Atlas Installed at the Ontario Science Centre


Exciting News! The Atlas Human-Powered Helicopter has just been installed on permanent display in the Ontario Science Centre, completed on October 22nd.

View of Atlas when entering the Weston Family Innovation Center (Photo by Ontario Science Centre)

View of Atlas when entering the Weston Family Innovation Center (Photo by Ontario Science Centre)

 

After concluding the Atlas project in 2013, we started looking for a permanent home for the helicopter. Early on we found that the Ontario Science Centre has been following our work for several years: they had been interested in acquiring the Snowbird (which was ultimately committed to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa), and were equally-excited about the Atlas. However, after some initial discussion and layouts it seemed impossible to accommodate the entire helicopter in the OSC, and any installation concept would include only half the aircraft. Given that the most breathtaking aspect of Atlas is its size, we had hoped to display the entire helicopter in one piece. Unsurprisingly, after a survey of nearly every aerospace and science museum in North America, it became clear this would not be possible. The OSC is nonetheless an incredible home for the helicopter, given its proximity to Toronto and the staggering number of annual visitors, more than 1 million each year.

Rotors being cleaned for the last time and prepared for hanging (Photo by Alexa Robertson)

Rotors being cleaned for the last time and prepared for hanging (Photo by Alexa Robertson)

he Atlas’ was installed in the Weston Family Innovation Centre, suspended from the ceiling in permanent flight. Despite only half being on display, the size of the helicopter is still well conveyed in this gallery: one rotor tip projects into the entry gateway as visitors walk into the exhibit, and the furthest tip is inches from the opposite wall!

Todd finesses the trusses into their final arrangment (Photo by Alexa Robertson)

Todd finesses the trusses into their final arrangment (Photo by Alexa Robertson)

 

The installation proceeded in two stages. On one day, Todd and Cameron packed up the helicopter in Tottenham for the truck ride to the OSC. After arrival, the half of Atlas was unpacked into the display hall for final restoration and cleaning (with the help of several project team members, thanks all!). The second day we started at 7am, starting with the suspension of the truss structure from the ceiling. This was quite a dance and challenge, as the trusses were passing through utilities/electrical conduits, barely missing lights, and in some places resting in contact with the building structure.

Assembly of the hubs begins! (Photo by Alexa Robertson)

Assembly of the hubs begins! (Photo by Alexa Robertson)

fter 5 hours the truss was finally fixed in final position. The rest of the day was devoted to mounting the hubs, attaching rotors, and fixing bracing lines in place. The OSC staff was incredibly helpful and patient, treating the helicopter with care and respect as parts were juggled and minutely adjusted to reduce the stress on the entire structure. So much adjustment and overhead access was required that by the end of the day the batteries were completely depleted on both of the electric cherry-pickers/lifts being used for installation!

 

The trusses and hanging bike frame are hard to pick out among the mechanical features of the hall: that’s because there’s helicopter everywhere! (Photo by the Ontario Science Centre)

The trusses and hanging bike frame are hard to pick out among the mechanical features of the hall: that’s because there’s helicopter everywhere! (Photo by the Ontario Science Centre)

The helicopter is installed, but there is still much work to be done in the future on creating display material, as well as a hands-on interactive component to help visitors learn about the helicopter and the science behind it. The staff at the Science Centre is excited for this next stage, and so are we. These projects are meant to inspire and teach the public, and we’re looking forward to reaching a young, energetic, and enormous audience for the foreseeable future.
Even after the display is completed, all is not done. We still need to find one or more homes for the remaining two “quarters” of the Atlas. We’re looking for a home in Canada or the US, and if anyone has any suggestions we look forward to hearing them!

It’s been an incredible journey, and we hope everyone has a chance visit the Ontario Science Centre to see and appreciate Atlas, and we’re excited for the opportunity for it to inspire the public for years to come.