University of Toronto Team Wins Human-Powered Helicopter Prize

By Wesley Fenlon

Team AeroVelo fly--or at least, hover--their way to victory.

After 23 years, a team from the University of Toronto have finally conquered the AHS Sikorsky Prize challenge and claimed its $250,000 prize. All they had to do was fly at least 9.8 off the ground, in a human-powered helicopter measuring less than 32.8 feet square, and stay in the air for at least 60 seconds. Team AeroVelo did it on June 13, but it took a month of verification to earn them their prize.

The Sikorsky Prize's challenge is so tricky that its sponsors have regularly increased the prize from its $10,000 starting point in 1980 up to today's $250,000. The human-powered helicopter used to win the prize is every bit as wild looking as you'd imagine. It weighs only 115 pounds and has four 67-foot rotors to lift it off the ground. It's 190 feet long. A single pilot pedals the entire rig up into the air.

AeroVelo made the award-worthy flight on the last attempt of its allotted testing run on June 13. They had their helicopter set up in an indoor soccer field and only had time for one more shot at breaking the 9.8 foot mark and staying aloft for more than a minute. Then it happened--pilot and engineer Dr. Todd Reicher pedaled his way into the air and slowed his descent enough to keep off the ground for a solid minute.

According to Reichert, descent is the hardest part--the helicopter can be pulled into its own downwash and land too quickly. Watching the helicopter take flight is pretty amazing, and you can easily see it drifting during the test. It's not exactly built for outdoor use--even with the secure environment, the helicopter is easily damaged during test flights.

Check out the video of the record-breaking flight below.