It took 33 years, but it's finally been done.
AeroVelo, a Canadian team, has won the Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition, successfully using muscle power to fly a helicopter for at least 60 seconds and reach an altitude of over 10 feet -- all while remaining in a 32-by-32-foot area. Teams in the competition are not allowed to use anything other than human power for their flights.
Dr. Todd Reichert, one of the leaders of the team, pedaled to lift the AeroVelo Atlas for 64.11 seconds. The craft reached an altitude of 10.8 feet and drifted only 32 feet during the flight, which took place on June 13 inside a field house in Vaughan, Ontario.
"You’re not thinking about how nice it is to be flying with your feet," Reichert told The Wall Street Journal in an interview. "You’re thinking, 'I’m a machine.' The level of physical and mental focus was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before."
Although the Atlas -- which has four 67-foot diameter rotors and is 190-feet wide -- is larger than any helicopter ever put into production, it weighs a mere 115 pounds.
"It's something that's so incredibly difficult, many people didn't think it was possible," Mike Hirschberg, the executive director of AHS International, which awards the prize, said of the accomplishment. He likened the flight to the first time a human stepped foot on the moon or when Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic.
The prize has been up for grabs since the competition was announced in 1980. The challenge is named after Igor L. Sikorsky, the founder of Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and one of the founders of the American Helicopter Society, now called AHS International, a nonprofit group that promotes helicopter technology.
"This is a tremendously exciting event," Hirschberg said. "We've been waiting a long time for this to happen."
In 1989, a team in California was able to get a craft off the ground for eight seconds. A few years later, a Japanese team managed to hover for nearly 20 seconds. Between 1994 and 2011, Hirschberg said, no team got a craft off the ground.
The competition, which Hirschberg said is "to provide a challenge to students and innovators to help develop the next generation of vertical flight innovators," comes with a $250,000 reward.
And although this specific competition has come to a close, AHS International has said that it will announce "another grand challenge" soon.