See How The University Of Maryland Almost Won $250K With This Human Powered Helicopter

Air Bike Human Powered

Photo: via NPR

In 1980, the American Helicopter Association established the Sikorsky Prize, a challenge for human powered helicopters with a grant reward of $250,000.For 30 years, no one came close to beating the challenge, until a group of engineers at the University of Maryland starting putting fliers up around campus.

According to Adam Cole of NPR, the fliers stated simply: “Are you light and strong? And do you want to break a world record?”

The following slides show what happened when the lithe and muscular began to apply.

The goal is simply stated, the means of getting there incredibly difficult — 10 feet off the ground, in a 10 meter square, held steady for 60 seconds.

Previous versions of the challenge (ranging from teams in Japan, to Canada, to the U.S.) all ended with projects too heavy to get too far off the ground

This project, dubbed Gamera II, spans 100 feet across and weighs in at a mere 80 lbs

During the testing phase, the pilots were encouraged not to eat pizza — advice the coach said was 'A joke, but kind of not a joke'

Gamera's initial test flights seemed to hold steady, and gain decent elevation, around 4 or 5 feet

The team's advantage is the super light-weight materials they use: plastic, styrofoam, carbon fibre tubes and 'lots of super glue'

Also the power of the flight is in four rotors, each spinning as foot power unspools lengths of pre-wound string, 'like a giant wind up toy'

Still, pilots are confident but a bit nervous, there's no steering so the drifting is a problem — reaching the required altitude means nothing if they can't hold position

Another test pilot sets up and takes off, reaching their best height of 8.5 meters before coaches call him off

They didn't call him off too soon though, and the frail aircraft takes a hard landing, suffering many breaks

Once the team feels confident, an AHA judge will come out and verify a flight. Only then can they collect the prize money

You saw a human powered helicopter ....

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