Biography of Famous Flyer in Greek Mythology Icarus Part 3

A biography and historical account about early flyer Icarus, who flew too high with wings made by his father Daedalus in Greek mythology.

INTO THE WILD BLUE YONDER--NOTED AVIATORS

ICARUS (c. 1100 B.C.)

He banked into a slow, sweeping turn and looked back for Icarus. He was not on the cliff. "Here I am, Father," he shouted. "It's so easy, and so much fun! And you told me it would be hard." The two flew east wingtip to wingtip. They were without instruments, so they had to navigate by means of visual sightings of the familiar island landmarks of the Aegean. With no altimeter, Daedalus knew that they must rely on judgment to keep to the proper altitude.

Daedalus looked back over his shoulder to check on Icarus, who seemed to be lagging behind. Icarus was climbing, higher and higher, on a column of warm air, oblivious to the shouted warnings of his father. Icarus set an altitude record that day that was to stand for centuries, but he did not live to enjoy his fame.

As he climbed closer to the sun, the eagle feathers pulled out of the wax, which was growing soft in the heat. As Daedalus circled below, he could see the feathers dancing through the air, falling slowly. And then there was a moment of searing panic in the mind of Icarus. His wings were falling apart; he was rapidly losing lift. There was an instant of stasis, of not climbing or descending, and then the plunge, faster and faster in a ragged, tumbling, arching dive into the sea.

No one can be certain of why Icarus continued to climb, even when he knew the risk. The euphoria symptomatic of oxygen starvation (remember that they flew without oxygen masks) must have set in and blunted his mind to the danger. Perhaps only a fellow aviator who has felt the same soaring freedom from earthly restraint can understand the seductive siren song of the sun that drew Icarus ever higher.

Daedalus circled the crash site (longitude 26 deg. E, latitude 37 deg. 32' N) for several hours, but there was no sign of his beloved son; only the scraps of eagle feathers bobbing on the blue waters of the Aegean. The nearby island of Ikaria was named in honor of Icarus, the pioneer aviator, youngest in history, who flew not wisely but too high.

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