COLLEGE PARK, Md. – A University of Maryland student engineering team had a strong attempt, but fell a bit short last week in their latest effort to conquer one of the last great aviation challenges – surpassing the winning requirements for the American Helicopter Society's 30-year old Sikorsky Human-Powered Helicopter Competition and its $250,000 prize.
The team conducted flight attempts on Feb. 27 and 28 in Baltimore in their Gamera II XR helicopter. In separate flights, they reached heights up to 6 feet and were able to stay aloft for 60 seconds and their new control system allowed them to hover within the required area. However, did not reach the requirements to take home the prize: a single flight of over 60 seconds in which the vehicle reaches 3 meters altitude (10 ft.) and remains within a 10 meter x 10 meter box. During previous flights, UMD's Team Gamera set the record for longest human-powered helicopter flight with a 65.1-second flight and has unofficially reached a height of about 9 feet. The team hopes to try again for the prize later this month.
Their recent attempts, which featured a revamped aircraft equipped with a new control system, were conducted in front of officials from the American Helicopter Society (AHS) and Sikorsky Aircraft International (SAI).
The team's 51 students, almost all of them from the university's A. James Clark School of Engineering, faced fast rising competition from AeroVelo, a Toronto, Canada based team. Although they did not take home the prize, the UMD team says they believe their design innovation, continued upgrades and improvements, and dedication will soon carry them to victory.
Over its more than three decades, the challenge has inspired a number of efforts to build a successful human-powered aircraft, but none came even close until UMD joined the race in late 2008. Professor Inderjit Chopra, director of the university's Alfred Gessow Rotorcraft Center, recruited a handful of graduate students and undergrads to take on the challenge. Because the UMD mascot is the Diamondback Terrapin, they named their helicopter Gamera after the giant flying turtle of Japanese monster movies.
"I know our students will soon achieve their goal thanks to the innovation, determination and professionalism they have brought to every aspect of this enormously difficult challenge," said Clark School Dean Darryll J. Pines. "They tackle each obstacle in a systematic way, improving and adjusting just as professional engineers would. They embody the spirit of our students and their high standards of excellence here at the University of Maryland."
The Gamera team has had participation from more than 80 students during its four years.