A group of University of Toronto engineering students are taking the art of flying to new heights by building a human-powered helicopter.

The plan is to achieve flight with a single pilot who pedals a modified bicycle attached to lines that pull on a rotator.

The students are entering the 100-pound chopper -- nicknamed the “Atlas” – in one of the more curious contests in aviation: the AHS Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition. There’s $250,000 in prize money at stake in the competition.

Their aim is to keep the carbon-fibre helicopter aloft for 60 seconds and reach an altitude of at least three metres.

"If we can capture this, it opens up so many doors," Todd Reichert, co-captain of the Human-Powered Ornithopter Project, told CTV Toronto at the Ontario Soccer Centre in Vaughn, where the chopper is being assembled.

"We absolutely love doing this."

So far, the students have been able to make the Atlas soar to the necessary three-metre height requirement.

"It’s exciting to see it go up," co-captain Cameron Robertson said.

But the most recent test flight was short lived. Shortly after the chopper rose, it quickly plummeted.

"It’s a very quick plunge and when it’s on the ground in a matter of seconds," Robertson said of the crash that happened approximately a month-and-half ago.

He said watching the crash was difficult to watch but the team "always picks up and keeps going."

The Canadian team faces some stiff competition. Last summer, students from the University of Maryland successfully flew a human-powered helicopter for 65.1 seconds.

According to the school's website, the Gamera II -- propelled by a hand and a foot pedal -- holds the record for the longest human-powered flight at nine feet.

Reichard, however, isn’t afraid of a challenge. The engineering student is doing whatever it takes to win, including following a restrictive diet to stay light for the flight.

"My diet right now is as much broccoli as I can get my hands on."

With a report from CTV Toronto’s Collin D’Mello