Contest to build a human-powered helicopter

NewImage Since 1980, hundreds of young engineers have entered the Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition. Nobody has won the grand prize of $250,000 for demonstrating "a one minute hovering time, a momentary achievement of 3 meters altitude, and controlling the vehicle within a constrained box -- all in the same flight." But damn, they're sure trying. "Straight Up Difficult" (NPR)


  1. I dig the tape wearing in the pic, but is fashion or science? I think both but what is for the science part?

    edit- nvm is to visibly register height in the test, good video

    1. If I had to hazard a guess, it was a handy place to put the spare pieces that were left when they finished spot-fixing the ‘copter.

    2. It’s to measure the altitude.  She’s a mobile measuring stick.  I think a color-banded ribbon dangling from chopper would be the first choice, but it won’t hang straight when the contraption drifts, plus it adds a few grams.

  2. Human powered flight is a mere fantasy. We’re too heavy and output too little force.

    Gliders and the like work because the atmosphere is doing the work – all we’ve done is cleverly figured out how to harness the energy of air pressure differentials, in effect working out how to fly a very large and heavy kite for a short time.

    But a helicoptor? It’s absurd. Rotary flight is finicky enough with full powered combustion engines going, there’s no way I can honestly conceive of a human putting out enough energy to maintain flight in this manner. The world’s lightest helicopter weighs 75kg, uses two sets of rotors, and employs four 10 hp engines. A human being CAN NOT output 40 horsepower! At best a person can (briefly) output 1.2 hp, or sustain a constant 0.1 hp, a mere four-hundredth of the energy required!

    This is like having a contest to see who can build spring boots in order to jump to the moon.

    1. You are correct that a human powered helicopter (HPH) has no practical value, although your numbers are wrong (“In the cockpit sits the engine: a 0.7-horsepower, 135-pound graduate student named Kyle Gluesenkamp.” They have flown for more than 60 seconds.) — but that’s not the point.

      The AHS HPH Competition isn’t about creating a practical machine. It is an engineering challenge to the vertical flight technical community. Most of the teams are comprised primarily – or entirely – of students. They have demonstrated impressive creativity and innovation. And the projects are galvanizing experiences that complements theoretical understanding with a physical creation. This is a multi-disciplinary project that harnesses technical skills and understanding, leadership, motivation, sleep deprivation, and teamwork to overcome what many have said for three decades was an impossible challenge. There are now three teams who are flying human powered helicopters in the AHS competition, with University of Maryland essentially proving the feasibility of achieving two of the three challenges independently.

      Since you mentioned the moon: to paraphrase JFK: “We choose to go to the moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” Going to the moon itself had no practical value, but the indirect economic and security benefits were immeasurable.

      We could have made the AHS HPH Competition rules much easier, but the incredible inventiveness of the HPH teams and the breakthroughs in structures and materials, understanding of in ground effect phenomenology, aerodynamics, structures, aeroelasticity, etc, would not have been nearly as beneficial to those competitors in their future careers or to the technical community in general.

      Please check out the latest information about the AHS HPH Competition, see the latest videos and news articles on the HPH Competitors or review the HPH rules:

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