VIDEO — Canadian engineering duo claim $250,000 prize for first human-powered helicopter
July 14, 2013
The world’s first human-powered helicopter by a Canadian engineer has won the Sikorsky Prize after performing a minute-long flight at an altitude of 3.3 meters – fueled only by the pilot’s pedaling of a modified bicycle.
The AHS Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition was established in 1980, in search for the first successful controlled flight of a human powered helicopter. The helicopter had to reach a height of three meters while hovering for at least one minute in a ten-square-meter area. The competition’s $250,000 prize had never previously been awarded, with numerous creative engineers trying and failing to meet the criteria.
“The AHS Sikorsky Prize challenged the technical community to harness teamwork, technical skills, and cutting edge technologies to meet requirements that were on the ragged edge of feasibility,” Mike Hirschberg, AHS International Executive Director, said in a statement.
The University of Toronto’s AeroVelo team pitched their Atlas helicopter against a team from Maryland University, winning the coveted prize. Dozens of students from Toronto’s team were involved in the project.
The Atlas measured 47 meters across and weighed only 54 kilograms, due to its super-lightweight carbon fiber tubes, which connected the vehicle’s four rotors to the bike.
The helicopter draws its power from the pilot’s physical strength to keep it in the air. Todd Reichert, who flew and engineered the aerial vehicle, explained to The Ottawa Citizen that “As you spin your legs, you spin the rotors…It’s very much an exercise in mental and physical control, at the same time as an all-out physical effort.” He said that flying the Atlas was an “incredible feeling.”
He added that “this isn’t something that you’re going to commute to work in any time soon, but it’s an exercise in really pushing the limits on what’s physically possible, and what you can do with lightweight materials and really creative design.”
Winning the prize has inspired the Canadian team to continue doing what they love while inspiring others to pursue big ideas, Reichert said.
More than a year was spent developing the Atlas helicopter, which faced many obstacles and underwent many changes along the way. The team’s structural engineer, Cameron Robertson, said he hopes “that this inspires not only our fellow Canadians, but also global citizens to do more with less.”
David Zingg, a professor at the University of Toronto’s engineering department, said the victory was “a great technological achievement, requiring ingenuity, knowledge, and experience in a number of challenging technical areas.” He added that “Todd and Cameron have provided tremendous inspiration for young engineers both in Canada and around the world.”
Todd Reichert and Cameron Robertson started AeroVelo as a team geared toward developing the award-winning helicopter and other human-powered vehicles. It is their hope that such projects will soon become an alternative or an accompaniment to vehicles which rely exclusively on burning fossil fuels.
The team has already had other wins, namely the 2010 human-powered ornithopter which they dubbed “Snowbird.”The invention flapped its wings to stay airborne, becoming the first bird-like vehicle to be flown by man.