Remember back in June, when we reported that a crew of University of Maryland students came the closest anyone’s ever been to human-powered flight? Well, they’ve gotten a whole lot closer. And now they’re only one small step away from winning the long-coveted Sikorsky prize — and $250,000.
A few months ago, the UMD students released a video of their Da Vinci-like craft hovering a couple feet off the ground for 40 seconds. This shattered previous records, but didn’t meet the requirements for the prize, which requires that the aircraft achieve a height of 3 meters while staying within a 10 square meter area — for at least 60 seconds. The team got to work, tweaking the Gamera II (named after a flying turtle monster from a Japanese horror movie) by extending blade tips, enlarging structure arms, rebuilding the transmission, and making the cockpit more ergonomic.
Now, just a few months later, the team’s craft has made a 49.9 second flight that also stayed within a 10 meter square… and got only 2 feet off the ground. (They’ve also made an unofficial flight that lasted 65 seconds, they say.) Colin Gore, a graduate student in materials science and engineering, served as the pilot for the flight.
This is still a wildly impressive feat, and one that sets a new world record for human-powered flight. “The key to our students’ success is the professionalism they have brought to every aspect of this enormously difficult challenge,” said Darryll J. Pines, dean of the university’s Clark School of Engineering. “Our students are not only highly creative engineers but are also able to build on past successes in a systematic way, learning and improving as they go. They would compare favorably to professional engineers anywhere.”
The team plans to tackle the altitude issue next. If they meet the requirements for the Sikursky prize, they’ll snag $250,000 — and inspire all the rest of us who’ve ever dreamed of flying.
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