This is the anniversary of a pretty unusual moment in the history of human flight: an airplane flew over the English Channel that was entirely powered by its pilot.

It was called the Gossamer Albatross, and it was designed by engineer Paul MacCready, who was a pioneer in nontraditional flight.

It was a pedal-powered plane, and the guy who was pushing those pedals was Bryan Allen, a scientist, hang glider and cyclist.

Allen set out from Folkestone, England on this day in 1979.

The first attempt ended in a crash right after it began, but an hour later, he tried again, and this time it worked, Allen pedaling furiously for 22.2 miles to keep the plane some 10 to 30 feet above the water.

And steering, too; at one point Allen had to change course a bit to avoid clonking into a supertanker.

It took two hours and 49 minutes to fly the Gossamer Albatross to Cap Gris Nez, where well-wishers were waiting with champagne.

One wing of the plane sustained some damage during the landing, but all in all, the flight had surpassed expectations.

Even Allen’s, who said, “It wasn’t as tough as we expected. It only seemed that way when I was only halfway across the Channel.”

The Gossamer Albratross weighed about 60 pounds, a pretty light plane, but then there’s the Antonov An-225 which weighs in the hundreds of tons.

The YouTube channel Ross’s Aviation World posted a video of this plane taking off, which is like watching a small country get airborne.

Pedal-Driven Plane Flies Channel (Washington Post)

Gossamer Albatross’ famed flight 33 years ago today (Hartford Courant)

Good Lord: Watching The World’s Heaviest Aircraft Take Off (Geekologie)

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Photo by European Space Agency via Flickr/Creative Commons