The strange looking craft hanging from the ceiling is a cyclocopter. The unorthodox proof-of-concept design was inspired by the competition to build the first human-powered helicopter. Established by the American Helicopter Society in 1980, this competition was commonly known as The Sikorsky Prize.

The Sikorsky competition requirements were, in summary, for a human powered craft that must remain aloft for 60 seconds, reach a minimum altitude of 3 meters and with the center point of the craft remaining within a 10 meter square. Any shape, size or configuration of heavier-than-air craft was eligible for the competition.

Jim Smith undertook this experiment by constructing a pair of horizontally rotating drums. Each drum was fitted with eight wings and both drums were rotated by the pilot operating the pedals in the middle of the craft. Each drum not only revolved around its axis, but each wing on each drum altered its “angle of attack”, relative to the arc of travel, as it progressed through each revolution; this was achieved by an ingenious “spider gear” attached to the inboard section of each drum. Notice that the shapes of the eight wings on each drum alternate between neutral and curved foils. Ultimately, the design proved capable of producing lift although of insufficient quantity to achieve flight. While only partially successful, the cyclocopter design proved far too compelling to store away or disassemble.

On June 13, 2013 the AeroVelos Atlas, a four rotor design built by students and graduates at the University of Toronto, managed to stay aloft for 64.11 seconds, climbed to 3.3 meters and maintained its flight 9.8 meters from its starting point thus winning the Sikorsky Prize.