Anthony B. Wight
“ . . . they shall mount up with wings like eagles . . . ’’
—The Prophet Isaiah, circa 700 B.C.
According to Greek mythology, a man named Daedalus, imprisoned on the island of Crete, crafted for himself out of feathers and wax a pair of wings. Fastening the wings to his arms, he jumped from a cliff and soared to freedom on the Greek mainland. The event remains mythological, though cultural historians trace origins of the story to about 3500 B.C. On April 23, 1966, in a record-shattering display of human physical prowess and modern flight technology, a Greek cyclist emulating the myth flew under his own power in the superlight aircraft “Daedalus II’’, constructed by a team of scientists and students at MIT, from the island of Crete to the island of Santorini, 74 miles across the Aegean Sea. The long flight from myth to reality was at least completed!
This unit is intended for use in general science, physical science, and modern technology courses in grade 7-12. The most ideal setting for the unit would be an interdisciplinary study of the relationship between science and technology, on the one hand and the interaction between technology and culture, on the other. However, individual teachers closely attuned to the interests and skill levels of their students can adapt the material presented to enrich a wide variety of courses and curricular emphases.
Students complain that the study of science is dull, dry and boring. That this is too often true reveals our dependence as teachers upon teaching “about’’ science rather than engaging students in scientific inquiry and process. The scientific method, so easily mistaken as a rigid sequence of steps, deserves to be treated in a much livelier manner as a systematic
of knowledge involving
of a problem, collection of data through
, and the
of hypotheses. I borrow the underlined terms from Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary definition of scientific method, but give them emphasis because I believe none of these identified steps can take place without the creative exercise of imagination.
I propose to engage student interest in the study of human-powered flight by leading off with poetic imagery and Greek mythology; in particular, the myth of Daedalus. Initial discussions should examine the myth for its human meanings—the turbulent passions, crimes and punishments, political alliances, deceits, trickery, hope and hubris. Equally attractive is the use of the myth as springboard for discussion of the necessary technology of human flight. Daedalus fashioned simple wings from whatever materials he had on hand—wax, feathers, thread. He and his son would use their arms to generate needed power by flapping the wings. How possible is such flight by humans? What resistances must be overcome? What natural forces might be married to the task? How much energy would be needed? Can a body generate such power?
Teachers using this unit are urged to refer to my seminar colleagues’ units in this volume for more suggestions about teaching the science of flight. In addition, I highly recommend two previously published volumes of YNHTI Curriculum Units for further suggestions on mythology: 1983, Volume II:
Greek and Roman Mythology
and 1984, Volume II: