IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Kickstarter project hopes to break human-powered helicopter record

Atlas logo
Aero Velo

In a compelling combination of the ancient and the modern, a team is hoping to create a milestone human-powered helicopter — and funding the effort on Kickstarter. Atlas is the name of the proposed craft, and with it the team hopes to claim a decades-old $250,000 prize.

In 1980, the American Helicopter Society named a $250,000 prize after Igor Sikorsky, a pioneering aviator and inventor. The challenge: create a human-powered helicopter that can hover 10 feet in the air for one minute. Sounds simple enough, but the engineering challenge is substantial: despite several real efforts over the last 30 years, no one has claimed the prize.

University of Maryland's Gamera craft takes offUniversity of Maryland / YouTube

One team at the University of Maryland managed to stay aloft for 11.4 seconds, and a Japanese craft did 19 seconds in 1994, but Aero Velo is planning on using advanced materials and know-how to go all the way. They've already set a few records, one for human-powered, flapping-wing flight (the Snowbird ornithopter) and one for human-powered ground speed (72.6MPH in the Vortex streamlined recumbent bicycle).

Vortex simulation
Vortex simulation by Aero VeloAero Velo

This project would be the most ambitious, though they aren't departing from the quad-rotor design found on the previous record-setting craft. By using carbon fiber for the structure and advanced aerodynamic modeling, they think their high-powered human engine (Todd Reichert, competitive cyclist and speed racer) should be able to actually make this thing happen.

The total budget of the project is $170,000, of which they hope $30,000 will come from Kickstarter pledges, and they plan to be flying by August. It's ambitious, interesting and could be a part of aviation history. Check out their plans at Kickstarter or follow the project at their website.

Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for His personal website is