Gamera, the Human-Powered Helicopter from Maryland


The Sikorsky Prize has been unclaimed since its establishment in 1980. The winner will take $250,000 for achieving a simple-sounding set of goals: make a human-powered helicopter that can fly for 60 seconds, reach an altitude of 3 meters, and remain within a 10-meter square area during that time. It turns out this is incredibly hard to do.

In the video below, a team of students from the University of Maryland attempt to claim the prize. Their helicopter is named Gamera, after the flying monster turtle of Japanese pop culture. The students' university claims the Diamondback Terrapin, a native Maryland turtle, as its mascot -- so naturally, their flying machine must be a flying turtle.

This five-minute film is riveting; it's a mixture of science and sport, and the moments of tension as they struggle to achieve the prize are nail-biters. Enjoy.

Human-Powered Helicopters: Straight Up Difficult from NPR on Vimeo.

NPR has a much longer story on the prize and other attempts to claim it (this video is a portion of that story). From their article (emphasis added):

Gamera is so light that the draft from an air-conditioning unit can swamp a flight. And on its way down, it tends to catch air like a falling piece of paper, drifting out of its 10-meter box and into a wall — or sometimes, into a spectator. No one has ever been hurt, but the structure has suffered some nasty breaks. "That's when we learn — when things break, we know we have to make them stronger," [Graham] Bowen-Davies says.

See also: Ransom Riggs rounding up 4 Ways to Fly Like A Bird in 2008.