Human Powered Aircraft

A short glimpse at Human Powered Aircraft (HPA)
          Walking and running seem to be a common human ability when each of us is undeterred by any physical disability to perform it. Riding a bicycle would be twice the fun feeling our body blend into a contrivance which through our physical exertion and body movements allow us to reach speeds unattainable with our body alone and give us greater range and flexibility by merely burning stored fat in our bodies without artificial means whatsoever. You can feel the wind while you negotiate a turn on the curve of the road, feel your body hurled into momentum as you pedal faster to test your limit. With fats burned and upsurge of adrenalin on our system, it’s just plain wonderful to celebrate the joy of life sweating it out at the heat of exertion in being alive. But wait again, how about having twice this feeling on the same act of cycling, not on the confines of the earth but through the air, off the ground?

          A Human-Powered Aircraft (HPA) is an aircraft capable of sustained, controlled flight by human power alone through an act of pedaling which activates a mechanism for turning a propeller for thrust. Not to be confused with gliders which attain flight through wind and thermals or other designs catapulted at altitude utilizing a tensioned cable, pure HPAs were strictly human powered. The first recorded successful HPA flight happened in 1936 through the “Pedaliante”, an aircraft built and designed by Enea Bossi and Vittorio Bonomi of Italy. However, the feasibility of the flight was attributed to the extraordinary physical endurance of the pilot, Emilio Casco who made the flight possible thus it was contested that such achievement couldn’t be replicated by an average human. 

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            The Kremer Prizes as founded by Henry Kremer in 1959 caught the public attention and added much enthusiasm to the development of HPAs. Prize of £50,000 was offered to the first HPA to achieve flight in a figure of eight course around two reference points half a mile apart. With this, HPAs remained to be developed leading to the official authenticated HPA flight which was made by Derek Piggott aboard the aircraft “SUMPAC” for Southampton University’s Man-Powered Aircraft in 9 November 1961. A lot of succeeding HPAs were built which were flown successfully but failed to accept the challenge worthy of the Kremer Prize. This led Henry Kremer to increase the prize to £500,000 in 1967 and opening the competition to other nationalities where it used to be restricted to British entries.

          It took a decade until the challenge was won and achieved in 23 August 1977. The Gossamer Condor, an HPA built with a combination of balsa wood, cardboard, Mylar plastic and piano wire was designed and built by Dr. Paul MacCready and with Bryan Allen as pilot successfully flown the first figure of eight at a distance of 2,172 meters. The feat was repeated in 12 June 1979 when MacCready’s Gossamer Albatross flown again by Bryan Allen achieved flight from England to France winning the second Kremer Prize of £100,000.

              Dr. Paul MacCready died in his sleep in 30 August 2007. Known as the “Father of Human Powered Flight” owing to his successful HPA designs, he was regarded with honor in the development and success of HPAs. As of the present, HPAs were flown in major countries of the world and a human powered helicopter was flown back in 1989. The only thing is there had been no attempts at manufacturing HPAs for public transportation or sport. I suppose given the opportunity and the drive, any HPA enthusiast could attain the access to a blueprint of a promising HPA design to build, pedal and fly.


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