The Alcor, conceived during the early 1960s by Robert Lamson, was one of the first sailplanes in the U.S. made of composite materials. Today, similar materials have taken an ever more prominent role in the aviation industry. Other innovations, like a pressurized cockpit (a first for a sailplane) and a solar heater, keep the Alcor's pilot comfortable at high altitudes. Lamson flew the experimental sailplane recreationally from 1973 until it was donated for use in a scientific study.
From 1985 to 1989, the Alcor flew in a study of the Chinook Arch in Alberta, Canada. The Chinook Arch is a weather phenomenon associated with severe turbulence in the Canadian Rockies. Unlike powered aircraft, the Alcor could glide over the area of interest and collect undisturbed meteorological and environmental data for extended periods of time.
Alcor designer and builder Robert Lamson turned his interest in composite technology at the University of Washington into a 50-year career in aviation. After a brief period in the Army Air Corps, Lamson joined the Boeing Aircraft Company as a test pilot. During the 1940s, he worked at Boeing on oxygen systems for high-altitude flight, leading to his interest in aircraft pressurization.
Lamson's interest in composite construction led to the innovative design of the Alcor. The sailplane's fuselage consists of Sitka spruce veneers overwrapped with fiberglass and foam sandwich assemblies over "S" glass monospars were used for the wings and tail. This construction allowed for an airframe that was light, yet very strong. These materials also had an interesting side effect -- the wings bent upwards in flight. Although this might be a bit disconcerting to some, it actually has aerodynamic benefits that improved performance.