In 1980 the American Helicopter Society offered a $250,000 prize for the first human powered helicopter. Known as the Sikorsky Prize, it was named in honor of the late helicopter pioneer Igor Sikorsky. To win the prize, the aircraft must reach a height of three meters and remain airborne for 60 seconds while staying in a 10 meter square.
Although some attempts have been made, so far 32 years later the prize has not been won. The first helicopter to try to win the contest was the Da Vinci III in 1989, designed and built by students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in California. It flew for 7.1 seconds and reached a height of 8 inches (20 cm). The second was the Yuri I in 1994, designed and built by students at Nihon University in Japan. It flew for 19.46 seconds and reached an altitude of 20 cm.
On June 21, 2012 a team of engineering students from the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering have gotten the closest to wining the prize and achieved an unofficial world record of 50 seconds with their Gamera II human-powered helicopter, far surpassing any previous records. It will not become official until validated by the National Aeronautic Association. The pilot was Kyle Gluesenkamp, a Ph.D candidate at the school’s mechanical engineering department.
The first version (the Gamera I) stayed airborne for 11.4 seconds. The aircraft was re-engineered with improved airfoils and a new structural design that reduced weight by 39 percent. As with the previous version, the pilot produced power by pedaling. However, the Gamera II has hand cranks that can increase power output by as much as 20 percent. However, due to additional exertion required by the pilot, the output gains drop off after about 60 seconds. The Gamera II is about 105 feet from tip to tip and weighs about 75 pounds without a pilot.