Media Releases

U of T engineering grads make aeronautical history

July 11, 2013

TORONTO, ON – An aero­space team with strong U of T Engi­neer­ing con­nec­tions has made his­to­ry by win­ning the $250,000 AHS Igor I. Siko­rsky Human-Pow­ered Heli­copter Prize, for the first-ever sus­tained flight of a human-pow­ered heli­copter.

The Amer­i­can Heli­copter Asso­ci­a­tion, which estab­lished the Prize in 1980, has con­firmed that AeroV­elo Inc., found­ed by U of T Engi­neer­ing alum­ni Dr. Todd Reichert and Cameron Robert­son, has suc­cess­ful­ly met the prize’s rig­or­ous con­di­tions: a flight dura­tion of 60 sec­onds and reach­ing an alti­tude of 3 meters while remain­ing in a 10-meter square.

Many teams have tried, and failed, to win the prize since it was announced in 1980. But his­to­ry was made at 12:43 on June 13, when AeroVelo’s Atlas heli­copter rose to an alti­tude of rough­ly 3.3 metres, main­tained flight for approx­i­mate­ly 65 sec­onds and drift­ed no more than 10 metres. Reichert, who holds a land speed record for cycling, was the pilot for the record-break­ing feat.

Reichert and Robert­son both grad­u­at­ed from U of T Engineering’s under­grad­u­ate Engi­neer­ing Sci­ence pro­gram and then took grad­u­ate stud­ies at the university’s Insti­tute for Aero­space Stud­ies (UTIAS), where they found­ed U of T’s Human-Pow­ered Vehi­cle Design Team. In August 2010, the team’s first project – the con­struc­tion of the world’s first suc­cess­ful human-pow­ered ornithopter – made avi­a­tion his­to­ry by achiev­ing the age-old dream of human-pow­ered bird-like flight. Called Snow­bird, the ornithopter sus­tained both alti­tude and air­speed for 19.3 sec­onds, and cov­ered a dis­tance of 145 metres at an aver­age speed of 25.6 kilo­me­tres per hour.

AeroV­elo, which includes sev­er­al cur­rent U of T Engi­neer­ing stu­dents among its team mem­bers, has been work­ing on ATLAS since May 2012.

Reichert said the team had to over­come a num­ber of chal­lenges, but he was always con­fi­dent they would suc­ceed. “We came into this very con­fi­dent that we were capa­ble of win­ning this prize. At every step we real­ized that the prize was a lot more dif­fi­cult than we orig­i­nal­ly antic­i­pat­ed but at every step we were able to over­come the dif­fi­cul­ty and get even clos­er and clos­er to the prize.”
He said that one of AeroVelo’s goals is to pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties for engi­neer­ing stu­dents to expe­ri­ence real-world appli­ca­tions of engi­neer­ing prac­tices and the­o­ries. “The project offered a rare oppor­tu­ni­ty to work at the lead­ing edge of engi­neer­ing on an incred­i­bly chal­leng­ing and engag­ing project. It’s where pas­sion and sci­ence meet that you will find the inno­v­a­tive dis­cov­er­ies.”

UTIAS direc­tor Pro­fes­sor David Zingg said he was delight­ed that Reichert and Robert­son won the Siko­rsky prize. “This is a tremen­dous accom­plish­ment on so many dif­fer­ent lev­els. First, it is a great tech­no­log­i­cal achieve­ment, requir­ing inge­nu­ity, knowl­edge, and expe­ri­ence in a num­ber of chal­leng­ing tech­ni­cal areas. Sec­ond, we have to look close­ly at some of the ideas devel­oped dur­ing the course of the project to see where else they can be applied. Final­ly, through accom­plish­ing such a chal­leng­ing feat, Todd and Cameron have pro­vid­ed tremen­dous inspi­ra­tion for young engi­neers both in Cana­da and around the world.”

U of T Engi­neer­ing Sci­ence Chair Mark Kortschot also con­grat­u­lat­ed AeroV­elo.

“What an achieve­ment! We are incred­i­bly proud of, and impressed by, the Atlas heli­copter team,” he said. “Todd and Cameron worked with a team that includ­ed many engi­neer­ing under­grad­u­ates. The team has shown the knowl­edge, skill and inge­nu­ity to do some­thing tru­ly inspi­ra­tional. We have a strong empha­sis on engi­neer­ing design and entre­pre­neur­ship in our Fac­ul­ty, and the Atlas project is a fan­tas­tic exam­ple of both.”

Pro­fes­sor Cristi­na Amon, Dean of the Fac­ul­ty of Applied Sci­ence & Engi­neer­ing, also expressed her pride in the his­toric achieve­ment. “Todd Reichert and Cameron Robert­son exem­pli­fy the entre­pre­neur­ial, inno­v­a­tive spir­it of U of T Engi­neer­ing. Warmest con­grat­u­la­tions to Todd and Cameron, and the stu­dents who have worked with them on this remark­able accom­plish­ment.”

Found­ed in 1873, the Fac­ul­ty of Applied Sci­ence & Engi­neer­ing at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to has approx­i­mate­ly 5,200 under­grad­u­ates, 1,950 grad­u­ate stu­dents and 240 fac­ul­ty mem­bers. U of T Engi­neer­ing is at the fore of inno­va­tion in engi­neer­ing edu­ca­tion and research and ranks first in Cana­da and among the top Engi­neer­ing schools world­wide.


For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Ter­ry Laven­der
Com­mu­ni­ca­tions & Media Rela­tions Strate­gist
Fac­ul­ty of Applied Sci­ence & Engi­neer­ing, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Tel: 416–978-4498