Canadian Originals: Canadians hope human-powered helicopter lifts off
Published Wednesday, July 11, 2012 10:41PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, July 12, 2012 6:45AM EDT
A pair of young Canadian engineers is hoping to make aviation history once again by successfully flying a human-powered helicopter.
University of Toronto graduates Todd Reichert and Cameron Robertson have been painstakingly crafting a lightweight helicopter that can fly without an engine in hopes of collecting an engineering prize that has been up for grabs for more than three decades.
In 1980, the American Helicopter Society offered $250,000 for the first human-powered helicopter that can rise three metres off the ground and remain airborne for at least 60 seconds.
Despite numerous attempts around the world, including one by a group of engineers at the University of British Columbia, no one has yet been able to claim the prize.
Reichert and Robertson are determined to change that.
They have studied the failed designs and believe they can produce a winner. They also have a competitive edge as the first engineers who successfully built and flew a human-powered ornithopter -- an aircraft with flapping wings that glides like a bird.
Now, the duo hopes its helicopter-in-progress will break records as well.
So far, a team in Maryland has made the best effort to win the helicopter society prize by getting its man-powered helicopter to hover half a metre above ground for about 50 seconds.
“First of all, it’s an incredibly difficult challenge,” Reichert said in an interview with CTV News at an old barn in Tottenham, Ont., where the team has been toiling away.
Designing a human-powered helicopter “is a totally different style of engineering,” he said. “That’s what excites us.”
The team is building a four-rotor helicopter about the size of a Boeing 737 that will weigh no more than one of the jet’s passenger seats.
“In order for something like this to fly, it needs to be enormous…and very light,” Robertson said.
For Robertson, aviation and engineering are passions that run in the family – his grandfather once worked on Canada’s legendary interceptor aircraft, the Avro Arrow.
"I was always fascinated by airplanes. I wanted to be a jet pilot,” he said.
The duo hopes to have the helicopter built by the end of the summer – and fly into the record books one more time.
With a report from CTV’s John Vennavally-Rao