Kudos, Oh Anonymous Author of Paul MacCready Obituary (THE ECONOMIST, Sept. 8- 14, 2007)

Still catching up with the reading, dear blog readers. Time is running out: classes at xxxxx community college begin Monday. Already self’s “In” box is full of messages from Dean and Department Administrator. The summer of 2007 went by much too fast.

But there are things to look forward to, in fall, such as :

    Halloween (Costco and Long’s already starting to stock the aisles with Halloween candy. Helloooo! If self were to purchase a bag of Hershey’s kisses today, it would not be around by the time Halloween rolled around. But perhaps that’s the idea)
    Much-postponed drive down to San Luis Obispo to see son (Whose standard greeting to self, the last four or five times self has managed to catch him, has been: “Hi, Mom! Ooops, gottan run!”).

Wonder of wonders, hubby surprised self with season tickets to the San Francisco symphony. Our seats are in “Loge” (wherever that is). First concert is Saturday, Oct. 6. Itzhak Perlman. Self can hardly wait.

In the meantime, self wishes to share with loyal blog readers fantastic obituary for Paul MacCready, inventor of the Gossamer Condor, who died Aug. 28, aged 81.

The Economist policy is never to publish the names of the authors of their articles, but self surmises that whoever wrote this particular obituary was greatly inspired by his subject. As, witness the marvelous precision and economy of the following :

Icarus did it with feathers glued together with wax; he flew too near the sun and plummetted into the sea. Giovanni Battista Danti tried it with pinions of iron and feathers in 15th-century Perugia, hurtling over the piazza and crash-landing on the church. Charles Bernouin in 1672 in Regensburg strapped a rocket to himself, as well as calico wings. His novel jet propulsion merely meant that he broke his neck, rather than his legs.

Paul MacCready’s Gossamer Condor, which made the first successful human-powered flight as recently as 1977, was some improvement on these. It was made of aluminum tubing, Mylar and piano wire, with a weird horizontal stabiliser poking from the front like the head of a stork. It weighed 70 lbs (32kg), with a wingspan of 96 feet (29 metres), and the engine inside it was a lean, determined cyclist called Bryan Allen, pedalling for all he was worth. Sheer perseverance got him five feet off the ground for about a mile (1.6km) round a figure-eight course, and won Mr. MacCready the first of many prizes.

Money was his only motivation, he said later. Because the prize offered for this feat by Henry Kremer, a British industrialist, exactly matched a debt Mr. MacCready had to discharge, he had started to think about flying machines and how to make them more efficient. But this offhand explanation was not strictly true. He had been fascinated by wings, and by flying, all his life.

It began with moths and butterflies. As a boy, he collected them on the Connecticut shore and pored over the exquisite studies of John Henry and Anna Botsford Comstock, two 19th-century naturalists, to explore the evolution and the vein structure of the wings of lepidoptera. Nerdy already, small and unsporty, he then buried himself in making and flying model aircraft: fixed-wing and flapping-wing, out of a kit or out of his head, propelled with rubber bands or with tiny petrol engines. Again, he won prizes. The boy who posed proudly for the camera with a balsa-wood glider and a silver cup grew naturally into the inventor whose chief joy was to make wings ever lighter and ever larger.

Self thinks dear blog readers will agree: the above is mighty fine writing. Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

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