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Human-powered helicopter prize unclaimed for 33 years

Posting in Aerospace

In 1980, the American Helicopter Society (AHS) set up the Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition -- named for the aviation pioneer who designed the world’s first mass-produced helicopter, the Sikorsky R-4, in 1942. The prize was initially $20,000.

With no winners in the last 30 years, the Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. has now pledged $250,000 for a successful design. According to the AHS website (with more details here):

A one minute hovering time, a momentary achievement of 3 meters altitude, and controlling the vehicle within a constrained box -- all in the same flight -- is required to win the AHS prize.

Three teams in particular have reached major milestones, and they believe they’re each getting close to winning.

1. University of Maryland’s Gamera II (pictured) can stay aloft for 65 seconds, and on a separate occasion, has risen just shy of three meters. To power the helicopter, a pilot must pedal with both hands and feet to draw the string in from four rotors that rotate large, light blades. The helicopter is 105 feet long but only weighs 75 pounds -- thanks to custom carbon fiber work. Watch their video.

2. In Canada, AeroVelo’s Atlas has reached an altitude of roughly three meters. In other tests, it was flown eight times for as long as 40 seconds and was controlled within a 10m x 10m box. Its configuration is a quad-rotor design similar to Gamera. Watch their video.

3. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s Upturn II builds upon the first muscle-driven chopper to get off the ground. In 1989, Santa Cruz engineer Neal Saiki led a team that built Upturn, Los Angeles Times reports, which made history when it flew for 7.1 seconds and soared eight inches off the floor. Watch their video.

[AHS news via Humans Invent]

Images: University of Maryland Department of Aerospace Engineering

— By on May 13, 2013, 5:09 AM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure