A long-elusive aviation innovation prize that has never had a winner in its 33-year existence has finally been claimed after a team of Toronto engineers built and then flew a human-powered hover bike.
The highly-coveted Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition — known as the AHS Sikorsky prize for short — was awarded for the first time in its history Thursday to AeroVelo, a Toronto-based engineering team made up of University of Toronto students, alumni and volunteers.
The team named their winning invention Atlas, and were able to have the aircraft climb 3.3 metres in the air for a 64-second duration before the pilot landed it gently about seven metres away from its takeoff point.
A video of Atlas's vertical flight shows one of the teammates pedalling a customized carbon-fiber Cervelo bike frame as four giant rotor blades constructed from light carbon tubes begin to slowly rotate, lifting him above a pair of engineers' heads. The test flight was shot in the cavernous indoor Soccer Centre at Vaughan, Ont.
According to the rules of the competition, the winners must demonstrate human-powered flight for at least one minute in the air, and three metres above the ground. A pilot must also ensure the flying machine is steered so that it hovers within a 10-by-10-metre square.
Team AeroVelo's liftoff took about 15 seconds to reach the 3.3-metre altitude.
The record-breaking champs were presented with a $250,000 cheque from the American Helicopter Society (AHS), which put up the cash incentive for whomever could successfully design a human-powered helicopter.
Atlas, which weighs only 52 kilograms and has four 20.4-metre-diameter rotors, spans a width of 58 metres. Its design was revealed on Thursday.
The AHS described Atlas as an historic achievement, noting that competitors from Canada, the U.S., Japan and around the world have been vying to create a human-powered helicopter since 1980 to win the prize.
"It took AeroVelo's fresh ideas, daring engineering approach and relentless pursuit of innovation — coupled with more than three decades of advances in structures, composites, computer-aided design and aeromechanical theory — to succeed in achieving what many in vertical flight considered impossible," AHS International executive director Mike Hirschberg said in a statement.
The AHS Sikorksy competition has signalled that AeroVelo's win "is not the end, but the beginning," and promised that "another grand challenge" will soon be announced, although the details are currently being refined.