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Human-Powered Helicopter Flies

Gamera pilot Judy Wexler
Gamera pilot Judy Wexler before the record attempt.

May 9, 2011 — A team of graduate and undergrad students at the University of Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering are claiming a world record for the first human-powered helicopter flight by a woman, occurring May 12 after several failed attempts earlier that day and the day before.

Two years in the making, the aircraft – called Gamera – hopes to someday win the American Helicopter Society’s (AHS) Sikorsky Prize, which awards $250,000 for the first controlled flight of a human-powered helicopter.

Pilot Judy Wexler, a 24-year-old biology graduate student at UM, pedaled furiously, taking the craft several inches into the air for about 4 seconds, unofficially setting the world record for human-powered helicopter flight with a female pilot. The National Aeronautical Association (NAA) must verify the record by reviewing the video, which should happen by Friday morning. Kristan Maynard, NAA judge, will perform the verification, but indicated the flight looked successful, according the team’s release.

Gamera, named after the giant, flying turtle from Japanese kaiju films, is an X-shaped structure formed by 60-foot crossbars with 42-foot-diameter rotors on the ends - essentially a large, light quad-rotor. The structure is made of balsa, foam, mylar, carbon fiber, and other lightweight materials weighing just 100 pounds. Pilot Wexler was suspended in a module in the center and provided all the aircraft’s power through combined hand and foot pedaling.

Click here for the video of the record attempt.

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