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Sikorsky Prize claimed: 64 s of human flight end 33 years of toil


July 12, 2013

The prize-winning flight of AeroVelo's Atlas (Video still: AeroVelo)

The prize-winning flight of AeroVelo's Atlas (Video still: AeroVelo)

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It was last October when Gizmag first reported on the exploits of AeroVelo, the lastest in a long line of flyers, high and otherwise, to vie for the US$250,000 Sikorsky Prize. To claim the bounty, a human-powered helicopter must fly for over a minute and attain an altitude of over 3 m (9.8 ft) while remaining within a 10 m x 10 m (33 x 33 ft) box. On June 13, AeroVelo's Atlas helicopter did precisely that.

The Atlas set a world record with its flight time of 64.11 s, flew to a height of 3.3 m (10.8 ft), and deviated from an effective standstill by only 9.8 m (32 ft). The flight consisted of a 10-second ascent followed by a very gradual return to Earth, during which the pilot had to work against drift.

AeroVelo says the record-breaking Atlas has changed significantly since the version which flew for 4 seconds last August, no doubt spurred by two crashes during testing earlier this year. However, the team was always going to be one to watch given its prior achievement of breaking the college-level human-powered land speed record with its Vortex bicycle in 2011.

The prize-winning Atlas has four rotors arranged in a square formation. These are mounted on shorter arms than in previous models, so that the rotors now overlap. The main structure of the aircraft (I think we can call it that now) is composed of carbon fiber strengthened with Vectran braided cord. The ribs and skin of the rotor system are made from polystyrene, balsa wood and polyester film.

The drive system is bascially a bicycle. With gusto, the pilot pedals from the center of the vehicle, reeling in four Vectran cords from their spools around the rotor hubs, spinning the rotors themselves into action. A flywheeel evens out the power delivery, though the team points out that this is not capable of storing energy ahead of takeoff.

Control surfaces on the rotors' tips have been replaced with what AeroVelo describes as a "leaning/thrust-vectoring control system," in which the bicycle frame is connected to each rotor shaft (with yet more Vectran) so that when the pilot leans one way or another, so do the rotors.

On Thursday, the Canadian team, including pilot Todd Reichert, received the prize money from the American Helicopter Society and Sikorsky, effectively rubber stamping AeroVelo's achievement. In 2009, Sikorsky increased the prize money to the current amount from the $10,000 set when the prize was established 33 years ago.

You can see a video of the winning flight below.

Source: AeroVelo

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life. All articles by James Holloway

Congratulations team AeroVelo! The video looks amazing. I hope they pursue further gains in the coming years in the hope that real world spinoffs occur.


The title of the article is quite apropos. I've been following this competition for 20 years and am very happy Aerovelo was able to finally win it. Well done!


Fantastic achievement!


and if it would have been done outside,, SPLAT, yes impressive acheivement

Bill Bennett

64 seconds of human powered helicopter flight from a strangely suspended bicycle

Ricky Hall

impressive wheelie Todd ! But why the rear wheel again ? Balance ? Or is that the "flywheel" ?


Glad to see they didn't use a recumbent cycle. The weight penalty is way too high....pffft. When you're fighting gravity, they are useless.


Excellent, congratulations to the team on a great effort!!! I don't see anyone taking one of these downtown any time soon. Think of the parking hassles!!! :-)


The effort is good.But it seems only for a personal hobby.Why don't these organisers call for international challenge even with prototype/device/machine or by the idea and design because some people from poor countries can only sketch in paper and prove it theoretically.Lot of ideas still hiding in this world.lets try further too.

Mr Lama

NOTHING is impossible!

Dax Wagner

Congratulations to AeroVelo's team, this is a Fantastic Feat and Accomplishment. Without question a very difficult and complex project that required endless patients and perseverance. Keep your eye's towards the horizon, your heads on a swivel and feet on the ground to now apply the plethora of lessons learned for new concepts, spinoff, and endless applications to participate or lead the development of other worthy projects and products the world of aviation and its eager customers await.

If you can Dream it, You can Achieve it...YOU DID. Aim High and then even Higher... I salute your teams most notable efforts! Again Congratulations...there were other worthy teams that deserve the highest respect as well...but the strongest, fastest, and most tenacious won.

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