No, not more log chopping axe wielding slurs on our colonial cousins – but
serious big air time. A group of Montreal engineering students have pulled
themselves way from the ice hockey long enough to launch an attempt on the
Sikorsky prize for human powered helicopter flight.
These plucky youngsters not only stand to win a slap up feed but also $20,000
from the Sikorsky helicopter company if they can hover their craft 3m above a
marked 10m square for over 60 seconds. So far out of 17 attempts since 1980,
15 never left the ground one lurched a few centimetres upwards for 7 seconds
while the current champion chopper struggled to the dizzy altitude of 20cm
for a full 19 seconds in 1994.
The new helicopter is carbon composite design that uses slender, tapered
contra rotating (turning opposite directions) rotors, one above and below the
pilot. Using opposed rotors theoretically cancels out the torque that would
spin the pilot and fueslelage round, but it doesn’t make it tremendously
practical for anything other than lawnmowing.
This hi tech bird is planned to weigh in at 73kg, (plus another 70kg of
rider) and will apparently need 750 watts of power to get it airborne with
the rotors lurching round at 7 rpm. The drive will be transferred not by
conventional chain and gears but by a steel cable wound round a large
flywheel (think spinning top) which gives enough pull for 2 minutes but
sounds damn heavy to us.
And forgive us for our cynicism far as we can remember, 750 watts is 150
watts more than Boardman’s peak output when he was the world record pursuit
holder and Olympic gold medallist. Still the Canadians reckon they have a man
for the job in François Maisonneuve, who’s previously powered a world record
holding human powered submarine.
If they do get it airborne, rotor pitch and movable weights to counteract
pilot movement will be controlled by a computer (presumably from the ground –
which seems a bit of a cop out).
Frank and his pals will be reaching for the skies next summer in Montreal’s
Olympic Stadium but the prize co-ordinator Bob Huston seems to share our
bouyant optimism “I like their odds but I suspect they will fail with this
Hopefully we’ll let you know that they’ve made us eat humble pie and a whole
new era of ‘coptering down aerial singletrack is upon us some time next