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

Missouri Town Braces for Possible Racial Unrest

Situation in Ferguson hinges on whether white police officer will be indicted for August shooting death of unarmed black teen; decision could come Monday More

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of 1930s Deadly Famine

President Poroshenko compares Soviet-era ‘genocide’ to current tactics of pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine's east More

S. Philippines Convictions Elusive 5 Years After Election-related Killings

Officials vowed to deliver justice as the nation marked the anniversary of the country's worst political massacre that left 58 dead, more than half media 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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid