Human-Powered Helicopter Takes Flight

Last year, a team from the Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland created a human-powered helicopter called Gamera and managed to get it off the ground for 11 seconds. Not bad. But yesterday, the Gamera 2 managed to stay airborne for a solid 50 seconds, smashing the world record. It looks exhausting.

The team is competing for the coveted Sikorsky Prize. To win, a human-powered craft must get off the ground, hover for at least one minute and reach a minimum altitude of three metres. These guys are definitely getting close on the time requirement, but it looks like they've still got a ways to go before they reach that 3m mark. The winner of the Sikorsky Prize gets $US250,000. It was announced 11 years ago and has never been claimed.

Last year's Gamera was pretty amazing, but the Gamera II has been improved in many ways. It's 32m across, and each of the four rotors are 13m long. For all that, it weighs only 32kg, which is 14kg lighter than last year's model. Thank you, carbon fibre. The engine is a single human who uses both foot and hand pedals (last year's was foot pedals only).

They are planning on making more attempts today, so who knows, we may see that prize claimed before the sun goes down. [Wired]

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    That's an incredible feat, though I'm pretty sure they'd never reach 3m with that design. It's pretty clear that it's able to fly at that height with the aid of "wing in ground effect", i.e. they get a good proportion of the lift from the wings being close to the ground. To get greater height they'd have to pedal one hell of a lot faster or use much larger rotor blades. The larger blade option is the most likely, but even then it'd be an order of magnitude more complex to design, build and fly. I wish them the best of luck.

    That poor bugger is working awfully hard just to get that thing in the air. Nice project, though I'm hard pressed to see what it will lead to.

    I wonder if they would be better off gearing down and getting some slightly smaler blads going a bit faster, especially if they want to go higher. Also, the hand cranks hardly seem worth it, also not sure about that riding position for mechanical eficiency. It looks great, but I feel like a biomechanical engineer might be able to improfe the power input.

    Get a more powerful engine: bigger, stronger guy? Rowers, grinders, cyclists, or just train over and over. I'm sure they could do it.

      Shows what can be achieved with maybe a very small motor instead of a human.

      Also bigger guy will weigh more... Weight is critical. You'd want a really small, light cyclist

    hope that shows everyone how horribly inefficient that is...

    and I guess that, although performance-enhancing drugs might help a little, the ideal pilot is most likely a competitive cyclist so that would sink their normal pedalling career. Caffeine is okay though - or France and Italy would be out of the sport! :)

    I guess the height stipulation in the Sikorsky prize rules is partly to rule out help from the wing-in-ground effect.

      What about Lance Armstrong, super cyclist, "potentially" drug free and lighter than the average dude by 1 testy...

    Who cares who will be able to peddle the longest / fastest. The thing can't be used to fly 10m. Pointless. IMO

    Man, what a bunch of downers!
    This isn't the final design, not by a long shot. I was thinking that for a modest weight penalty (which could be traded off with a more athletic engine) you could introduce a small transmission (say, a CVT: that would enable the blades to turn much vaster as they gained momentum.

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