On a typical day at the Vaughan Soccer Centre, twenty kilometers north of Toronto’s downtown, hundreds of soccer players from all ages, backgrounds and skill-levels will enter through the complex’s main doors to compete and train. On Thursday, June 13th, nothing – not even the wind – could sneak into the 130,000 square foot field house after Todd Reichert, Cameron Robertson and the rest of their AeroVelo engineering team had set everything in place to do something that had never been done before.
The Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition was established in 1980 by the American Helicopter Society to award a $25,000 prize to the designers of the first human-powered helicopter capable of a flight lasting 60 seconds that reaches an altitude of three meters and hovers within the confines of a 10-by-10 meter area. It took nine years for the first attempt at such an aircraft to evemget off the ground. Then, in 1994, a second helicopter managed “flight.” However, both of the these designs managed to stay in the air for less than twenty seconds and only attained altitudes of 20 centimeters. For the next 15 years, even these modest achievements couldn’t be duplicated.
Then, in 2009, the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, an American aircraft manufacturer based in Stratford, Connecticut, pledged to the American Helicopter Society that they would multiply the prize money by ten. Suddenly – and not surprisingly – interest in the competition piqued due to the quarter of a million dollar prize purse.
Two engineering teams from among the many attempting to produce the first Sikorsky-approved helicopter emerged as the front-runners: The University of Maryland and the aforementioned AeroVelo.