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Atlas: A Human-Powered Helicopter for a Historical First!'s video poster

A helicopter, powered solely by the pilot, designed to achieve one of the greatest challenges in aviation history: the Sikorsky Prize. Read more

Toronto, Canada Flight
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This project was successfully funded on June 16, 2012.

A helicopter, powered solely by the pilot, designed to achieve one of the greatest challenges in aviation history: the Sikorsky Prize.

Toronto, Canada Flight
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About this project

We’re building a human-powered helicopter (HPH) to capture the Sikorsky Prize: a monumental challenge that represents a historical aviation first.

In order to achieve these goals, we created AeroVelo, a team of engineering professionals and students with a common vision for lightweight and efficient design. We hope to instill this philosophy in the education of the next generation of engineering students and designers. Together, we hope to show the world what is possible when we envision simple and innovative solutions to long-standing challenges.

The Sikorsky Prize: An historical world first

In 1980, the American Helicopter Society (AHS) put up a prize for the first HPH to hover for one-minute and reach a height of 3 meters above the ground. Over the last 30 years many international teams have taken on the challenge. A few teams have briefly lifted off the ground, but the prize remains unclaimed.

Igor Sikorsky believed that individuals provide the spark that moves mankind ahead. This competition continues his legacy by inspiring ingenuity in the next generation of engineers who will design our industry’s future. We believe strongly in the power of challenge.   - Mark Miller, Vice President of Research and Engineering at Sikorsky Aircraft

The Sikorsky Prize represents a monumental challenge that requires a level of aerodynamic efficiency that is unheard of in commercial helicopters. A successful Sikorsky Prize helicopter will be able to hover on less than one horsepower.

If we capture the Sikorsky Prize, the team at AeroVelo will be applying the winnings towards the development of efficient-engineering projects, including streamlined recumbent bicycles as a form of sustainable transportation.

Our Team: What makes us think that we can do this

The project team includes two PhDs, one MASc and several undergraduate students in aerospace and related engineering fields. The team has been working together for 5 years on a number of groundbreaking and historical projects involving similar design and construction methodologies. 

The Snowbird human-powered ornithopter, with a span of 105 feet and a total weight of 95 lbs.

The Snowbird Human-Powered Ornithopter: On August 2nd, 2010, the Snowbird became the first successful human-powered flapping-wing aircraft in the world. The dream of being able to fly like a bird represents one of the oldest aeronautical visions, dating back to early mythology and occupying the minds of great inventors like Leonardo DaVinci.

This project gave our team immeasurable experience with lightweight aircraft design, advanced aerodynamic modeling and the most powerful computation optimization methods that have ever been applied to the challenge of human-powered flight. Novel ideas were developed into the game-changing technologies in order to create one of the most unique aircraft in history. 

Todd Reichert in Vortex at Battle Mountain, Nevada, during his world-record speed run at 72.6 MPH (116.9 Km/h)

The Human-Powered Vehicle Design Team: For the past 4 years, team members at AeroVelo and the University of Toronto have been working on streamlined high-speed recumbent bicycles. In 2010 and 2011, Todd Reichert set successive Collegiate Human-Powered World Speed Records at 63.4 MPH (102 Km/h) in ACE and 72.6 MPH (116.9 Km/h) in Vortex. This year, with the even faster Bluenose, the team may break the overall World record!

These successive improvements have come from a greater understanding of cutting-edge computational aerodynamics, efficient power transmission strategies, and an expert understanding of human performance. 

Our Design: Doing More with Less

Our design is a quad-rotor configuration: four independent rotors connected with a large truss structure, similar to the Yuri HPH, which flew for 19 seconds in 1994. The configuration is known to be stable in flight, has the simplest construction, and requires less pilot power than other types of helicopters.

Successful human-powered flight requires doing much more, with much less; and this is where our helicopter is unique:

All of the carbon-fiber tubes that make up the structure of the helicopter have been tested to failure.  This allows us to design a structure that is as light as possible, in which every gram of weight is used to the limit of its potential.

The ultra-light wings of the Snowbird, alongside structural testing of the lightweight carbon-fiber tubes.

In addition, the team has developed an in-house optimization program, which simultaneously analyses both the aerodynamics and the structure of the helicopter. The optimizer efficiently negotiates hundreds of design tradeoffs, allowing us to build the most efficient human-powered helicopter possible with today’s technology and limitations.

A screenshot from the proprietary aero-structural optimization program being used to design and analyze the Atlas human-powered helicopter.


We will be working fast and smart! For the past 6 months, the team has done all of the preliminary work to optimize and finalize the design in order to begin construction in May. We plan to have the Atlas completed and ready for testing in early July, and hope to have captured the Sikorsky Prize by September

What Your Donation Means

Your support means a lot to us! Your contribution allows construction to move ahead, by enabling us to purchase the required materials and tools. The total project budget is $170,000, and every bit contributed through Kickstarter gets us one step closer to taking this project from dream to reality.

As recognition of your contribution you will receive memorable keepsakes, such as the team patch, team t-shirt, signed engineering drawings, and even parts from the real aircraft. At higher donation levels your name or business logo will appear on the aircraft itself! Shown below is the Atlas logo, which will appear on the patches and T-shirts, as well as an example of the engineering drawings, and a picture of an assembled wing rib.

Atlas logo emblazoned on team patches and T-shirt

Engineering drawings of the Snowbird Human-Powered Ornithopter. Drawings for the Atlas will be of the same style and quality. 

The shape of the rib is a beautiful representation of the advanced aerodynamics of the helicopter, while its construction shows off the intricate detail and lightweight structural design.

We appreciate your support!

Thanks again for taking the time to check us out! We look forward to keeping you updated on this exciting engineering endeavor.


  • Yes! We can send you all the rewards below your pledge level. For example, if you pledged $50, you can receive the T-shirt, as well as the patch. Just indicate that you would like all the rewards when we email you for your address information.

    Last updated:


  • You selected
    Pledge $1 or more

    29 backers

    Our deepest thanks! We’re passionate about building a lightweight, human-powered helicopter and every donation brings us closer to that goal.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $5 or more

    144 backers

    You will receive a series of stunning high-resolution pictures and wallpaper backgrounds of the Atlas Human-Powered Helicopter.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $25 or more

    89 backers

    You will receive the project patch, an embroidered badge with the Atlas Human-Powered Helicopter project logo.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $50 or more

    80 backers

    You will receive the project T-shirt with the Atlas Human-Powered Helicopter project logo.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $100 or more

    74 backers

    You will receive signed engineering drawings of the Atlas, a stunning piece of artwork that includes technical data and design details. Almost enough detail to build your own helicopter (don’t try this at home!)

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $250 or more

    14 backers

    You will receive a small (20 inch) section of a rib built for the Atlas Human-Powered Helicopter: a beautifully handcrafted component that gives a sense for the aerodynamic and structural efficiency of the design. The rib will be framed and mounted with a small display plaque.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $500 or more

    8 backers

    In additional to a larger (40 inch) framed rib section, your signature will be permanently displayed on the Altas itself! If successful, your name will be part of an exciting aviation first and likely be on display in a national aviation museum for all to see.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $1,000 or more

    6 backers

    In addition to a large (40 inch) framed rib section and your signature on the aircraft, you will receive an engraved plaque commemorating your participation in this historical achievement. If you are a part of a business of corporation your logo will also appear on our team website.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $5,000 or more

    0 backers

    In addition to the $1,000 level reward we will prominently display your name or business logo on the helicopter itself, as well as the team website, our media packages and promotional videos!

    Estimated delivery:


Funding period

- (30 days)