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Human-powered flight- Daedalus seeks record


Daedalus, the archetypal engineer of Greek mythology, escaped the labyrinth of King Midas by flying out with wings he built himself. He was the only mortal in ancient mythology to fly without divine assistance.

Project Daedalus, an undertaking jointly organized by MIT and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, may transform the Greek myth into reality. The project's developers seek to construct a craft capable of setting new world records for human-powered flight distance and duration.

"The Daedalus myth represents the dream of flight," said Stephen R. Bussolari '83, assistant professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

The group hopes by the spring of 1987 to make the craft fly 70 miles in about 4.5 hours, according to Bussolari, a member of the Daedalus working group. He discussed the project in an IAP lecture Jan. 17.

The current record for human-powered flight distance is held by the Gossamer Albatross craft, which flew 22.5 miles across the English Channel. The Monarch B, a human-powered aircraft built at MIT, set the world speed record for human-powered flight -- approximately 22 mph -- at the Kremer World Speed Competition in 1984.

The Daedalus aircraft, like the mythological character, will fly from the island of Crete to the Greek mainland, Bussolari explained.

The Daedalus project has three goals, Bussolari continued. The first is the study of Daedalus, Western civilization's most prominent mythical engineer. The second is to explore new levels of human physiological achievement. Finally, the project will utilize new advances in aeronautical engineering.

The Daedalus team hopes to take away the distance record from the Gossamer Albatross by designing a better airplane and by flying in more favorable weather, Bussolari said. The Albatross fought against a substantial head wind during most of its record-setting flight.

The design goals of the Daedalus plane include a 70-mile range, 15 knot speed, the ability to fly at night or in light fog, and a structure that can withstand about three times the force of gravity, Bussolari said. One prototype design of the craft has a wingspan of 31 meters and a mass of only 31 kilograms obtained using an advanced carbon fiber structure.

The pilot will provide three watts per kilogram of body weight. "That's like riding a bicycle on level ground at 20 mph for 4.5 hours," Bussolari observed.

The project will soon finish its feasibility study phase and enter the design phase, he said.