Introduction

On June 13, 2013, AeroVelo’s Atlas human­‐powered helicopter won the AHS Igor I. Sikorsky Challenge and its $250,000 prize. During the record-­breaking 64 second flight, Atlas reached a height of 3.3 metres, meeting all requirements of the 33 year old aviation challenge.

Photo taken during the award winning Sikorsky Prize Flight. Click the image to see a video of the flight.
Photo taken during the award winning Sikorsky Prize Flight. Click the image to see a video of the flight.

The American Helicopter Society’s Igor I. Sikorsky Human-Powered Helicopter Competition represents the third largest monetary prize in aviation history. The monumental feat requires a human to hover to an altitude of 3 metres under his/her own power, and to remain aloft for at least 1 minute. The challenge is test a of ingenuity, athleticism and determination.

The core members of the project team have been working together since 2006 on the world record setting Snowbird Human-Powered Ornithopter as well as the series of high-speed streamlined bicycles. Over the course of the various projects we have built a wealth of experience in human performance, lightweight composite construction, and advanced aerodynamic design. We firmly believe that, with our collective expertise and experience, the AHS Sikorsky Prize is well within our reach.

The team undertook initial feasibility and design studies for Atlas in January of 2012. With intermediate development through the spring, in April Todd and Cameron began work full-time on the design of the helicopter with special attention to programming a full aero-structural optimizer for the helicopter rotors.

The Atlas Human-Powered Helicopter at the Soccer Centre in Vaughan, Ontario, August 2012 (Photo Credit AHS International / www.vtol.org)

The team’s initial ambitious goal was to capture the Sikorsky Prize by the end of summer 2012. Design and construction continued through the summer at breakneck pace, and the team was ready for flight testing by mid-August. Two weeks of exciting flights and experimentation showed excellent progress, and with a steady increase of Atlas’ flight envelope and capability the team had achieved 15 second hovers by September. However, power testing and subsequent analysis have shown that this helicopter is very capable of satisfying the prize requirements. After rotor improvements Atlas captured the prize during a flight on June 13, 2013.

In the same vein as the aircraft and bicycle projects, the AHS Sikorsky Prize provides an inspirational narrative: the project pushes the boundaries of possibility, showing that with creative solutions and innovative design we can do far more with far less.

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