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Giant human-powered quadricopter wins $250,000 Sikorsky Prize

It took 33 years to accomplish the winning one-minute flight

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Video In 1980, AHS International inaugurated the Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition. On Thursday, they announced a winner: Canada's Kickstarter-funded startup AeroVelo.

The AeroVelo Atlas quadricopter, piloted – and, of course, powered – by company cofounder Todd Reichert, won the $250,000 prize by satisfying each requirement of the Sikorsky competition: it hovered for one minute, reached an altitude of three meters, and stayed within a 10-by-10 meter square area.

"The AHS Sikorsky Prize challenged the technical community to harness teamwork, technical skills and cutting edge technologies to meet requirements that were on the ragged edge of feasibility," said AHS International executive director Mike Hirschberg in a press release.

"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," he said.

When the competition was originally announced, AHS International set the prize money at $10,000, but soon bumped that to $25,000. In 2009, however, helicopter powerhouse Sikorsky Aircraft, founded by Igor I. Sikorsky in 1923, moved the decimal point on that figure – a ten-fold increase that spurred a comparable increase in interest in the prize.

According to AHS International, AeroVelo's bicycle-powered craft is larger than any operation helicopter ever built: 58 meters in width with four 20.4-meter rotors spun – slowly – by its pilot aboard a customized carbon-fiber Cervélo bicycle frame. Without the pilot, the entire Atlas craft weighs a mere 52 kilograms.

AHS International notes that "AeroVelo's win is not the end, but the beginning. The AHS Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition will soon be followed by another grand challenge, the details of which are currently being refined."

Leonardo da Vinci must be smiling down from above. ®

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