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Love this great NPR piece about engineering students at University of Maryland trying to win a three-decades-old contest for human powered flight. The Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition offers a $250,000 prize for a human-powered helicopter that can fly for 60 seconds, reach a momentary altitude of 3 meters, and stay within a 10 meter square. The Maryland students are getting very close to that lofty goal.

Jake Spurlock

Jake Spurlock

Web Developer at MAKE. I’m an Engineer. That means I solve problems.

Also, a geek, designer, HTML/CSS/PHP lover. Taker of photos, and sometimes skiing and biking…

13 Responses to Human-Powered Helicopters: Straight Up Difficult

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  1. Awesome to see this on Make! The crash test pilot is a friend and classmate of mine. And he’s a kindred maker spirit, you’ll be happy to hear! He’s fine, by the way… and they had the helicopter operational again 24 hours later. Superglue!

  2. Dang I’d love to witness a record attempt. That university is a quick drive from D.C.

    • I’m sure you’d be welcome to observe… their first attempts when the copter was completed were done in front of about 20 TV cameras. Of course, technical difficulties kept them from getting airborne that day despite many attempts. No photographers were present for its first flight the next day… c’est la vie. If you’d like more info:

  3. Wow!! Just, wow! Though I’d probably tether it to the ground such that it can’t drift into a wall. Saves having to repair/rebuild when the pilot gets a little too enthusiastic.

  4. ka mitchell on said:

    Blimey! But where’s your lightweight governour,governor?

  5. Very cool!! Now THAT’s a quadcopter!
    Appears they have a problem with getting a little higher – could they have help from the wing-in-ground effect for the first 2 meters? This effect disappears above a certain altitude, creating a threshold for getting much higher… A lot more power would be needed to overcome this… Maybe the WIG effect is exactly what’s behind Sikorsky’s requirement of 3 meters?

    • That’s exactly the idea behind having the rotors so close to the ground! Very good call… it’s most effective close to the ground and exponentially decreases the higher you get.

  6. They need an x axis and a y axis weighted spinning wheels ( gyroscope) they already have a z with the rotors.

    • That would definitely help, but unfortunately they can’t afford the added weight. Every ounce makes a difference in how high they can get, and any gyroscope that would actually help stabilize the vehicle would need a significant amount of momentum (ie. mass).

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  8. Pingback: MAKE | Human-Powered Helicopter Prize Finally Claimed

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