July 11, 2013 10:00 AM
A quixotic Kickstarter-funded project has won the Sikorsky Prize, one of the most elusive goals in aviation, by keeping a human powered helicopter aloft for more than a minute. Aerovelo, an aeronautical engineering startup founded by Canadians Todd Reichert and Cameron Robertson, announced this morning that the Federation d'Aviation Intenationale (FAI)—the governing body of international aeronautical prizes—has certified a flight that Reichert piloted on June 13 as having met the qualifications for the $250,000 prize.
The rules of the American Helicopter Society Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Challenge, established in 1980, specify that the craft must fly for 60 seconds, must rise to an altitude of at least 3 meters (about 10 feet), and must remain within a horizontal area no bigger than 10 meters by 10 meters (33 feet by 33 feet). The actual flight, completed at an indoor soccer stadium near Toronto, lasted 64 seconds and reached a maximum altitude of 3.3 meters.
The prize-winning flight came at the very end of five days of test flights, after which the space would no longer be available. On two earlier flights, Reichert pilot the craft, called Atlas, to heights of 2 meters and 2.5 meters. With just minutes remaining before the team was scheduled to vacate the stadium to make way for an evening soccer practice, Reichert managed to squeeze in one last flight. Within 10 seconds a horn sounded signaling that he had exceeded the 3-meter mark.