A year’s worth of work would smash into the ground

**By Aza Raskin   Article

“1959 was a time of change. … a British industry magnate by the name of Henry Kremer wondered: Could an airplane fly powered only by the pilot’s body? … He offered the staggering sum of £50,000 for the first person to build a human-powered plane that could fly a figure eight around two markers set a half-mile apart. Also, he offered £100,000 for the first person to fly across the English Channel. In modern U.S. dollars, that’s the equivalent of $1.3 million and $2.5 million. The Kremer Prize was the X-Prize of its day.

A decade went by. Dozens of teams tried and failed to build an airplane that could meet the requirements. It looked impossible. … Paul MacCready, decided to get involved. … MacCready’s insight was that everyone who was working on solving human-powered flight would spend upwards of a year building an airplane on conjecture and theory without a base of knowledge based on empirical tests. Triumphantly, they would complete their plane and wheel it out for a test flight. Minutes later, a year’s worth of work would smash into the ground. …

He came up with a new problem that he set out to solve: How can you build a plane that could be rebuilt in hours, not months? And he did. He built a plane with Mylar, aluminum tubing, and wire. The first airplane didn’t work. It was too flimsy. But, because the problem he set out to solve was creating a plane he could fix in hours, he was able to quickly iterate. Sometimes he would fly three or four different planes in a single day. The rebuild, re-test, and re-learn cycle went from months and years to hours and days.

…  Half a year later later, MacCready’s Gossamer Condor flew 2,172 meters to win the prize. A little more than a year after that, the Gossamer Albatross flew across the English Channel. So what’s the lesson? When you are solving a difficult problem, re-frame the problem so that your solution helps you learn faster. Find a faster way to fail, recover, and try again.” – Article

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