The history of flight is notoriously fickle. Orville Wright managed to stay aloft for just 12 seconds in his plane in 1903. Last week, Judy Wexler hovered a few inches above the ground for about 4 seconds in a human-powered helicopter, but it was enough to put a mark in the history books.
The University of Maryland has played host to the creation of the Gamera helicopter, named for a giant flying turtle superhero that can give Godzilla a run for his money.
Gamera is usually seen flying by spinning around rapidly like a big, scaly Frisbee. The helicopter version features four 42-foot-long rotors in an X pattern with the pilot at the center. Counting the 110-pound Wexler, a University of Maryland biology student, the whole contraption weighs in at a slim 210 pounds worth of balsa, mylar, carbon fiber, and foam. Hand and foot pedals provide the power.
Gamera is chasing a lofty goal. The American Helicopter Society's Sikorsky Prize offers $250,000 for a human-powered helicopter that hovers for 60 seconds, stays within a 10-meter square space, and reaches a 3-meter altitude. That's a tall order. … Read more