Retrotechtacular: The Gossamer Condor

For centuries, human-powered flight eluded mankind. Many thought it was just an impossible dream. But several great inventions have been born from competition. Challenge man to do something extraordinary, offer him a handsome cash incentive, and he may surprise you.

In 1959, London’s Aeronautical Society established the Kremer Prize in search of human-powered flight. The rules of the Kremer Prize are simple: a human-powered plane must take off by itself and climb to an altitude of ten feet. The plane must make a complete, 180° left turn, travel to a marker one-half mile away, and execute a 180° right turn. Finally, it must clear the same ten-foot marker. While many tried to design crafts that realized this dream, man is, at his strongest, a weak engine capable of about half a horsepower on a good day.

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Human Powered Flight Extravaganza


In case you haven’t heard, the Sikorsky Prize, an aeronautical challenge to build a human-powered helicopter that can hover at three meters for a full sixty seconds, has been claimed. This incredibly difficult engineering feat was accomplished by AeroVelo, along with a lot of help from the University of Toronto and a host of companies involved in the design and manufacture of rotorcraft. This prize has stood unclaimed for thirty years, and it’s not from lack of trying; in the 80s and 90s, universities in Japan tried their hand at the challenge, and recently a team from the University of Maryland had a go at it.

But as far as human-powered flight goes, a helicopter is just about the least efficient way to get off the ground. Helicopters need power to provide their own lift and thrust, whereas airplanes only need to generate some forward momentum.

From the bicycle-powered crossing of the English channel in 1979, human-powered flight has come a long way, so far that next the Royal Aeronautical Society will be hosting the Icarus Cup 2013. It’s a competition where teams of human-powered aircraft enthusiasts will compete in challenges measuring distance, speed, endurance, and landing accuracy.

No, it’s not an ornithopter from Da Vinci’s notebook, but human pectoral muscles aren’t powerful enough for that anyway.

Thanks [DainBramage1991] for sending this one in.

Hackaday Links: March 21, 2012

Don’t get your dirty fingers on the glass

[Poke] sent in a video of him using Android devices with a wiimote and PS3 controller. The build uses the Joystick2Touch and the USB Joystick Center app. Root is required, but this will be very useful when tv-sized Android devices start showing up.

Wonderful restoration work

[John] sent in an Instructable on restoring an ancient typewriter. It’s almost beautiful seeing all those delicate metal parts so finely cleaned and reassembled.

Proof of the Big Bang is in one of these articles

[Paleotechnoligist] has been reading the technical journals from Bell Labs. These people were the Google of the 20th century and did some amazing stuff. Here’s the math for getting to the moon and a thing about “cellular telephony.”

Oooohhh extruded aluminum

[Richard Sum] sent us a pic of his new 3D printer kit he’ll be offering soon. Very professional looking.

Flying like a three dollar bill

[Yannick] and [SaakNeMah] sent in this video of a guy strapping on bird wings, running down a field, and then flying for about 100 meters. The project is Human Birdwings and it’s gotten an amazing amount of press coverage. We’re calling fake on this for three reasons: the wings didn’t produce lift, the camera angles are all wrong (only applicable if there was a single flight), and this guy would be a gazillionaire if his wings actually worked. Argue amongst yourself in the comments; we’d love to be proven wrong.