AeroVironment “Gossamer Condor”
Single-seat man-powered aircraft

Archive Photos ¹

AeroVironment Gossamer Condor at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC (02/20/2004 photo by Jim Hough)

Overview ²

  • Gossamer Condor
  • Role: experimental aircraft
  • National origin: United States
  • Manufacturer: AeroVironment
  • First flight: 1977
  • Status: On display
  • Number built: 1
  • Developed into: Gossamer Albatross

The Gossamer Condor was the first human-powered aircraft capable of controlled and sustained flight; as such, it won the Kremer prize in 1977. It was created by Paul MacCready and Peter Lissaman of AeroVironment, Inc.

Design and Development ²

The Kremer prize had been set up in 1959 by Henry Kremer, a British industrialist, and offered £s;50,000 in prize money to the first group that could fly a human-powered aircraft over a figure-eight course covering a total of a mile (1.6 kilometers). The course also included a ten-foot pole that the aircraft had to fly over at the start and end. Early attempts to build human-powered aircraft had focused on wooden designs, which proved too heavy. Very early attempts - notably the HV-1 Mufli (de) and Pedaliante - used catapult launches.

In 1961, Southampton University's Man Powered Aircraft SUMPAC took to the air at Lasham Airfield on 9 November, piloted by Derek Piggott, achieving a maximum flight of 650 meters. One week later, on 16 November, the Hatfield Puffin flew, and eventually managed a maximum flight of 908 meters but it was difficult to turn. The Jupiter managed 1,239 m in June 1972. The Nihon Stork B achieved over 2 kilometers in 1976.

In the early 1970s, Dr Paul B. MacCready and Dr Peter B. S. Lissaman, both of AeroVironment Inc., took a fresh look at the challenge and came up with an unorthodox aircraft, the Gossamer Condor. He took his inspiration from hang gliders, increasing wing area so that the drag of the wire bracing needed would be reduced. The Gossamer Condor is built around a large wing with a gondola for the pilot underneath and a canard control surface on a fuselage extension in front, and is mostly built of lightweight plastics with aluminum spars.

The Gossamer Condor evolved over a period of time through three distinct versions. The first version, known by MacCready as the Pasadena version, was a proof of concept aircraft which only flew once in the parking lot of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The first aircraft carrying the name Gossamer Condor was known as the Mojave Version, without pilot fairings and other niceties, flown at Mojave airport by MacCready's sons on 26 December 1976. The record breaking version, known as the Shafter version included all the improvements such as pilot nacelle and double skin airfoil sections, allowing the aircraft to fly long distances as well as maneuver.

The aircraft, piloted by amateur cyclist and hang-glider pilot Bryan Allen, won the first Kremer prize on 23 August 1977 by completing a figure-eight course specified by the Royal Aeronautical Society, at Minter Field in Shafter, California. It was capable of taking off under human power.

The aircraft is preserved at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

The success led Paul MacCready and AeroVironment to carry on with experimental aircraft: the Gossamer Albatross, which crossed the English Channel, the Solar Challenger, a solar electric-powered version that also made an English Channel crossing, and NASA's Pathfinder/Helios series of unmanned solar-powered aircraft.

Specifications and Performance Data (Gossamer Condor) ³


  • Single-seat man-powered aircraft.


  • Wire-braced high-wing monoplane.
  • Incipient-separation type wing section designed by Dr. Peter Listsaman.
  • Wings swept by 2.44 m (8 ft 0 in) from aircraft centerline to tips.
  • Ten ribs in each semi-span.
  • Wing spar 51 mm (2 in) diameter tubing.
  • Covering of ½ mm Mylar on upper surface, ¼ mm Mylar on lower surface.
  • Wing supported by landing wires from 2.44 m (8 ft 0 in) kingpost and flying wires from 3.05 m (19 ft 0 in) bottom post.


  • Wire-braced structure consisting of Mylar-covered cockpit nacelle and foam sheet leading-edge.

Canard Stabilizer

  • Aerofoil section and construction similar to wing.
  • Designed to pivot universally on outrigger, for conventional control in pitch and for directional control of aircraft, in conjunction with wing-warping, actuated via pilot's steering column; canard is rolled via ailerons at its tips.

Tail Unit

  • No tail unit, the Mylar covered fuselage acting as vertical stabilizer.

Landing Gear

  • Two non-retractable tandem wheels, not driven by pedals.

Power System

  • Man-power on bicycle peddles, transmitted by chain drive to a two-blade balsa-structure pusher propeller mounted aft of the wing at the end of a drive-shaft.
  • Propeller turns at between 105 and 115 rpm.


  • Pilot only, on lightweight reclining seat.

Dimensions, external

  • Wing span: 96 ft 0 in (29.26 m)
  • Wing chord at root: 10 ft 0 in (3.05 m)
  • Wing chord at tip: 5 ft 0 in (1.523 m)
  • Wing area, including canard: 800 ft² (74.32 m²)
  • Canard stabilizer span: 22 ft 0 in (6.71 m)
  • Canard stabilizer chord: 4 ft 2 in (1.27 m)
  • Propeller diameter: 12 ft 6 in (3.81 m)


  • Weight empty: 70 lbs (32 kg)
  • T-O weight, with 137 lb (62 kg) pilot: 207 lbs (94 kg)
  • Max pilot weight: 200 lbs (91 kg)


  • Average level speed achieved: 10 mph (16 km/h, 8.7 knots)


  1. Hough, Jim. “AeroVironment Gossamer Condor,” The Skytamer Archive, Copyright © 2004 Skytamer Images. All Rights Reserved
  2. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Gossamer Condor
  3. Taylor, John W.R., Jane's All the World's Aircraft 1978-79, Jane's Yearbooks, ISBN 0-531-03298 1, 1978

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