It all sounds so very simple. Build an ultra-light helicopter pedalled like a bicycle by a person, that will rise at least three metres and stay off the ground 60 seconds within a 10-metre square area. Yet, no one has been able to do it since the American Helicopter Society’s $250,000 Sikorsky Prize was established in 1980, in honor of Igor Sikorsky who designed and flew the first rotor-powered helicopter in 1939.
But within the next few weeks, an Ontario team of young aviation enthusiasts called AeroVelo hope to make history by winning the Sikorsky Prize with the human-powered helicopter named Atlas they’ve been building in a barn in Tottenham, north of Toronto.
Led by two engineering science grads from the University of Toronto – Todd Reichert and Cameron Robertson – the team has to combine creative ingenuity with the basics of engineering, physics and aerodynamic computer simulations to make Atlas fly. Of course, Atlas has to be very light and it also has to be huge. Tip to tip it’ll be as big as a Boeing 747 jet.
And don’t forget the most important factor of all – the human leg power needed to get it aloft and keep it up in the air. Todd Reichert will be the helicopter’s engine. He’s a national-level speed skater and a competitive cyclist with a power output of 772 watts per minute which is like a cyclist pedaling at 52 km per hour.
Both Todd and Cameron Robertson aren’t newbies to human-powered engineering. In 2012, AeroVelo built and flew the world’s first human-powered ornithopter which is a plane that flaps its wings. In 2011, they set the College Human-Powered Land Speed Record of 116.9 kms per hour.
The Atlas human-powered helicopter project “pushes the boundaries of possibility, showing that with creative solutions and innovative design we can do far more with far less,” Todd was quoted as saying in a University of Toronto news story.
See a picture of the team and read the bios of each of team member on the AeroVelo Atlas website. The members are: Dr. Todd Reichert, Cameron Robertson, Victor Ragusila, Carson Dueck, Trefor Evans, Marc Jutras, Nick Martel, Calvin Moes, Aidan Muller, Jake Read and Alexis Reichert. Follow the team's progress on getting Atlas in the air at its Twitter feed - @aerovelo
If you’re fascinated by anything related to flying and would be interested in tech careers in the aerospace industry, check out some of the sensational flight achievements of Canadian companies in the CareerMash Aerospace Industry profile.