Helicopters Magazine

Features Procedures Safety & Training
Smithsonian beckons for helicopter development teams

May 29, 2013  By Carey Fredericks

May 29, 2013, Toronto - Teams from the University of Maryland and the University of Toronto are poised to claim the coveted Sikorsky Prize and $250 000 for building the first human powered helicopter to climb three metres, stay airborne for 60 seconds, and stay in a 10 metre square.

University of Maryland's Team Gamera and Todd Reichert's Team Aerovelo – comprised of several University of Toronto engineering graduates and an Aerospace Professor Emeritus – fell short by mere inches in recent attempts and both teams are rapidly regrouping to execute the winning flight that will land their helicopter in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Three other active teams with little or no flight time are lagging well behind but remain undeterred.

Former NASA engineer Neil Saiki recently handed his latest helicopter over to the Aircraft Design Club at California Polytechnic State University for the next stage of refinement and trials. Saiki led the very first team to get a human powered helicopter off the ground in 1989. Violinmaker George MacArthur has started gathering resources to build a non-coaxial dual rotor helicopter. Rounding out the pack of trailing teams is Kenneth Huff with his quick change rotor system. Saiki, MacArthur, and Huff bucked the trend of quad rotor ground effect maximizing configurations favored by Team Gamera and Team Aerovelo.

For over three decades the human powered helicopter problem has thwarted top Universities including University of Texas, University of Michigan, University of Illinois, University of Hartford, Naval Post Graduate School, Purdue University, and the University of Colorado Boulder.

By design, human powered helicopters must cover a footprint equal to that of a Boeing 737 yet weigh much less than the pilot, who must be light and strong. They are incredibly fragile and prone to catastrophic failure. Both leading teams have suffered several heartbreaking collapses. Discovery Channel reviewed a reality television series about this fascinating story.



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