Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering Department
College of Engineering
Aiming for the Sikorsky Prize for Human-Powered Helicopter Flight

Cal Poly's renewed efforts to get its human-powered helicopter (HPH) off the ground has taken an upturn.

Cal Poly made history in 1989 when the Da Vinci III flew for 7.1 seconds in Mott Gym on campus. Now 30 members of the Aircraft Design and Construction Club feel they have a good shot at the ultimate prize: The $250,000 Sikorsky Prize for an HPH that flies for at least a minute at an altitude of 9.8 feet.

"The leader of the original Da Vinci team, Neal Saiki, continued his work in the HPH field, and has made remarkable progress," said Amber Carney, president of the club. "Better yet, he's been kind enough to donate that evolved vehicle, the Upturn helicopter, to our club."  

Students from disciplines throughout campus are working on the new HPH platform donated by Saiki (B.S., Aerospace Engineering, 1990; M.S., Aerospace Engineering, 1993).

Kurt Colvin, professor in the Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering Department, is faculty advisor for the Cal Poly team. Manufacturing engineering students include Daniel Logue, a senior, who leads the group that manufactures the carbon fiber spars, and Robert Brent, a sophomore.

“Neal and I were classmates in the 1980s, and I attended the flight test sessions for the Da Vinci III, but I was never part of the HPH team back then," said Colvin.

“Then over the last couple of years, we found ourselves collaborating and talking. This summer, we decided to bring our efforts together. As a result, Cal Poly has taken on the continued development of the Upturn. Calling our version the Upturn II, we have been given the opportunity to take the vehicle and the architecture created by Neal's company, NTS Works, and to try to make the improvements necessary to win the Sikorsky Prize.

"The unique thing about the Upturn is its control system it may be the only HPH in the contest that has one. Our competitors seem to be counting on perfect balance to keep their vehicles stable.

“The grandness of this challenge attracts many different types of students and offers lots of engineering-based projects in particular. In fact, HPH has already spawned numerous senior projects.”

Individuals interested in supporting the HPH project can contact Colvin at or (805) 756-2633. Check out a video on the project:

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Related links:
About the Igor I. Sikorsky Human-Powered Helicopter Competition
Aircraft Design and Construction Club:

Photo caption: The Cal Poly Air Design and Construction Club’s human-powered helicopter, the Upturn II, is in the quest to win the Sikorsky Prize. Said Daniel Logue, Cal Poly manufacturing engineering senior and leader of the team that is making carbon fiber spars: “The University of Maryland is ahead at the moment. Our new carbon fiber spars are a substantial weight reduction from the [Da Vinci III’s] original aluminum, though, and the entire club is pushing hard.”

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