Design Engineering

Canadian human-powered helicopter hopes to take off this week

By Design Engineering Staff   

General Aerospace Aerospace AeroVelo human-powered helicopter Sikorsky Prize Todd Reichert University of Toronto

Toronto group, AeroVelo, looks to snag elusive $250,000 Sikorsky Prize.

The group of aeronautics engineers who conquered the centuries-old challenge of designing and flying a human-powered ornithopter are looking to attain another seemingly impossible flight goal this week.

According to the Toronto Star, AeroVelo, a 12-member group of engineering students headed by University of Toronto engineering Ph.D. grad, Dr. Todd Reichert, have spent the summer building a human-powered helicopter in an attempt to win the elusive Sikorsky Prize.

Established in 1980 by the American Helicopter Society International, the Igor I. Sikorsky Prize promises to award a $250,000 purse to the first team to develop a human powered helicopter that flies for 60 seconds and three meters off the ground. Over its 30+ history, none of the many attempts have successfully claimed the prize.

Dr. Reichert and his team, however, believe they have a good shot of succeeding. According to the Star, the group has been clandestinely assembling their flying machine, called the Atlas, within the Vaughan Soccer Centre. Details of the Atlas are being kept under wraps due to fierce competition from rivals including University of Maryland’s team and its Gamera II helicopter, which set the reigning flight record of 49.9 seconds last summer.


What is known about the Atlas comes from the group’s web site. According to AeroVelo, the four massive rotors blades are composed of a carbon fiber main spar, with airfoils constructed of expanded polystyrene foam and a thin sheet of Mylar.

For the power plant, Dr. Reichert—pilot of the group’s Snowbird ornithopter—will pedal an ultra-light Cervelo racing bike adapted to the helicopter. At 80 kg, Reichert is the heaviest single component of the Atlas but the most important. As a national level speedskater and cyclist, he will be required to maintain 1.2 horsepower for a full minute if the flight is to succeed.

According to the group’s in-house developed aerodynamics analysis software, the average power required for a one minute Sikorsky Prize flight is currently estimated at 550 Watts. After training for months, three hours per day, Reichert’s output has reached 772 Watts, providing a healthy margin of error. That, combined with the reported largest human-powered helicopter ever built, may be enough for the team to reach yet another seemingly impossible flight achievement.


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