Modern-Day Daedalus

Daedalus 88
April 23, 1988 Daedalus flight to Santorini
MIT photo collection
Permission pending

The Daedalus Project brought together students, faculty, and alumni, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to push the limits of human-powered flight. They built a light-weight (68.5 pounds) aircraft out of polystyrene foam, graphite strips, Mylar plastic and aluminum. Bicycle pedals supplied the power and the rudder, elevator and pitch propeller were controlled by hand. The team hoped to break the world's record (22 miles set in 1979 over the English Channel), learn more about human endurance, and increase interest in energy-efficient aircraft.

The Daedalus 88, named for the mythical Greek who escaped from Crete by flying on wings made of wax and feathers, flew from the Greek Iraklion Air Force base, near Knossos, to Santorini, an island north of Crete. The record-setting flight took place on April 23, 1988, lasting three hours 54 minutes. After 72.44 miles, gusty winds snapped the tail boom as the pilot tried to position the craft to land. So, the Daedalus ended in the water just 100 feet short of Santorini's black sand beach. The pilot swam ashore.

Fourteen-time Greek champion cyclist Kanellos Kanellopoulos piloted the grueling, record-breaking flight. Years later, Rick Gunn* asked Kanellopoulos how he got through the super-human feat.

Greek icon
Saint Nicolas, Greece
St Nicholas Center Collection

"'St. Nicholas,' he said without hesitation. "Who?" [Gunn] asked again, knowing he couldn't mean Santa Claus.

"'When I was a year old, my father brought me to a small village to kiss the icon of the miraculous St. Nicholas.'

"'And what did that have to do with your flight of the Daedalus?' [Gunn] asked.

"He turned toward me, pulled down his glasses and looked me in the eye, 'He is the protector of sailors, saints and those that travel over the seas.'"

* "Taking Flight in Greece: South Lake Tahoe photographer meets real-life Daedalus" by Rick Gunn, Tahoe Daily Tribune, April 27, 2006
"MIT Daedalus, " Wikipedia
"Flight of the Daedalus From Crete to Santorin, 1988" MIT Institute Archives & Special Collections
"Daedalus Project's Light Eagle - Human Powered Aircraft" NASA

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