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

Photogallery Pistorius Sentenced, Taken to Prison

Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide in shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, will likely serve about 10 months of five-year sentence, before completing it under house arrest More

UN to Aid Central Africa in Polio Vaccinations

Synchronized vaccinations will be conducted after Cameroon reports a fifth case of the wild polio virus in its territory More

WHO: Ebola Vaccine May Be in Use by Jan.

WHO assistant director Dr. Marie Paule Kieny says clinical trials of Ebola vaccines are underway or planned in Europe, US and Africa 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.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid