Thought I would post this because it happened in my hometown and my dad was there to see it. I would say I saw it, but I was only 8 months old when it happened, but I was there, too…
Team joins to remember historic flight
Human-powered plane put group in the record books
BY HERB BENHAM, Californian staff writer
e-mail: email@example.com | Saturday, Aug 25 2007 9:55 PM
Last Updated: Saturday, Aug 25 2007 10:01 PM
Saturday would have been a lousy day to fly a human-powered vehicle.
The Gossamer Condor flies in 1977.
This photo was taken in 1977 at Minter Field, a few days after the record-setting flight. Back row, from left, Peter Plum, Tyler MacCready, Paul MacCready, Parker MacCready, John Lake, Kirke Leonard, Joseph Mastropaolo, Jim Burke and Peter Lissaman. Front row, from left, Phil Esdaile, Vern Oldershaw, Jack Lambie, Jack Franklin, Bill Beuby, Sam Duran and Bryan Allen.
The year leading up to the flight included one crushing setback after one crushing setback, said Phil Esdaile.
Too hot, too much wind, too many clouds.
However, if you were looking for the brainpower to pull it off, the lunch crowd at the Tailspin Caf at Minter Field in Shafter would have been a good place to start.
Saturday, more than 25 people celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Gossamer Condor. The Condor was the first human-powered flight that did more than hop like a one-legged stork. On Aug. 23, 1977, the Condor, averaging a whopping 10.35 mph, completed a figure-eight course, made history and won the $86,000 Kremer prize for the first human-powered flight.
The flight lasted 71/2 minutes and landed the team that built it in the record books – and the 70-pound Gossamer Condor in the Smithsonian, for a while – next to the Spirit of Louis.
What makes this more than just a juicy tidbit for flying enthusiasts is that the flight took place at Minter Field in Shafter, a dirt clod’s throw off Lerdo Highway. Saturday, many of the 16 men who worked on the plane munched chicken drumsticks, drank lemonade and revisited the ties that perhaps only death can sever.
The original team was a ragtag crew. Ragtag not meaning down- and-out, but people who were willing to work seven days a week in order to try to get this bird off the ground.
They had one thing in common:, they loved to fly, tinker and weren’t acquainted with the word “quit.” The group included a retired postman and his wife, the hangar mom who fed the group, a scientist, an illegal alien (in this case, New Zealand), and an amateur bike racer and avid hang glider pilot who flew the plane.
“If you think of computer nerds, that’s much more the flavor of this group,” said the Condor’s pilot, Bryan Allen at the group’s 20-year reunion in 1997.
The flight was supposed to take place in Mojave, but Mojave wouldn’t cooperate. Too much weather. Too much wind.
“We needed calm conditions,” said Sam Duran on Saturday, now an environmental specialist with Chevron. “Really light winds.”
So Paul MacCready, the plane’s owner and designer, moved it to Shafter where he secured a hangar, a cooperative airport and better weather.
One of the unsung heroes was Vern Oldershaw, a retired postman who had run a rural route. He was a self-taught aeronautical engineer and a superb constructionist who could see things first and talk about them later.
“Blueprints? What blueprints?” Oldershaw said at the group’s 1997 reunion. “We built the plane first, then drew the pictures.”
Although everybody was important, the pilot Allen, an amateur bike racer at the time and a then recent graduate of Cal State Bakersfield, had to be fit. He not only flew the plane but helped build it, too.
The year leading up to the flight included “one crushing setback after one crushing setback” said Phil Esdaile on Saturday, one of the crew who was at the time a 20-something illegal alien from New Zealand who worked as a mechanic at Minter Field.
The team had at least five crashes prior to the record-setting event. Aug. 23, 1977 looked like another day of disappointment for the group anxious to launch the Condor. The plane was made of aircraft-grade aluminum covered with mylar, measured 1,110 square feet distributed over just 70 pounds and was lighter per square foot than a model airplane.
Flights had to be in the morning because the wind whipped up in later in the day. At 6 a.m., the wind was erratic, but at 7, “calm prevailed and the Condor moved into position,” wrote The Californian’s Andy Kehe.
Allen, the 137-pound pilot, clad in biking pants (Allen rode for Vincent’s Cycle Club), shoes, and a red and white T-shirt, took his place at the pedals. The flight, most of which took place three to four feet off the ground, included clearing 10-foot-high bars at the start and finish.
The Condor flew about one mile.
“Subsequent flights were much more outstanding,” said Allen in 1997, who himself piloted one of those – a 22-mile human-powered flight in 1979 over the English Channel in the Gossamer Albatross. “But the Gossamer Condor is historical because it was the first – you can point to it and say, ‘Here’s really the beginning.’”
The Condor’s motto was “Build it simple, build it slow.”
Allen was there Saturday looking not an ounce over his playing weight. Also present were Duran, Esdaile, Joseph Mastropaolo, Peter Plum and Taras Kiceniuk Jr., according to Duran.
Owner and designer MacCready, who went on to form his own company called AeroVironment, was ill and could not make it from his home in Pasadena. Vern and Maude Oldershaw died within four months of each other in 2003, according to Duran and Allen. Also deceased are John Lake, Jack Lambie, Bill Beuby and Jack Franklin, according to Duran.
Before she died, the then 59-year-old Maude Oldershaw, the hangar mom, flew the Condor, thus becoming the first woman to pilot a human-powered plane.