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James Tascione and part of Pedalusion

James Tascione and part of Pedalusion

One of my favorite classic movies is “Flight of the Phoenix” (the 1965 version starring Jimmy Stewart) where a motley group of people flying out from a remote oil production facility crash land in the Sahara desert. With little hope of survival against starvation, dehydration, and the deprivation of roaming raiders, they latch onto a plan put forward by one of the crash survivors, Heinrich Dorfmann (played by the legendary Hardy Krüger), who says he is an aeronautical engineer, to build a new plane from the wreckage of the old and fly themselves to safety.


The big third act reveal is that Dorfmann has only ever designed scale RC aircraft, not “real” planes, which sends the morale of the team into a nosedive. But, in the end, he is proven right, and the plane flies.


James Tascione is Heinrich Dorfmann, in more than one way, and he even got my reference to the Hardy Krüger character when we chatted on the phone recently. James is building a plane of his own design in the desert (in this case, it’s the Mojave), all by himself.

Two years ago, James had the idea. He was a lifetime RC airplane builder, and had been a touring cyclist. He was well aware of the history of human-powered flight, from the Daedelus in the ’80s, to the recent winner of the Sikorsky prize for a human-powered helicopter. Modern versions of pedal-powered airplanes have been turning to carbon fiber and other exotic, expensive materials to create durable aeronautic structures at extremely low weights (under 100 pounds). But James thought he could build something just as good, with inexpensive parts and materials, that could ultimately allow normal makers to fly under their own power.

And so he quit his job as a fry cook, moved to a hanger in the desert, sold his van for materials, and started building Pedalusion.

The design of Pedalusion (and even the name) has evolved over the last 24 months, but in her current form, she’s a 96′ wingspan pusher-type (the propeller is behind the plane and pushes it) canard (meaning the tail is at the front of the plane) biplane (double set of wings). She’s made of poplar wood and hard foam insulation, glued together with Gorilla Glue to make the composite structure. There’s some aluminum tubing for the body and landing gear (scooter wheels!), and the rigging is fishing line. Almost all the materials have been sourced from Home Depot and Lowe’s stores. When she’s ready to fly, she’ll weigh just North of 62 pounds, and require about 1/4hp of human effort to fly.

While James has designed and mostly built Pedalusion to be competition-sized (yes, there are human-powered airplane competitions), that’s just as a proof-of-concept. Most other competition craft are being built by well-financed teams, using exotic materials, and are generally one-offs. Once Pedalusion has flown, he plans to downscale the design, and (hopefully) with a bit of backing, start putting out kits that anyone can afford to build and fly.

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When he was collecting the above photos and sending them to me for this piece, James told me it was like cracking open a time capsule. I pointed out that he’d likely been so focused on the day-to-day work, it was easy to lose track of the big picture. His response: “I see where my life has been focused by the day and I am at least glad to know I didn’t waste any time.”

No wasted time, for sure, because Pedalusion is nearing completion and James is getting ready for the next stage. He’s had few visitors over the years. Bryan Allen, who famously flew the pedal-powered Gossamer Albatross over the English Channel has been by, but otherwise James has been doing this on his own, and is looking forward to making a little noise with the plane he likes to call a “hedge hopper.”

James believes Pedalusion will be assembled and ready for a tow-test in about six weeks. If everything goes well there, he’ll install the drive and fan system and be ready for full human-powered flight 2-3 weeks after that. If possible, MAKE will be there to chronicle the event.

If you’d like to get in touch with James about the project, and even stop by his hanger in the Mohave desert, leave a comment in this post, and we’ll make sure he gets word. You can also find him on Facebook.

Ken Denmead

Ken is the Grand Nagus of He’s a husband and father from the SF Bay Area, and has written three books filled with projects for geeky parents and kids to share.



  1. Jeremy Wray says:

    Wow! This project is an inspiration to makers everywhere! I just want to say good luck and I cannot wait to see the end result!

  2. gemno says:

    I believe this is so possible I’m willing to fly down in a traditional bird to help if you’d like. Give a shout out if you want an extra pair of hands. gemno AT hotmail. In any case I look forward to seeing history unfold here. Peace and happy flying.

  3. Robert says:

    As a FAA Airframe and Powerplant liscensed tech. Be sure to submit for your expermintal plackard before you leaxe the ground. There are so many regulations that you must adhere to, as well as the fact of need to comply with FCC for rado comunication with Aircarft Controle, carry transponders, and being that your aircrat might be hard for conviontional radar posably the nead for a TCAS system.

