Sunday, January 18, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Corrected version

Pedal-Powered Plane Prepares To Take On World Record

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

It has the wingspan of a Boeing 737, goes no faster than a 10-speed bicycle and weighs as much as a linebacker.

It's a human-powered airplane dubbed the Raven, and it's about to mount an assault on a 10-year-old world record for a pedal-powered flight over water.

The current record is 71.52 miles, accomplished in a flight of 3 hours and 54 minutes by a craft developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Inching closer to a flight date, designers of the Raven continued to make preparations yesterday, testing the aircraft's durability and ironing out the most minute of kinks.

Project engineer Paul Illian gathered with volunteers for a few hours in an empty hangar at the former Sand Point Naval Air Station to put the Raven through its paces.

After Illian pushed the aircraft forward at a running gait - with volunteers guiding each 57-foot wing - the aircraft's small landing wheel gently lifted a few feet off the ground.

Several test liftoffs went off without a hitch.

"Now it's no longer theoretical," said Illian, a Boeing engineer who has been working on the design of the plane over the past four years. "Now, it's a real airplane."

The small steps being taken now are in anticipation of the giant leap the plane will make in early April when it takes off from Point Roberts, near the British Columbia border, for a planned flight over Rosario Strait and Puget Sound to the Seattle waterfront - an estimated five-hour flight covering a record-breaking 100 miles.

The Raven project is a volunteer effort involving students from more than a dozen colleges and universities. It has received cash and other assistance from many area corporations.

Without its 9.5-foot propeller, the cycling mechanism and the pilot's tiny cockpit, the Raven yesterday weighed only 75 pounds. During tests, the plane was able to get off the ground nicely with up to 33 pounds of added weight.

Because it will be so light - 245 pounds at takeoff, counting the pilot - the April flight will have to be scheduled when there is no wind.

Such precautions are necessary for an aircraft that is as fragile as it is meticulously built.

The featherweight wings, for instance, consist of short lengths of wood doweling laid up with composite materials and covered with foam insulation and graphite material that's 0.1-inch thick.

Also on hand yesterday were a handful of pilot candidates who are among several selected to fly the Raven.

Potential pilots must weigh no more than about 140 pounds, and must be prepared to pedal rigorously for about five hours - a grueling feat that will make the pilot shed about six pounds, said Dan Tripps, physical-education trainer for the program.

At the time of liftoff, six pilots will be on standby to fly the Raven to produce the 0.4 horsepower that will carry it at a cruising speed of 24 mph across Puget Sound.

"This was the first time that I was actually able to see the size of the wings," said Shan Rayray, a 32-year-old pilot candidate who sprints and races bikes. "I was very impressed. It would be great to have the opportunity to fly it."

Arthur Santana's phone message number is 206-515-5684. His e-mail address is:

Published Correction Date: 01/22/98 - The Flight Of The Raven, A Super-Light Human-Powered Airplane Being Built In Seattle, Is Scheduled To Attempt A World Record When It Departs In A 100-Mile Flight Over Puget Sound In January 1999. The First Test Flight Of The Plane Is Set For April. This Article Incorrectly Reported The Dates.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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