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UBC Reports | Vol. 46 | No. 16 | Oct. 19, 2000

Pedal-powered helicopter readies for maiden flight

Volunteer team tackles challenge of getting off the ground

Mike Georgallis' passion is helicopters -- human-powered helicopters to be precise. Since 1998, the 37-year-old UBC Mechanical Engineering graduate research assistant has devoted much of his free time to designing and building a helicopter that can achieve flight through humanpower alone.

Dubbed "The Thunderbird Project," the craft should be ready to challenge for the Igor I. Sikorsky Human-Powered Helicopter Competition next summer if Georgallis and members of the UBC Human-Powered Helicopter group (UBC-HPH) have their way.

The international competition offers a $20,000 US prize for the team that can design, build and fly a human-powered rotary aircraft that can achieve a momentary height of three metres during a one-minute hover. Why? "Mostly for the love of flight but I was also intrigued to be able to do this at a university setting," says Georgallis, who did stints at both Bell Helicopters and Pratt and Whitney in Montreal before coming to UBC to work on his doctorate.

Since UBC-HPH was established two years ago, nearly 100 UBC students have worked on the project. Currently about 25 students are actively working on the helicopter -- a 32-metre diameter, 40-kilogram machine with twin rotor wings. "The students have received some good real-life experience in aerodynamics," he says. "When they go into a job interview and talk about a wing, they can say they have actually worked on one." Although human-powered, fixed-wing aircrafts have been successfully designed and flown, similar attempts for rotary-driven aircrafts have largely resulted in failures. In fact, there have been 18 machines built since the competition began in 1980 with only two successful flights. The world record is a 19-second, six-inch hover by a Japanese team at Nihon University in March 1994.

"It's not a surprise that to date no one has been able to do it," says Georgallis.

One of the main barriers to a human-powered helicopter is the difficulty of building a machine light enough so that the power typically generated by a human pedaling -- half-a-horsepower -- can create the lift required.

The team is searching for potential pilots.

Funding and support for the project comes from a variety of sources, including the Alma Mater Society's Innovative Projects Fund and the Alumni Association's Walter H. Gage Memorial Fund. Boeing provided materials.

For more information about UBC-HPH or to try out as a pilot, contact galli@mech.ubc.ca.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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