    1. jazzenjohn says:

      The craft would fall under part 103 and wouldn’t need an “expermintal plackard” or “rado” communication with “Aircarft Controle”. It wouldn’t need a transponder, nor a TCAS system. Being wrong about every single point in your post, I am really doubtful you are an A&P mechanic either.

      1. Robert says:

        Yes i am i was an employee for delta airlines in hartsville in there major overhaul maintaince hangar number two in the 90′s. but i was in the war and was hurt in an explosion 2009 i have ptsd and tbi, and am totaly disabled. Do not judge people! You are not god! I was trying to help not put him down.

        You are a poor representation of an american, and you wonder why every country in the world wants to kill us. Your comment is rude and you should pray to god for the way you treat people.

        Also you owe me and every one who reads your disperging remarks an apolay. Also if i were not an a and p and represented myself as one to a person constructing or maintaining their acft i would be comiting a crime according to the dot. My liscense is current until it is suspended, surrendered, or revoked.

        1. jazzenjohn says:

          You can say my reply was harsh, and I won’t disagree, but I have a GIANT problem with people who discourage and disparage those who are actually creating and building things that are new and different. You laid out point after point about what things he should do, and how this guy should proceed on his quest to build an inexpensive human powered craft, and every single point you made was wrong. There is probably no one else, out of the 7 billion people on the planet, trying to do this. It is a high risk, low probability of success endeavor, but he’s laying it all out on the line, doing the real work, using his own money, and doing a great job from everything I can see. If you really ever were an A&P You would support his dream of flight, you’d give him encouragement and help, rather than bad information all the while claiming to be an expert.

          I’ll be happy to apologize to you AFTER you apologize to him and admit you were wrong.

          Do you have the stones to do that?

          1. Robert says:

            I have no problem admitting I was wrong, And if my comments to him seamed in anyway derogatory I apologize. I think the creative nature of America is one of our greatest treasures. And I am glad to have fought and suffered for his rights to freely explore his dreams. However people need to realize as an Aircraft Mechanic, you are not only responsible for the lives of the persons who operate the aircrafts you work on and certify as airworthy, your responsible for everyone and everything under which it operates. A A and P can ground any aircraft if he thinks it is not airworthy, just as an EMT has a responsibility to take someone to the hospital that is of a danger to ones self or others. Also, even in the homebuilt aircraft industry an A and P must sign of on many critical steps of the constructions. There have been many instances where Pilots have crossed the line of there freedom to perform minor preventive maintenance on there Aircraft and end up killing more than themselves. I once had an owner of a twin engine Cessna ask me to mount an alarm-clock into his instrument panel so he could wake him self when it was time to change to another heading. And, he was an IFF instructor and operated his own flight school. There are reasons why the FAA and DOT require Annuals for personal use aircraft, and 100hr or progressive inspections for commercial aircraft. A parachute must be certified, even a life preserver. Why do you think a personal powered vehicle shouldn’t? If I were in his shoes I would assume nothing, and verify everything. Send a letter off to the FAA Oklahoma, and get a pice of paper from them either stating he’s good, or in need of an experimental application. Some one creating an aircraft like he is doing should not only think of his life, but should think he is flying over a field of new borne babies. Does he want to take there lives in his hands? Would you feel comfortable as he operated this untested, uninspected, uncertified, DIY aircraft flying over your children. I applaud, him and wish him all the best in his endeavor. Trust me the Government has a law and regulation for everything. And not knowing the law is not an excuse! The FAA wants you to succeed, but not at the risks of injury to others.

  4. Fred says:

    Think of it as a hanglider that can be assisted with the pilot ‘s efforts. If you are just gliding down a slope on private property, and then trying to extend the glide, there probably not many regulations you have to worry about.
    Get it flying first. And the best of luck to you.

  5. alice jarvis says:

    such an awesome endeavor. Good Luck to you, James.

  6. Emily Jarvis says:

    This is awesome James!! Very proud of you! I

  7. It’s an amazing, ambitious project by a lone craftsman. Keep up the good work James.

  8. joe says:

    wow. im so glad this guy fought for my right to do what I like. I thought America was going to invaded and taken over. so glad this man stopped it.

    good prject. I am working on a gear ratio that will allow me to pedal power a propellor, recumbant style plane. pitch control on the prop. ratio of 100rpm on pedals to 2000- 2800 on prop.

  9. Mirta says:

    Fcaremos felizes sse voc seguir nosso conselho e conhecer maios est sucesso: Trabalhne na sua Casa ( – Porto Alegre – RS).
    muitas outras forrmas dde consegur realizar um trabalho em casa,
    basta pesquisar. What are your hopes for all the people of the Earth for 2010.