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12th of June 1979

On this day in aviation history, the English Channel was crossed by an aircraft. That is not that exceptional in itself. What was exceptional in this crossing is that the aircraft was powered by a 1 HuP engine 1 HuP = 1 Human Power! The pilot was also the engine. The aircraft a MacCready Gossamer Albatross.

The MacCready Gossamer Albatross

As the name of the aircraft gives away, it was designed by Paul B MacCready, an experienced glider pilot and champion. The carbon fibre frame of the aircraft and the Polystyrene wing ribs were covered by a transparent Mylar film. The Dry Empty Weight of the aircraft was only 71 lb (32 kg), the take-off weight for the Channel crossing was close to 220 lbs (100 kg), including pilot weight and fuel for the pilot (water mainly).

The Gossamer Albatross was the second human-powered aircraft of his hand. The first aircraft was the Gossamer Condor and with this aircraft, he had won the Kremer Prize. £50,000 (established in 1959) in prize money to the first human-powered aircraft flying a figure-eight course covering over a one mile (1.6 km ) course. The course also included a ten-foot pole that the aircraft had to fly over at the start and at the end.

It was the Gossamer Albatross that won the second Kremer Prize for crossing the English Channel in a human-powered aircraft on this day in aviation history, the price £100,000.

Just before 6.00 in the morning on the 12th of June 1979 the amateur cyclist Bryan Allen powered the aircraft into the air at 75 rpm on the pedals. Near Folkstone England.

In-flight at cruising altitude

Shortly after take-off problems started with the failure of the radio. As the winds were stronger as predicted the flights' progress across the Channel was taking much longer than the expected 2 hours. With the increased headwinds the fuel burn (in this aircraft water use by the pilot/engine) and the water supply dried out. This caused cramps in the legs of Bryan Allen, and he struggled to maintain altitude and progress.

Skimming the wave tops during the times with emptied water supply and leg cramp

Because of the strong and still increasing headwinds, the emptied fuel (water) supply and the cramps, it was decided to abort the attempt and have one of the chase boats tow the aircraft to safety. To establish a connection between the aircraft and the chase boat the Gossamer Albatross had to change altitude, and with that found a calmer layer of air and the decision was reversed and it was decided to push on.

A good decision because the speed picked up and France became visible on the horizon.

The crossing was finally completed after 2 hours and 49 minutes. Achieving a top speed of 18 mph (29 km/h) at an average altitude of 5 ft!

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