no prize because the contest specified a longer flight and a figure-8 course. Although Kremer has since upped the prize to UK £10,000 since Wimpenny’s 1962 attempt, the “Kremer Prize” still awaits a winner. 

1 comment:

  1. In 1973, Henry Kremer increased his prize money tenfold to UK£50,000. At the time, most human powered aircaft invented so far traveled only in straight or nearly straight line courses and no one had yet even attempted Kremer's more challenging stipulation of a figure-8 course which required a fully-controllable aircraft. Henry Kremer also opened the competition to all nationalities which previously was restricted to British entries only.
    On August 23, 1977, the Gossamer Condor 2 flew the first figure-8 course at a distance 2,172 meters which won it the first ever Kremmer Prize. It was built by Dr. Paul B. MacCready and piloted by amateur cyclist and hang-glider enthusiast Bryan Allen. Although slow and cruising at only 11 miles-per-hour or 18 kilometers per hour, it achieved that speed with only 0.35 hp or 0.26 kilowatts - as in Bryan Allen's power output.
    The second Kremer Prize of UK£100,000 was won on June 12, 1979 again by Paul MacCready when Bryan Allen flew MacCready's Gossamer Albatross from England to France across the English Channel - a straight distance of 35.82 kilometers or 22 miles 453 yards in 2 hours 49 minutes.