Human-powered helicopter to take test flight

Posted by Emma Woollacott

A group of University of Maryland students will on Wednesday attempt to test fly a human-powered helicopter.

Named Gamera, after a giant flying turtle from a Japanese movie, it is powered entirely by hand and foot pedalling, transmitted through chains, gears, and lightweight string to the rotors. It will be piloted by University of Maryland life sciences graduate student Judy Wexler.

The team hopes to set a world record for human-powered helicopter flight with a female pilot on board, as well as win the $250,000 Sikorsky Challenge. This is a prize offered by the American Helicopter Society back in 1980, and as yet unclaimed.

To win, the team needs to get a human-powered helicopter off the ground for a 60 second hover that reaches three meters, while having enough control to remain inside a 10-meter square. It's a difficult task, as helicopters require substantially more power than planes.

Gamera has a rotor at each end of its X-shaped frame, with the pilot’s module suspended in the middle. Each crossbar is 60 feet long, and the rotors are 42 feet in diameter - 30 percent longer than those of the current record-holder, and giving a 70 percent larger rotor area.

It weighs just 210 pounds, including the pilot, thanks to the use of balsa, foam, mylar, carbon fiber and other lightweight materials.

Many of the structural components are fabricated using a specially-developed filament-winding composite construction which uses unidirectional carbon fiber to build a truss structure with a high stiffness-to-weight ratio.

It makes the components more complex to build than simple tubes, rods, or box-beams, says the team, but brings crucial weight savings.

There's a video, here.