Purchasing new hardware? Read our latest product comparisons

Up, up and away: Gamera II team takes human-powered helicopter to new heights


September 4, 2012

The Gamera II team have broken the 60-second flight barrier and reached an altitude of over nine feet, although not in the same flight (Photo credit: Earl Zubkoff, Essential Eye Photographics)

The Gamera II team have broken the 60-second flight barrier and reached an altitude of over nine feet, although not in the same flight (Photo credit: Earl Zubkoff, Essential Eye Photographics)

Image Gallery (6 images)

The Gamera II team at the A. James Clark School of Engineering has certainly been keeping officials at the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) very busy this year. Kyle Gluesenkamp from the school's mechanical engineering department pedaled and cranked his way into the record books in June with a new official national record for human-powered helicopter flight with a time of 49.9 seconds, and now that too has been smashed. A new venue, and some vital modifications to the huge craft has resulted in the magic Sikorsky Prize 60-second barrier being surpassed for the very first time. Not only that, but Gamera II has also been taken up beyond eight feet before a serious crash landing put a stop to more record attempts.

In fact, the latest flights have satisfied two of the three requirements for claiming the American Helicopter Society's Sikorsky Prize of US$250,000. As you can see in the following video, materials science and engineering graduate student at the Clark School, Colin Gore powered his way to an unofficial flight duration record of 65 seconds which also stayed within a ten-meter square box and hovered at about two feet (0.6 m) off the ground.

Of course, the latter achievement is not quite enough to walk away with the prize, but subsequent flights got so close to the mark that the team could almost smell the money. Both Gore and fellow pilot Henry Enerson managed to exceed eight feet (2.43 m) during subsequent flights, with Enerson taking the craft to an altitude of over 9.4 feet (2.86 m) – that's about five inches (0.1 m) away from the target height.

So have the pilots been in training since June, or has Gamera II received a design overhaul?

"Since the 49.9 second record flight in June, the blades have undergone a couple of changes," William Staruk told Gizmag. "Each blade was extended by 0.7 meters, now the rotors are 7.2 m in radius. After testing earlier this month, during which we achieved a 70 second tethered flight, the blade tips were modified, and now have a different airfoil and taper ratio. The structure arms have also been made bigger to accommodate the larger rotors."

"A new, more ergonomic cockpit has been built since June, allowing greater power output. The transmission has also been rebuilt, allowing smoother power delivery."

The venue for the latest series of record attempts was also changed from the University's Reckord Armory to the bigger Prince George's Sports and Learning Complex, to better accommodate the new craft.

Data from the latest flights is currently under review by the NAA for a new national record. The University of Maryland's Missy Corley told us that "there was a pretty spectacular crash after the 9.4-ft flight so the team is going to regroup and probably redesign again to try and put it all together for the next attempt."

The Sikorsky Prize money is starting to look decidedly less elusive than it did at the beginning of 2012. We'll keep you posted on future flights, but in the meantime, our congratulations go to the Gamera II team.

Source: Gamera II

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag. All articles by Paul Ridden

The pilots position does not look ergonomically optimal so I would think more power could be achieved with better positioning and you could store power in a flywheel which would allow the pilot to expend less energy once airborne, unless this would be against the rules.

Jerry Peavy

put a membrane on the booms and fill all the open spaces with hydrogen.

Also get someone from the computer department to fly it, and get a cheer leader to provide encouragement. Forget physical capability it's motivation that counts. Maybe a little snark.


Judging from the yells, I think these students have all the motivation they need. And I bet most aeronautical engineers would love to be part of this. I am guessing a few more modifications (winglets maybe) and the prize is a done deal.

Bruce H. Anderson

Why is it that Gizmag commenters keep thinking they're smarter than these students? You don't even have to look up the contest to figure out that energy storage devices and bladders filled with lifting gas would be against the rules. It's all about pure muscle power. Nothing else is allowed.

And as for the pedaling position, people keep thinking that an upright position like a conventional bicycle would be better. With the arms operating cranks of their own, it's extremely unlikely you'll be able to pull up while you push down on the pedals.

Seriously, if you're so sure these students don't know what they're doing, go after the prize yourself. Anybody can compete. It's not just for students. My guess would be that you won't even leave the ground.


A great effort!!! Don't see anyone flying to work under their own power anytime soon. :-) A flywheel means weight and I'm pretty sure (!) they spent a lot time keeping this thing as light as possible. I like the hydrogen idea above but for this effort it would probably not be allowed.


it's hard not to wonder how well they would do if they put an actual cyclist in the pilot seat - maybe some friendly olympic pursuit cyclist.

they'd probably have the cash by now.


Gadgeteer, If I am not mistaken, there is already a flywheel device included in this design. ahead of the rider and above. I can see no other reason for the large wheel and weight bars spanning it. If that is forbidden in this contest, then the refinements are moot.

Post a Comment

Login with your Gizmag account:

Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our articles