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Lofty Ambitions for Human-Powered Chopper

UMD Team hopes to make history - and $250K

By Andy Salsman
|  Wednesday, May 11, 2011  |  Updated 7:13 PM EDT
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University of Maryland engineering students try to get their human-powered, lightweight helicopter off the ground.

Jane Watrel

University of Maryland engineering students try to get their human-powered, lightweight helicopter off the ground.

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Some terrapins, apparently, have wings.

More than 50 University of Maryland students are hoping to soar into the world record books today when they test fly a human-powered helicopter.

Here's a picture from NBC Washington's Jane Watrel of preparations being made before the test run:

The chopper, named Gamera, is made from lightweight materials and is powered by hand and foot pedaling. It weighs just 210 pounds, and that includes the pilot!

How does it work?  According to the team's website, Gamera has a rotor at each of the four ends of its X-shaped frame, with the pilot's module suspended at the middle. Each crossbar of the frame is 60 feet long, and each rotor is 42 feet in diameter. Lightweight materials like balsa, foam, mylar, and carbon fiber were used in construction. It is powered by foot and hand pedaling.

The pilot for the Gamera tests has been life sciences graduate student Judy Wexler.

The team tested Gamera Wednesday morning in College Park until a part broke. They planned to continue testing again in the afternoon but a broken cable interfered. They plan to try again Thursday morning.

The team of Terps has a lot riding on today’s flight. If it succeeds, it could capture the Sikorsky Prize. The American Helicopter Society first offered the $250,000 award in 1980 to the first human-powered helicopter. The prize has yet to be won. To win it, Gamera must hover for a minute and reach a height of 3 meters.

If Gamera gets airborne for even just a few seconds, the team will be only the third team to accomplish that feat.

Check out more about the Gamera in the video below:

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