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 11:20 AM
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
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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More