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A Leg Up on Human-Powered Flight

After 33 years, the Sikorsky prize for a human-powered helicopter is finally claimed.

By Valerie RossJanuary 22, 2014 8:00 PM
The AeroVelo team gathers during the winning flight attempt last summer in an indoor soccer stadium near Toronto. | Martin Turner,


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This buglike contraption won the Igor I. Sikorksy prize as the first human-powered helicopter to hover at least 9.8 feet (3 meters) off the ground for a minute or longer. The $250,000 prize went unclaimed for 33 years as craft after craft failed liftoff or crashed. 

But Toronto-based AeroVelo’s four-rotor, 115-pound bicycle-powered vessel, dubbed Atlas, stayed aloft for 64.1 seconds thanks to a design by aeronautical engineers and computer modeling that fine-tuned the blueprints.

AeroVelo co-founder Todd Reichert (an aerodynamic engineer and competitive speed skater) powers Atlas during its prize-winning flight over an indoor soccer field.
This modified, extremely light Cervelo R5 racing bike frame lies at the center of the action. | Martin Turner,
The winning design, drawn by Todd Reichert, shows the basic scheme of the human-powered Atlas. The pilot sits in the middle, surrounded by four rotors. | Todd Reichert

[This article originally appeared in print as "A Leg Up on Human-Powered Flight."] 

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