According to ancient Mycenean myth, Daedalus escaped King Minos’s labyrinth on Crete and flew away on wings made of wax, feathers and thread. But his only son, Icarus, was less fortunate: he soared too close to the sun, the heat melted the wax and he fell to his death. Earthbound experts doubt that Daedalus, the legendary architect and craftsman of his time, had the stamina and strength needed to complete the 69mile flight. Still, a team of aeronautic engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Mass., will have more than feathers and wax to work with when they attempt to update his feat. Within the next two years a world-class athlete will rely on muscle power alone to drive an ultralight aircraft along Daedalus’s escape route. Declared project manager John Langford: “Daedalus is the oldest serious reference to humans flying as mortals. We have done a lot of things in the past 3,500 years, but we haven’t done what he did.”
The 15-member MIT team has joined forces with researchers from Washington’s Smithsonian Institution. Their first objective: to raise the $640,000 needed to build and fly a plane which will be 35 feet long and weigh only 70 lb. Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc., a St. Louis, Mo.-based brewing company, has donated $133,000 of the $235,000 already collected—and in return a prototype of the aircraft will bear the name Miche-
lob Light Eagle. And in re-creating a legend, the engineers will also be attempting to triple the modern record for a flight propelled by human energy alone—the 22 V2 miles from Folkestone, England, to Cap Griz-Nez, France, which U.S. cyclist and hangglider pilot Bryan Allen flew on June 12, 1979, while pedalling through the skies aboard the glider-like Gossamer Albatross.
During U.S trials this summer two candidates will try to set a new world record for flight duration aboard the Michelob Light Eagle. The winner will have a chance to pump pedals turning a single propeller for approximately five hours on a journey from the western tip of Crete to the Peloponnesian Peninsula in Greece. And the pilot will have only a simple rudder bar to keep the craft—built from a graphiteepoxy compound which combines great strength with lightness—on course while cruising at 17 m.p.h. only 20 feet above the waves. At that low altitude the pilot will be able to glide safely down to the water if he runs out of energy. Still, Mark Drela, an MIT assistant professor of aeronautics, noted that pedalling for five hours is “like running two marathons.” And to prevent pilot overheating—a modern variation of Icarus’s fate—the engineers are considering wrapping plastic tubing containing cooled drinking water around his body.
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