News / Science & Technology

Students Aim for Aviation History with Human-Powered Helicopter

Students Aim for Aviation History with Human-Powered Helicopteri
X
May 15, 2013
Students at the University of Maryland want to make aviation history by building the world's first human-powered helicopter. In 1980, the American Helicopter Society announced an award for the first person to accomplish such a feat. The prize has gone unclaimed for 33 years, but the student engineers are confident they can bring it home. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.

Students Aim for Aviation History with Human-Powered Helicopter

TEXT SIZE - +
Rosanne Skirble
Students at the University of Maryland want to make aviation history by building the world's first human-powered helicopter.

In 1980, the American Helicopter Society announced an award for the first person to accomplish such a feat.

The $250,000 Sikorsky Prize would go to a vehicle that could hover for 60 seconds, not stray beyond a three-meter-square area, and at some point in the flight reach an altitude of three meters.

The prize has gone unclaimed for 33 years, but the student engineers are confident they can bring it home.

Within reach

What seemed impossible when William Staruk began his PhD studies at the University of Maryland three years ago, is now within reach. He's part of a 50-member team developing a flyer called the Gamera II.
Students Aim for Aviation History with Human-Powered Helicopter
Students Aim for Aviation History with Human-Powered Helicopter i
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

“It has flown for 60 seconds and on a different flight gone to an altitude of nine feet [2.7 meters]." Staruk said. "We’re hoping now to combine both of those into a single flight, get that little bit of extra altitude we need and keep the helicopter controlled and stable so that we can take home the $250,000 Prize.” 
Gamera II pilot Henry Enerson hovers just short of the 3-meter altitude required in the competition. (Earl Zubkoff/Courtesy University of Maryland.)Gamera II pilot Henry Enerson hovers just short of the 3-meter altitude required in the competition. (Earl Zubkoff/Courtesy University of Maryland.)
The volunteers are divided into the rotor, cockpit, transmission and stability working groups.  Weight is a major concern for all of them. The 36-kilogram craft is shaped like a giant x, with 21-meter long arms that look like railroad trusses.

“Everything on the helicopter that is black is carbon fiber," Staruk said. "The blades you see are largely white. That’s insulation foam. It’s a lightweight material that we can use to hold the shape of our blades. Those blades are covered in a skin that is Mylar. It is a clear plastic that forms the surface of the wings. ” 

Staruk says unlike a normal helicopter with blades on the top and tail, the 4 rotors on the Gamera II - each with two blades at the tips of each cross-piece - are close to the ground.  

“So, by keeping our blades low they actually take less power to run," he said. "As we climb, it gets harder and harder for the pilot. That's what limits our altitude.”

The pilot sits suspended under the center of the X, with his feet clipped into bike-like pedals and his hands on a crank. A lightweight cord runs from the wheels spun by the pedals, through the craft, to the rotors.

“As the pilot pedals, it reels in the string just like reeling in a fish," Staruk said. "When the pilot cranks his hands and feet, the rotors all start spinning at the same speed and that lifts us into the air.” 

Test Day

On flight test days, PhD student Elizabeth Weiner stands under the craft, yelling commands to the pilot and support team. Disappointed with Gamera II’s latest performance just a few weeks ago, she’s come to the warehouse where it’s stored to inspect the damage. 

“There’s a lot of fatigue that happens on all the parts of the helicopter," Weiner said. "And so one of the things that we’re doing now is post-flight testing, going through and making sure that nothing else is broken.  We had some problems with blades. But you never know what else is slowly breaking.”
Graduate student Elizabeth Weiner coordinates operations with pilot Colin Gore during flight tests. (Earl Zubkoff/Courtesy University of Maryland)Graduate student Elizabeth Weiner coordinates operations with pilot Colin Gore during flight tests. (Earl Zubkoff/Courtesy University of Maryland)
Colin Gore also stops by for a look. He’s a student in materials science and knew little about helicopters before joining the team. But he is thin, 54.4 kilograms, and strong, which made him the perfect test pilot. 

“I'm a pretty slim guy, but ’ve got a lot of muscle compared to the rest of my body," Gore said. "I feel like I've got a high profile but probably, I’ve got the easiest job of all of them, just dump power into it and give them the performance that they deserve.”

Meeting the challenge

Despite recent setbacks, Gore’s motivation is shared by his team members. Staruk and Weiner agree that it has been a great run. 

“We’ve had the opportunity to go through an actual design and flight test experience and that’s the sort of thing you never get to do," Staruk said. "It’s a lot of fun going out there and building something and flying it and trying to do the impossible”

“For me," Weiner said,  "it’s knowing that we did it and we did it first.” 

And they are doing it, after being challenged to enter the competition four years ago by aerospace professor Inderjit Chopra. He’s watched as the students invested time and creativity in the project. He’s proud of what they’ve accomplished and what they are about to do. 

“This milestone has not been successfully completed yet," Chopra said. "It will be an enormous joy when they complete it. I hope that it should be in 2013.”

The Gamera II team plans to make another attempt at the Sikorsky Prize within two months.

You May Like

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

Parliament approves legislation to bolster powers of intelligence service, which government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats Turkey faces More

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: jeff from: Kenya
June 06, 2013 6:39 AM
I salute these students for their remarkable achievement on this challenge but again am also constructing a coaxial type for the same purpose and the more they drift the more chances am left with :)

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Face of American Farmer is Changingi
X
Mike Osborne
April 18, 2014
The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid