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Thu, Aug 12, 2004

Pick Up The Pieces And Peddle To Parking

Human-Powered Helo Goes Back To The Drawing Board

It was the latest attempt at the American Helicopter Society's $20,000 Igor I. Sikorsky Human-Powered Helicopter Competition. It was not, however, the winning attempt.

A group of students from the University of British Columbia set out to prove that a strong cyclist could keep a helicopter-like vehicle airborne, guide it and land it. Their contraption was, well, odd, to say the least. It had two sets of rotors and wings as big as those on a Boeing 737.

Sadly, the contraption never got off the ground. Canadian Press reports test pilot Peter Hudson -- a marathon runner -- climbed into the cockpit Tuesday at the university's Thunderbird stadium and... well, started peddling.

Now, project leader Mike Georgallis was anything but Pollyannaish as he was getting the machine ready for its first flight. "Will the machine in fact fly before it breaks or will it break before it flies?" he asked. The answer was forthcoming.

Not long after the rotors began to turn, the twin rotor blades became entangled. A piece of foam flew from one wings' leading edge. The bicycle chain broke. Enough was enough.

"At very low RPM when we're starting up, it's really difficult to keep it stable because the rotor system is swaying the entire machine from side to side," Georgallis told the CP. "This loosens up one side of the chain and it comes off and all of a sudden you have one wing producing lift, the other one not producing lift."

Oh, the agony. Maybe it was the wind? Yeah, that's the ticket...

"There's not an easy fix here," Georgallis told the CP. "One of the issues that should be done is flying indoors." He suggested BC Place Stadium.

Georgallis's team has spent the past six years working on the Thunderbird aircraft. Project Thunderbird will continue, they promise. After all, one student quipped, if it worked the first time, it wouldn't be any fun.

FMI: http://batman.mech.ubc.ca/~hph/index2.html

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