Human-Powered Helicopter Awarded $250,000 Sikorsky Prize
A Kickstarter-backed project has succeeded in flying a human-powered helicopter for a full minute, setting records and taking home the $250,000 Sikorsky prize.
When Todd Reichert settles into the pilot seat of the helicopter he helped build, there are no fancy electronic switches to flip, there’s no fuel tank to fill and certainly no computer to configure before take off.
What allows the 31-year-old to defy gravity is sheer human power, delivered to the craft’s four rotors through the bicycle pedals he steadily pumps throughout his flight.
It’s that fragile machine, built by Reichert’s Canadian team, which has now won a long-coveted international prize that lay unclaimed for years.
Since 1980, a challenge to engineers — to build a human-powered helicopter, capable of sustaining three metres of altitude for 60 seconds — had remained unaccomplished.
Teams from Japan to the U.S. came close to winning the Sikorsky Prize, but not close enough. Only Reichert’s team has fulfilled the seemingly impossible feat, earning it a $250,000 prize. The award-winning flight took place in June.
To win the Sikorsky prize, the helicopter must remain airborne for 60 seconds, with an altitude of 3 meters (a little less than 10 feet) to be reached at some point during those 60 seconds. It must also remain within a horizontal area no larger than 10×10 meters.
Robertson and Reichert had hired a stadium for five days of test flights. The successful flight didn’t occur until the very last day. Reichert, piloting the Atlas, remained airborne for 64.11 seconds and reached a top height of 3.33 meters within a 9.8-meter square.
AeroVelo, the project, was officially announced as the winner of the long-sought-after award, which comes with US$250,000 in prize money.
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