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 for Sun, July 27, 2008

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EAA AirVenture Today is published by the Experimental Aircraft Association for EAA AirVenture from July 27 - August 3. It is distributed free on the convention grounds as well as other locations in Oshkosh and surrounding communities. Stories and photos are copyrighted 2008 by EAA AirVenture Today and EAA. Reproduction by any means is prohibited without written consent.


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The official daily newspaper of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

Volume 9, Number 1 July 27, 2008     

A tale of patience: Making of The Flight of the Gossamer Condor
By Barbara A. Schmitz

Boyd Estus, director of photography, holds the 16-mm camera as he shoots the Gossamer Condor in flight, piloted by Bryan Allen. Producer Ben Shedd’s shadow can be seen in the lower right-hand corner. This picture was used in the film and on the DVD cover.

There’s no doubt Ben Shedd is persistent and patient. That’s the only way you can explain how the film The Flight of the Gossamer Condor came to be.

Shedd and his crew spent one year following and filming Paul MacCready as he attempted to create the first human-powered airplane and win the Kremer Prize. In 1959 Henry Kremer, a British industrialist, offered a prize of 50,000 pounds—$85,000—to the first group that could fly a human-powered aircraft over a figure-eight course covering a total of 1 mile, or 1.6 kilometers.

Shedd wound up with 25 hours of film for a 27-minute documentary.

But it was worth it; the short documentary earned Shedd and producer Jacqueline Phillips Shedd the 1978 Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject, as well as 14 other international film awards.

To celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary, The Flight of the Gossamer Condor has been remastered in high definition and digitally restored from a new Academy Film Archive preservation film print. The movie, which will be shown throughout the AirVenture grounds during the week, can also be purchased at EAA merchandise outlets. Shedd will bring the film’s Oscar to the showings, where he’ll talk about the film and show behind-the-scenes bonus footage.

Using a cyclist to power the craft, MacCready built the Gossamer Condor from aluminum tubing, piano wire, and Mylar plastic. It was basically a 96-foot long flying wing. But at times both Shedd and MacCready wondered if the plane would ever fly and capture the Kremer Prize. (It achieved both.)

MacCready’s team made hundreds of test flights, sometimes crashing but all the time learning how to make the aircraft more stable and easier to control. After six months, MacCready tore it apart and started anew, changing the shape of the wing and enclosing the cyclist. More tests, more crashes, and more changes followed.

Then, on August 23, 1977, the Gossamer Condor flew into aviation history by successfully flying the course set up by the Royal Aeronautical Society, at Minter Field in Shafter, California. The aircraft now hangs in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, and a clip of Shedd’s film is part of the exhibit. The winning flight is shown in the film, but Shedd said they had to be innovative in filming.

"As it made longer and longer flights, we had to find different ways of filming it," Shedd recalled. "First we used a camera dolly and ran pulling it on the runway as the plane went by. But as it made longer flights, we rented a 1961 Dodge convertible from Rent-A-Wreck and stood in back…driving parallel with the airplane."

The Flight of the Gossamer Condor Oshkosh Screening Schedule

  • Sunday, July 27, 8:30 p.m. - EAA Fly-In Theater, shown with The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress (1944).
  • Tuesday, July 29, 11:30 a.m. - SkyScape Theater, EAA AirVenture Museum; immediately followed by an Authors’ Corner session with Ben Shedd at the EAA AirVenture Museum store.
  • Wednesday, July 30, 2:30 p.m. - Honda Pavilion; 4 p.m., Authors’ Corner with Ben Shedd at the Sky Shoppe.
  • Thursday, July 31, 11:30 a.m. - Authors’ Corner with Ben Shedd at the Sky Shoppe.
  • Friday, August 1, 11:30a.m. - SkyScape Theater, EAA AirVenture Museum; 1 p.m. Authors’ Corner with Ben Shedd, EAA AirVenture Museum store.

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