A team of brilliant engineers came together to win the $250,000 Sikorsky challenge posed by AHS – American Helicopter Society to build a fully-functional helicopter powered by a human alone. To win the challenge, the helicopter had to reach a height of 3 meters, stay in a 10-meter radius and hover for at least 60 seconds.
Although it seems pretty simple in theory, it is extremely difficult to achieve in practice. For the last three decades, no team could claim this prize until Aerovelo. The team from Aerovelo, after four years of work, development and tests on a human-powered helicopter, finally won the challenge and made history. Their helicopter weighs only 55 kg which is an incredible feat and its human engine was Todd Reichert. Reichert was a national speed skater as well as an athlete for human-powered vehicles.
The team ran 30 different structures for the helicopter through software analysis which included parameters like lift coefficient, rotor geometry, spar diameter and wing thickness to figure out a suitable mass of the copter, flight stress developed and the power required for flying.
It was determined that the helicopter needed a power of at least 550 Watts and a pilot weighing 80 kg to produce the uplift that will levitate the aircraft above ground. Reichert weighed less that 80 kg and generated a power of 772 Watts per minute. The helicopter is designed using struts made from carbon fiber along with the body and propellers that were made of Styrofoam covered with plastic. The remaining components were built using string and aluminium.
The final design by Aerovelo had four huge 33.5 feet rotors and had the maximum length of 154 feet comparable to the dimension of Boeing 737 but weighing about 600 times less that the latter. After many failed attempts and accidents, the team got exasperated and the project was discontinued for sometime after the 2012 crash when a strut collided with a wall and the entire structure collapsed.
On 13th June 2013, after four long years of frustration and perseverance, the Aerovelo won the prize and made a record. After uncountable adjustments, remodelling and trial-runs, the winning design – named Atlas – was able to hover for 64 seconds at a height of 3.3 meters making history in the arena of aviation. Let us know what you think of this human-powered copter. Have a look at the video below!
Can you improve this design? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.