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How An “Impossible” Aviation Challenge Led To An Innovation Breakthrough

Patrick McDonnell

On June 13, an enormous, ridiculous-looking pedal-powered contraption wafted itself into midair and made history. The helicopter, called Atlas, was designed to win an aviation challenge--the Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition--that had defeated scores of aircraft designers and engineers for 33 years. The task sounds simple: Create a human-powered aircraft that can hover three meters in the air for at least a minute without drifting outside a 10-meter square.

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