Monday, May 30, 2011

UMD Flies Human Powered Helicopter

A University of Maryland team has succeeded in building and flying a helicopter powered entirely by a single human pilot. Next Step: The Sikorsky Prize, a human-powered-helicopter award that has been awaiting a winner for 30 years.

Judy Wexler, a biology graduate student at the University of Maryland, was the pilot. Wexler pedaled furiously using both hand and feet pedals to get the craft airborne for just 10 seconds. Ten seconds might not sound like much, but in the 30 years that the prize has been out there, only two other teams have even gotten off the ground. The team is now waiting for the National Aeronautic Association and the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, an international body that maintains aviation records, to certify the time.

The helicopter is extraordinarily light—only 210 pounds, including the pilot. Crafted primarily from balsa wood, carbon fiber, Mylar and foam, the aircraft has a limited weight that belies its size. The X-shaped frame has crossbars measuring 60 feet, with a rotor at each endpoint. The rotors themselves are 42-feet in diameter, with blades that are 21 feet long and just 7 pounds each. The helicopter needed to be light enough to lift, but strong and efficient enough so that it wouldn't shudder apart with the motion of the pedals. To accommodate the huge frame, students added additional truss supports, or "baby trusses," at weak points along the structure...

Pretty impressive student engineering. But I don't think it got out of ground effect.

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