UBC Reports | Vol. 46 | No. 16 | Oct.
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
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,"
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
For more information about UBC-HPH or to try out as a pilot,