Human-Powered Helicopter to Take Flight

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With a nod to the zany flying machines of the days of yore, some University of Maryland students will attempt to make history this Wednesday when they test-fly their human-powered helicopter for the first time.

In hopes of propelling them towards winning the Sikorsky Prize, a team of more than 50 graduate and undergraduate students from the A. James Clark School of Engineering will be taking their helicopter, Gamera, for its maiden voyage.

Gamera has rotors at each of the four ends of its X-shaped frame. Each crossbar of the frame is 60-feet long and each rotor is 42 feet in diameter. Under the frame sits a pilot's model, where a student will power the helicopter with a combination of hand and foot pedaling.

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Gamera weighs-in at a feathery 210 pounds, student pilot included, and owes its light weight to the balsa wood, foam, mylar and carbon fiber used in construction.

If Gamera can hover for 60 seconds, reach a height of three meters and remain within a 10-meter box from lift off, the team will take home the Sikorsky Challenge's $250,000 prize. Doing so will also nab the team a world record for first human-powered helicopter powered by a female. 

The pilot for the test flight will be University of Maryland life science graduate student, Judy Wexler.

The team has been tinkering on Gamera for two years to compete for the Sikorsky Prize, which is run by the American Helicopter Society (AHS). Currently, the Clark School team is the only team sanctioned by the AHS for making an official attempt. No team has succeeded since the prize was first offered in 1980.

Somewhere, the ghosts of Leonardo da Vinci and the Wright Brothers are giving thumbs-up.