AHS Remarks on Presenting the Prize

Remarks at Presentation of the AHS Sikorsky Prize to AeroVelo, Inc.

Mike Hirschberg, AHS International Executive Director

July 11, 2013

Vaughan, Ontario


What an amazing accomplishment we honor here today.

In 1980, when the American Helicopter Society (as we were then known) announced the AHS Sikorsky Prize for human powered helicopter flight, we knew we were posing a very tough challenge. But we didn’t fully appreciate just how tough it was.

For 33 years, many in the world’s vertical flight community thought the competition was an impossible challenge, and several studies proved that it was in fact scientifically impossible. A human being simply could not generate enough power for long enough to keep a human powered helicopter in the air for sixty seconds, much less reach 3 meters. And when you add the weight of a control system to keep it hovering over a 10 meter box, it made it even more impossible.

Well, it took a third of a century to prove those skeptics wrong.

It took that long for the state of the art of vertical flight to see significant technological advances in lightweight structures, computer-aided design, aeromechanics, and multi-disciplinary design optimization.

But it took more than technology.  

It took the very generous support of one of our corporate members, Sikorsky Aircraft, to give vertical flight pioneers the motivation – two hundred and fifty thousand dollars! – to harness those advances.

And – most importantly – it took the engineering audacity of AeroVelo’s Atlas team to combine those cutting-edge technologies and that motivation with daring and innovation – and a lot of broccoli – in an aircraft and a pilot capable of conquering this all-but-impossible challenge. That is just what AeroVelo’s Atlas team did on this very field, just four weeks ago. Their awesome achievement is why we gather here now.

I am very pleased to announce today that AeroVelo has won the long-unwinnable AHS Sikorsky Prize.

Beyond AeroVelo’s victory, each of the hundreds of members of every other team that pursued this prize over the past three decades is also a winner. We didn’t establish the AHS Sikorsky Prize to produce a practical human-powered helicopter – to bike to work or to the grocer’s. We set up the prize to inspire the next generation of vertical flight pioneers to the same relentless pursuit of innovation that enabled Igor Sikorsky to create his ground-breaking company 90 years ago. That is why we named our competition after him. His innovative helped create the world’s vertical flight industry – and AHS, which he helped found 70 years ago this past February.

Every person who has pursued the AHS Sikorsky Prize since 1980 gained invaluable experience to help them forge the future of vertical flight. And that is what AHS International is all about – advancing the state of the art of vertical flight technology and promoting its application throughout the world.

Now, AeroVelo’s chief competitor in the home stretch for the AHS Sikorsky Prize was the University of Maryland’s Gamera team. For the past 10 months, they were both flying – almost neck and neck. Darryll Pines, the Dean of the University of Maryland’s Engineering School, who had originally inspired his students and faculty to pursue this prize in 2008, joins the Gamera team in congratulating AeroVelo on its victory. Professor Pines writes to his colleagues at AeroVelo: “We pushed each towards excellence, and in fact – a miracle was achieved.”

We at AHS International congratulate the AeroVelo team on your incredible accomplishment. Like the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh and Igor Sikorsky before you, you have set an aviation milestone that should be forever remembered as a truly remarkable feat of innovative engineering excellence.

Thank you.