Female-Powered Helicopter Lifts Off (With Video)

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A team of University of Maryland (UMD) students hope that their attempt to capture a record for human-powered helicopter flight with a female pilot is confirmed after a flight of about four seconds, Thursday. Judy Wexler, a 110-pound competitive cyclist (and doctoral candidate in evolutionary biology), took her place at the center of the 100-pound aircraft, Gamera, before cranking and pedaling briefly into the air. The vehicle consists of four rotors, each one 43 feet long, connected by an x-shaped structure of 29-foot truss arms angled up to suspend the seat with pedals and hand cranks at the center. It is 103 feet from rotor tip to rotor tip. Structural components are mostly carbon fiber, balsa wood and foam with mylar covering creating the surfaces of the airfoil. A minimum amount of metal was used. At least two other teams have made previous successful flights of longer duration with male pilots, but no official world records have been recorded by the National Aeronautc Association (NAA), so UMD may claim one.

Thursday's efforts were captured on video and can be seen at right. The prior efforts include one from Japan's Nihon University that in 1994 made an indoor flight (with Yuri-I), which appears to have lasted more than 15 seconds, and a California Polytechnic Institute flight (with Da Vinci III) that managed to fly for a few seconds in 1989. (See the links below.) Sikorsky has offered a $250,000 prize for whoever produces the first human-powered helicopter to fly for 60 seconds at an altitude of three meters.

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