College Students Struggle With Human-Powered Helicopter

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (WJZ) — Energy in human form was tapped at College Park, where University of Maryland students struggled to get a human-powered helicopter off the ground.

Alex DeMetrick reports it wasn’t easy.

It took up most of a gym floor at the University of Maryland, although the experimental helicopter is as fragile looking as a dragonfly’s wing.  Warming up for flight is Judy Wexler, the helicopter’s pilot and power source.

“I responded to a flyer on campus asking for lightweight, athletic people,” Wexler said.

Named the Gamera Project—after a Japanese sci-fi turtle that flies—the craft was designed and built over two years by 50 students.

“You didn’t have graduate instructors telling them what to do.  They had to come up with a lot of innovative solutions on their own,” said graduate student Brandon Bush.

Like placing four immense lightweight rotors down low, so air can push it up.

“It just requires a lot of man-hours and it’s just put together with epoxy and super glue,” said David Chang.

The first day’s attempts to get airborne stayed mostly grounded.  But after so much time and effort, students were not about to give up.

“I think it’s going to fly, yeah,” Chang said.

The American Helicopter Society is offering a $250,000 prize for human-powered flight.  But there’s a catch.

“You have to hover for 60 seconds and, at some point, the lowest part of your vehicle has to get above 10 feet.  That’s high,” Bush said.

The hope was a few inches of lift, maybe up to a foot.  It’s hard to tell how much altitude, if any, was achieved.

“But we have learned so much that we are confident that iteration two won’t be a step better, it will be a leap better,” said graduate student Mor Gilad.

A Japanese team did manage to get a human-powered helicopter slightly airborne, but that 19-second flight took 10 years of experimenting.

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