It has taken 33 years and seen attempts from over 20 teams, but finally the race to win the Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition was won last month, after Canada’s Cameron Robertson & Todd Reichert raised over $30,000 on Kickstarter to fund their attempt.
The rules for the contest, set in 1980, specify that the craft must fly for 60 seconds, must rise to an altitude of at least 3m, and must remain within a horizontal area no bigger than 10m x 10m.
After 5 days of test flights, and with their allocated time in the rented space running out, the Atlas team managed to nail the precise requirements and bag their well-deserved prize. Proof once again of the incredible mechanical and biological efficiency of the bicycle — albeit in a slightly different direction from usual.
“Reichert knew that the challenge was to keep supplying enough power through his legs to keep the craft from descending too quickly. On two previous flights in which he’d flirted with the three-meter mark, Reichert had descended too abruptly and fallen afoul of a phenomenon called vortex ring state, in which a helicopter essentially gets sucked down by its own downwash. Both times Atlas had been wrecked. This time, Reichert spent the balance of the flight easing the craft down gently to the ground. “You’re so focused on having the body do a very precise thing,” he told Pop Mech. “If you lay off the power even a little bit, or make any sharp control movement, you can crash.”