Aviation history : The desire to fly in the mythology


Human beings have been obsessed by the idea of flight since the dawn of recorded history. Men have always imagined themselves cavorting among the clouds, wheeling and soaring like birds. The mythology of many cultures abounds with gods and kings borne through the air; the power of flight was often attributed to gods. Allegorical figures and fantastic creatures representing flight abound and frequently take the form of flying beasts or human figures equipped with wings. Myths and legends have played an important part in manís conquest of the air; if he could fly, man would escape the troubles of earth, be free as a bird and be closer to the gods. The intensity of ancient manís desire to fly can be found in many philatelic reproductions.



15 November 1984

40th Anniversary of ICAO

Icarus in flight

One of the best-loved stories in mythology concerning flight is the tale coming from Greece about Daedalus and his son Icarus. Daedalus was a famous architect, inventor, and master craftsman. He worked for King Minos of Crete and built the labyrinth in which the monstrous Minotaur was imprisoned. Incurring the Kingís displeasure, Daedalus and his son Icarus were jailed in the labyrinth. As Minos controlled the sea around Crete, Daedalus realized that the only way to escape was by air and built wings for him and Icarus, fashioned with feathers held together with wax. They successfully flew from Crete, but Icarus grew exhilarated by the thrill of flying and soared too close to the sun god Helios; the wax holding together his wings melted from the heat and he fell to his death, drowning in the sea. Daedalusí flight long has stood as a symbol of safety, success and progress in flight. But flying was also for the gods; Icarus, a mortal, should not have tried and was punished for his arrogance.



20 September 1985

40th Anniversary of ICAO

Winged figure

Pegasus†is a winged horse that played part in several legends of the Greek mythology. A version of the legend reports that this magical winged horse was born on earth. One day, as it was drinking from the spring of Pirene in Corinth, Bellerophon broke him in. Mounted on the miraculous steed, the latter accomplished great exploits, showing that with the help of godsí mankind can tame the elements. Bellerophon wanted eventually to ascend into the heavens. Zeus, the king of the gods in Greek mythology, unseated him and the winged horse was changed into a constellation. Pegasus can be compared to todayís finest raced horses and represents a kind of immortality, i.e. the rider of Pegasus could fly through the air to reach the heavens. Therefore, Pegasus symbolizes mankindís desire to take the air, as well as the capricious nature of the element.


The theme of Pegasus and Icarus can be abundantly found in the ICAO philatelic collection. Throughout centuries, symbols have conveyed a universal language. They still speak powerfully to us; some relate directly to peace and flight. Friendship and understanding for the benefit of all mankind through the safe and peaceful development of civil aviation were the founding principles of ICAO set forth in the Preamble to the Convention on International Civil Aviation.


The mural in anodized aluminum, Man in Flight, commissioned by Switzerland from Hans Erniís design, was originally planned for the entrance lobby to ICAOís prior headquarters on 1000 Sherbrooke West and was installed there in 1975.

It covered three sides of the main elevator core of the building.

The main side of the mural shows Daedalus on the left and a winged horse on the right.


The mural Man in Flight was relocated in the lobby of ICAOís current headquarters on 999 Boulevard Robert-Bourassa.


The main figure of Erniís mural, adapted to become Icarus flying towards the sun, was the picture of ICAOís 40th anniversary poster, and later was regularly used by ICAO on covers for its documents and CDs.



The picture of Icarus was recommended to ICAO Contracting States as design for stamps commemorating the 40th anniversary of ICAO.

Several countries took the opportunity to celebrate this anniversary with the suggested design.


Brazil - 21 October 1959

Semana da ASA Ė Air Aviation Week

This commemorative cover and stamp (showing allegorical figures representing flight and the great desire to flight) commemorated the 53rd anniversary of Santos-Dumontís first sustained flight in Europe at the Bagatelle, Paris on 23 October 1906 with his machine, the No 14-bis.


Italy - 29 September 1952

Diplomatic Conference on International Air Law. Pegasus.

This Conference adopted a new air law convention on damage caused by foreign aircraft to third parties on the surface.


Somalia - 20 November 1984

40th Anniversary of ICAO. The†winged horse Pegasus.