HPV Helicopter – The Final Frontier?

Pilot pedals helicopter above the ground crew at indoor soccer field.

Atlas helicopter in flight (Martin Turner Visibilize.com)

We did it!

Well, not me. It was the AeroVelo team from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering that designed and flew the world’s first human-powered helicopter on June 13, but since I live in the area I feel that they are my team anyways.

Their pedal-copter (named Atlas) managed to remain aloft for over 60 seconds, reaching over 3 meters altitude while the pilot maintained directional control. These were the requirements put forward by the American Helicopter Society to teams from around the world seeking to win the $250,000 Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Challenge. Though 3 meters height and 60 seconds duration may not seem like a lot, the Wright brothers achieved exactly the same results in their first recorded flights at Kitty Hawk. So yes, this is a significant feat that will go down in history.

In practical terms, the only use for Atlas might be to pedal yourself over a fast-moving train if you happen to find yourself blocked in on either side of the track. Of course, that’s not the point. The point is to push our boundaries, to advance the human race.

But with this latest achievement, have we done it all now? Is there another frontier in the human powered vehicle story? We’ve already done human powered boats, bikes, pedal cars, HPV planes, even HPV submarines (the speed record for which is held by another Canadian university; the École de Technologie Supérieure of the Université du Québec). What’s left, an HPV spacecraft? Mars, here we come! Of course we can always push further, higher, faster, longer, as Daft Punk might sing. But none of that will ever be worthy of an entry in the historical records.

Thanks to the AeroVelo team, it seems as though human powered mobility is now unlimited. Human power forever!


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