By Mary Grady, Contributing editor
Prizes have done much through the last 100 years or so to spur aviation innovation, from Lindbergh's Orteig Prize to today's X Prize competitions, but sometimes if the prize is not quite enticing enough, it doesn't really do the job. That seems to be what the folks at Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. have decided, since they recently announced a dramatic change in the prize money for the Igor I. Sikorsky Human-Powered Helicopter Competition, from $20,000 to $250,000. The prize, which goes to the first human-powered helicopter that can hover at least 10 feet off the ground for 60 seconds, was first offered almost 30 years ago and has never been claimed. The best effort so far was by Prof. Akira Naito of Nihon University in Japan, who achieved an altitude of just over 6 inches and flight duration of 19.46 seconds. (See the video at right.) A team at Cal Poly got into the air for 8 seconds at a height of 8 inches.
"Igor Sikorsky, founder of Sikorsky Aircraft, believed that individuals provide the spark that moves mankind ahead," said Mark Miller, VP of research and engineering at Sikorsky Aircraft. "This competition continues his legacy by inspiring ingenuity in the next generation of engineers who will design our industry's future. Our company is built on innovation. We believe strongly in the power of challenge." While Sikorsky funds the prize, the American Helicopter Society International oversees the competition. Click here for their rules.