National Geographic : 1988 Aug
AEDALUS! On the wings of myth he flew from the Mino an palace at Knossos in Crete, evoking wonder and awe. Though mythology is re plete with flying creatures, Dae dalus introduced a new dimension -man flying under his own initiative. Thus we have given his name to a diaphanous aircraft of graphite fiber and plastic that will become one with its pilot. Perhaps the ancients, who were always combining humans with animals to create such charac ters as Pan and the Minotaur, would appreciate our craft half man, half machine, each incomplete without the other. The Daedalus team on Crete numbers 40, mostly faculty members, graduates, and stu dents from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where our research project was con ceived and the aircraft built. Our goal is to break the distance record of 22.5 miles set over the English Channel by Bryan Allen in Gossamer Albatross.* But we've really set our sights for Santorin, 72 miles away. Though some myths say Dae dalus landed in far-off Italy, we chose Santorin because it is the first major landmass north of his takeoff point at Knossos. Ironi cally, this volcanic island that the ancients called Thera con vulsively exploded in the second millennium B.C., belching a deadly cloud of ash that affected the whole Minoan world. In the glare of automobile lights (below) on a calm April morning at the Greek Air Force Base near Iraklion, team mem bers ready the aircraft for flight. Offshore the support flotilla waits: a patrol boat of the Greek Navy, two coast guard cutters, two photographic boats, a com mand boat carrying Steve Bus solari-an MIT professor who directs Daedalusflight opera tions-and me. In three inflatable craft that will shadow Daedalus closely, students check provisions for the ride to Santorin: fuel, life jackets, rescue gear, smoke markers, and snacks. They also check airplane disassembly kits: *Bryan Allen described the "Winged Victory of 'Gossamer Al batross' " in the November 1979 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.