9 Incredible, Human-Powered Aircrafts–And The Gutsy Pilots Who Flew Them

Building on dreams that have lived since Icarus and his sadly melting wings, Japan’s team Team Aeroscepsy is planning a new long-distance attempt at the human flight record of 75 miles. Here’s how they are taking wing, and how it’s been done in the past.

The human-powered flight craze got a little crazier this morning when a Japanese team said they’d be attempting to beat the human-propelled plane record in a vehicle made of polystyrene (yes, that’s roughly the same annoying plastic-y foam that protects nearly every device you’ve ever bought inside its box, or which leaks from your comfy beanbag’s torn seams). Team Aeroscepsy is planning on having a professional cyclist act as the engine for the Gokurakutombo aircraft in January, as the stamina training required for continuous pedaling efforts would be tricky for a typical person, no matter how light they were. The video below shows the team’s beautifully smooth 2010 test flight.


Gokurakutombo is an unlikely vehicle weighing in at just 81 pounds, but with a wingspan half that of a Boeing 747–the huge surface area of this wing is needed to lift the mass of a person at the kind of slow speeds human muscles can manage. The voyage is intended to be a four-hour flight that’s 75 miles long, to beat the previous record set by a U.S. university in their Daedalus aircraft in 1988. Both vehicles are building on the record of the first human-powered aircraft capable of controlled, sustained flight–the Gossamer Condor, which first flew in 1977. More recently human-powered flight has got even more advanced thanks to ultralight engineering materials like carbon fiber–and this has even enabled human-powered helicopters to take to the sky…okay, the calm air inside a university gymnasium, but you know what we mean.

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