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Preparing to pedal into history.

Preparing to pedal into history

Next spring, an experienced, trained cyclist will step into a spindly, diaphanous aircraft in preparation for a historic flight. Starting from the rocky shores of the island of Crete in the Mediterranean, the pilot will pedal the aircraft about 70 miles across open water to the Greek mainland. If all goes well, the pilot will set a new record for the longest distance flown entirely under human power.

Researchers and students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last month rolled out the aircraft that is to make the flight. Named Daedalus, in honor of a mythical Greek character who donned wings and is said to have made a flight over a similar course in ancient times, the plastic-skinned, foamribbed aircraft weighs only 68 pounds, despite its 114-foot wingspan. The plane itself is about 35 feet long and is powered by vigorously pumping a set of bicycle pedals connected to rods that turn a 12-foot-long propeller.

Although it has a longer wingspan, the Daedalus is even lighter than its prototype, the Light Eagle, which earlier this year traveled 37.2 miles to set the current world record for human-powered flight. That flight lasted 2 hours, 13 minutes and 14 seconds. The aircraft cruised along at roughly 16 miles per hour barely 6 feet above the desert floor at the Edwards Air Force Base in California.

The construction of the Daedalus marks the beginning of the third and final phase of MIT's Daedalus project (SN: 4/12/86, p.229). Three athletes, all experienced amateur cyclists, have now been selected to train as pilots. Although only one cyclist will attempt the four-hour flight, a team of three athletes, working in shifts, is needed so that one would be ready to take off at a moment's notice when weather conditions are favorable.

"Although all three candidates are skilled athletes,' says John S. Langford III, project manager, "none has extensive piloting experience. Training them as pilots of an advanced human-powered aircraft is thus our top priority in the weeks to come.'

Weather is not the only uncertainty facing the project. Another major concern is providing a way to keep the pilot cool and supplied with nutritious liquids to replace the three or more pounds of fluid lost during the flight. Only about 20 percent of the energy expended by the pilot goes into powering the plane. The rest of is given off as heat.

Photo: Daedalus pilots and trainers (from left): Eric Schmidt, Glenn Tremml, Kanellos Kanellopoulos, Greg Zack and Lois McCallin. Trainers Tremml and McCallin were pilots of the Light Eagle and between them hold four world records for human-powered flight.
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Title Annotation:human-powered aircraft Daedalus to set distance record
Publication:Science News
Date:Nov 7, 1987
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