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