Lindsay inventor loses life’s work after fire guts workshop

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KAWARTHA LAKES-George MacArthur spent the last 30 years trying to solve the mystery of human powered vertical flight. “In a flash of insight I had imagined a way to build a human powered vertical flying machine that wasn’t a rotercraft that wasn’t a helicopter.” MacArthur told Kawartha 411. “It just struck me, it just came to me and I ruminated on it for a while. I didn’t have anything necessary to try to execute the project at the time, I didn’t have the finances, I didn’t have the shop chops, the skills, the manufacturing knowledge, and I didn’t have the time nor the inclination, so I simply shelved it.”

For years inventors and engineers have been trying to solve the elusive mystery around human powered vertical flight.

The 49 year-old Lindsay native worked a variety of different jobs over those 30 years, stumbling on a career choice that would eventually lead him to become a sought after violin bow maker and bring him back to to his high flying idea.

MacArthur played guitar and decided one day to start playing the violin. He says the bow on his violin needed to be restrung and he decided to do it himself, unaware that it’s a very difficult thing to accomplish. MacArthur told kawartha 411 he went to a violin shop in Toronto and they told him it was impossible to string your own bow. Never one to shy away from a challenge, MacArthur did just that. “Without this story it’s arguable, it is possible that I might not have become a bow maker.” He says one thing lead to another and he thought if he could sting the bow he could make the whole thing.

George MacArthur Bows are unique, hand crafted creations now sought after by the likes of Natalie MacMaster and the Leahys. “It’s the level of attention that’s given to all of the things that make a good bow, the materials, the wood selection, how its carved,” that makes his bows unique.  The head is designed differently and it’s seven sided instead of round. “Violin players are actually really fussy they prefer a really good bow and a mediocre violin, rather than other way around.” MacArthur remarks. This self taught bow maker toils away meticulously making his hand crafted masterpieces in the basement of his home in Lindsay.

MacArthur Bow

As the popularity and the price of his bows grew MacArthur was starting to think about bringing his vision for a human powered vertical flying machine to life. After a number of unsuccessful attempts at trying to find a corporate sponsor he decided he was financially stable enough to go it alone.

In 2013 he gave up making bows and concentrated full time on his new invention. “A human powered vertical flight machine, is a machine that is meant to fly, a human pilots the machine using arms and legs, the intention of this machine is to fly straight up in the air and hover, there’s no motor, the human is the motor, the source of energy to drive the machine” he explains.

It’s something that has stumped many inventors over the years. “In the history of this pursuit there’s only been two teams that have gotten of the ground and for a very short period of time.” The highly-coveted Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter (vertical) Competition was awarded for the first time in its history in 2013 to a Toronto-based engineering team made up of University of Toronto students, alumni and volunteers who built and then flew a human-powered hover bike.

MacArthur says the history of horizontal flight was solved in mid to late 70’s and it proved to be a big deal at the time. “It flew across the English Channel to claim a prize called the Kremer Prize and about 50 thousand British pounds at the time.” The Kremer prizes are a series of monetary awards, established in 1959 by the industrialist Henry Kremer, that are given to pioneers of human powered flight. The competitions and prize awards are administered by the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Human Powered Aircraft Group. One of the first machines is now in the National Air and Space Museum.

MacArthur was hoping that his invention, if successful, would garner the same money and prestige. The materials alone cost him about $25,000 over the years and about 7000 hours of his time. It’s estimated his total investment of time and money is worth about $250,000.

For four years he worked full time making almost every piece of his aircraft by hand, ordering materials from as far away as China. He started the process in a friends shop, moving to the Lindsay Exhibition grounds and eventually to a barn on Angeline Street. By the fall of 2017 his invention was 85% complete. It was the size of a two car garage and only weighed about 75 pounds. He is hesitant to show photo’s of the full aircraft because it would divulge his proprietary secrets.

Part of MacArthur’s Invention.

He was so close to solving the mystery he could almost feel the wind in his hair. But it was not to be. On September 24th the barn that housed his almost complete invention burned down. “I was devastated, a whole bunch of emotions rolling through at the same time, the first day was work more or less, day two was pretty bad,” he recalls. “I knew I would have to start again, and I knew I was looking at years. To see yourself fairly close to a finish line and then in an instant , in a heart beat know you are now facing years of work.”

What’s left of his invention after the fire

He had no insurance. MacArthur says they think a group of kids were drinking and possibly smoking behind the barn and caused the fire. The Kawartha Lakes Fire Department told Kawartha 411 that the fire is definitely suspicious.

He’s not giving up though. Violinists will be happy to hear he’s gone back to making bows full time, but he’s slowly rebuilding his invention. “I put myself in a big financial hole doing this but if things worked out well and I found a sponsor I would go back to it full time. Right now it’s just part time and I will nibble away at it here and there.”

“It would allow me proof of concept if I could solve human powered vertical flight, I would be able to generate interest in solving personalized motorized flight transportation… It is an academic pursuit but there’s a lot to learn just from creating the technology.”

To find out more about MacArthur Bows and George MacArthur go to http://www.georgemacarthur.com