Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

TV Schedule
Alan Alda
For Educators
Previous Shows
Future Shows
Special Features

Show title

  segment title
 
 
Photo of Alan with a plane
  Alan takes to the skies with Paul MacCready's flying circus.

Meet Paul MacCready, aviation engineer extraordinaire. This record-breaking, prize-winning airplane designer is a life-long lover of all things that fly. An avid birder since his boyhood, MacCready has long looked to nature for inspiration. From operating model planes from the ground, to piloting sailplanes, to pioneering human powered flight, MacCready's designs borrow heavily from birds, bats and bugs.

In "Is It a Bird?," Alan joins MacCready and his colleague Bob Hoey as they test out their latest design. While watching real birds in action, Hoey suspected the large feathers at the wing's tip helped the birds turn without losing speed. By incorporating "feathers" like these into his own design, Hoey met his own challenge- to build a glider that soars and turns as well as a real bird.

Photo of Bob Hoey with his glider
Bob Hoey designed his glider to mimic actual bird wings.  

Inspiration and experimentation- it's a perfect example of the way MacCready works. Watching birds in the 1970's MacCready learned that large and light was the way to go. This lesson served him well in 1977, when he built the first successful human powered airplane - the Gossamer Condor - for which he also won a $95,000 prize. Today, at the age of 75, MacCready still watches the skies for inspiration.

For more on this topic, see the web feature:
Flying Firsts

return to show page

 

 

 

Is it a Bird?The Eternal WingEyes in the SkyTaking to the AirFlapping FlyersWalkalong Glider Resources Teaching guide Science hotline video trailer