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An evening event to recognize the culmination of successful careers in aeronautical and space technology included two U of T graduate students just getting started. There they were, in their rented tuxedos, mingling with respected senior academics, business executives and military officers who were also being honoured at a gala dinner of the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI).

Todd Reichert (EngSci 0T5, UTIAS PhD candidate) and Cameron Robertson (EngSci 0T8, UTIAS MASc 0T9) received the Trans-Canada (McKee) Trophy on April 27 in Montreal, for designing, building and successfully flying their human-powered ornithopter, Snowbird, last summer – a world first.

The McKee Trophy is the oldest aviation award in Canada and is awarded to a Canadian whose achievements have been outstanding in promoting aviation. “We were the youngest people to win the McKee,” says Reichert. “It was quite a big deal to get something like this so early on in our careers.”

CASI’s announcement of the 2011 recipients recognized that the sustained ornithopter flights required “an incredible amount of dedication, perseverance, effort and ability. It took over three years and involved a larger team including UTIAS Professor Emeritus James D. DeLaurier, but Todd and Cameron were by far the key drivers. Symbolic of the effort put in is the fact that Todd’s exercise and weight loss program in preparation for the flights caused him to lose l8 lbs. It is also important to acknowledge the phenomenal engineering ingenuity involved in producing this aviation first, particularly in the areas of lightweight structures and flapping wing aerodynamics.”

The announcement concluded by observing that, “In modern aviation, firsts are increasingly rare and difficult. This particular first absolutely deserves to be celebrated and recognized through the Trans-Canada (McKee) Trophy.”

U of T Engineering Dean Cristina Amon also offered heartiest congratulations on behalf of the Faculty: “Receiving this award in itself is a great achievement, but to win it as graduate students is particularly phenomenal. It’s a testament to the creativity and hard work done by Todd Reichert, Cameron Robertson and the team.”

Todd and Cameron also participated in the Human-Powered Vehicle Challenge.

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Fahad Pinto
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