AHS Congratulates UMD on New Gamera Records

AHS International congratulates the University of Maryland for setting new human powered helicopter endurance records

Gamera celebration Oct 26University of Maryland students from Team Gamera have unofficially set a world record of 97 seconds for the duration of a human powered helicopter flight. The flight, witnessed by National Aeronautic Association (NAA) officials, was conducted on September 25, 2013. This incredible flight duration is more than 50% longer than the requirements of the AHS Sikorsky Prize, won by AeroVelo in July. 

Team Gamera also achieved an unofficial U.S. record for human powered helicopter flight duration by a female pilot with a 38-second flight piloted by Kay Tsui. Both records are expected to become official records, validated by the NAA. 

The announcement came at an event on Saturday, October 26 celebrating the team's accomplishments, which was attended by senior officials from the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, United Technologies Corporation, the American Helicopter Society (AHS) International, as well as University of Maryland President Wallace Loh. At the same event, Sikorsky and United Technologies Corporation representatives presented a trophy and a check for $50,000 to honor the team’s achievements.

Full remarks delivered by AHS International Executive Director, Mike Hirschberg: 

In 1980, when the American Helicopter Society (as we were then known) announced the AHS Sikorsky Prize for human powered helicopter flight, we knew we were posing a very tough challenge. But we didn’t fully appreciate just how tough it was.

For 33 years, many in the world’s vertical flight community thought the competition was an impossible challenge, and several studies proved that it was in fact scientifically impossible. A human being simply could not generate enough power for long enough to keep a human powered helicopter in the air for sixty seconds, much less reach 3 meters. And when you add the weight of a control system to keep it hovering over a 10 meter box, it made it even more impossible.

Before 2009, when Sikorsky Aircraft pledged a prize of $250,000 for the AHS competition, only two teams had flown human powered helicopters – Cal Poly in California and Nihon University in Japan. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, they had demonstrated maximum altitudes of about 8 inches and endurance times of less than 20 seconds – proving how difficult the AHS Sikorsky Prize was. No one was able to even get off the ground for another 15 years.

Then, 2 ½ years ago, on May 12, 2011, the University of Maryland became the third team to accomplish an incredibly difficult challenge – designing and building a human powered helicopter that could actually fly. As amazing as that day was, it was only the first step towards the incredible challenge. Flight durations of Gamera I became longer and longer and attitudes for the first time could be measured in feet instead of just inches, inspiring the world.

Rising higher and higher, Gamera II stunned the world with reaching 6, 8 and 9 feet. These demonstrations in August 2012 seemed to prove to the world that the AHS Sikorsky Prize was possible.

The innovations by Maryland in structures, aerodynamics and human power output were stunning. Even more impressive was the spirit of openness, and friendly rivalry between Maryland and other teams. Maryland students published numerous papers at AHS conferences and left a legacy of important research to the world.

The AHS Sikorsky Prize wasn’t intended to produce a practical human powered helicopter. We set up the prize to inspire the next generation of vertical flight pioneers. We were tremendously successful in this goal. But, perhaps unexpectedly, the world was inspired even more by the incredible accomplishments of the University of Maryland’s Gamera team. 

UMD press pelease, October 31, 2013

Gamera 97 second flight video, September 25, 2013