Human-Powered Helicopter Wins Sikorsky Prize

YouTube / AeroVelo
YouTube / AeroVelo / YouTube / AeroVelo

Last year I wrote about the Sikorsky Prize, a $250,000 purse that would go to any group that could: make a human-powered helicopter that can fly for 60 seconds, reach an altitude of 3 meters (peak), and remain within a 10-square-meter area during that time. The prize was established in 1980, and people have been working to win it ever since. On June 13 of this year, the prize-winning flight finally took place. The winners are the team at AeroVelo. Here's video:

The flight lasted 64.1 seconds and reached an altitude of 3.3 meters. Here's a less inspiring video showing the four reference camera views used in determining altitude, duration, and drift within the 10-meter square area. The best part is at 1:40 when everybody freaks out, realizing that the feat has finally been accomplished:

And here's what a failed attempt looks like (from March 15):

(There's way more where that came from on the AeroVelo YouTube Channel.)

Popular Mechanics has a nice feature on the flight. Here's a snippet:

The prize-winning flight came at the very end of five days of test flights, after which the space would no longer be available. On two earlier flights, Reichert pilot the craft, called Atlas, to heights of 2 meters and 2.5 meters. With just minutes remaining before the team was scheduled to vacate the stadium to make way for an evening soccer practice, Reichert managed to squeeze in one last flight. Within 10 seconds a horn sounded signaling that he had exceeded the 3-meter mark. At that point, Reichert knew that the challenge was to keep supplying enough power through his legs to keep the craft from descending too quickly. On two previous flights in which he'd flirted with the three-meter mark, Reichert had descended too abruptly and fallen afoul of a phenomenon called vortex ring state, in which a helicopter essentially gets sucked down by its own downwash. Both times Atlas had been wrecked. ...