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Human-powered helicopter wins US prize

Last Updated: Saturday, July 13, 2013 - 10:17

Washington: A Canadian-built helicopter that is powered by a human riding a bicycle has become the first winner of a decades-old USD 250,000 engineering prize, the US awarder said today.

The American Helicopter Society had never given out its Igor Sikorsky Human-Powered Helicopter Award -- initiated 33 years ago -- until the team from the University of Toronto snatched it this week.

The challenge was to create a flying machine that would be able to reach a height of three meters (yards), fly for 30 seconds by human power alone, and stay in a 10 by 10 meter area.

"It was long seen as impossible to win this," AHS International executive director Mike Hirschberg told AFP.

The winning vehicle is called the Atlas, and was designed by a team of about 20 students and young professionals.

The aircraft is extremely light -- just 121.4 pounds (55 kilograms) -- but it spans a sprawling 162 feet (49.4 metres).

"This is not about creating a practical machine," said Hirschberg.

"This is to set a challenge for young engineers, to harness their creativity and technical skills and to experience working as a team against really, extremely challenging requirements," he added.

"It is sort of like climbing Mount Everest for the first time -- to prove it can be done."

The winning June 13 flight was pedaled by team leader Todd Reichert, 31, an aerodynamics expert and competitive speed skater.

Reichert is chief aerodynamicist at a company called AeroVelo, which was created by the students in their mission to win the competition`s cash.

AeroVelo co-founder Cameron Robertson, 26, said the aircraft is designed to be ridden by someone 160 pounds or less.

It also requires a fairly strong pedaler, requiring about one horsepower to operate, when the average person could probably manage a half horsepower, he said.

Robertson said the team was motivated by the prospect of "showing people that impossible is nothing."

The USD 250,000 prize, which was formally awarded Thursday after about a month of technical review of the winning flight, was also a key factor.

Winning it will allow the team to invest more in AeroVelo and support research with the current crop of University of Toronto engineering students, Robertson said.

"We are not rich but it will enable us and the students with us to continue doing what we love doing," he said.


First Published: Saturday, July 13, 2013 - 10:17
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