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How IIsc alumnus mentored students to build solar copter

Ramzauva Chhakchhuak, Bengaluru, Nov 17, 2015, DHNS 2:04 IST
In 2013 when students from the University of Maryland set about the task to win the $2.5 lakh Sikorsky Prize, to build and fly the world's first human-powered helicopter, they had as their adviser a veteran in the field of aeronautical engineering and an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) here.

Although the team from the university lost to another contender from Canada, they have now diverted their attention to building a solar-powered helicopter. Speaking to Deccan Herald, the adviser - Prof Inderjit Chopra, Alfred Gessow Professor in Aerospace Engineering and Director of the Alfred Gessow Rotorcraft Centre at the University of Maryland - said: “The solar-powered helicopter has not yet been tested and we hope to do so by next year. Our immediate goal is to fly this helicopter for at least a minute.” On a long-term basis, however, Prof Chopra said that he had higher goals for the helicopter.

“The ultimate goal will be to fly the helicopter across the Potomac river. With better materials being discovered and developed, the possibilities could be endless. Humans could fly like birds,” he said.

Prof Chopra studied ME at IISc between 1966-1968 and passed out with a distinction in aeronautical engineering. He then went on to study at MIT before going to NASA Ames Research Center and Stanford University. He was in the City to attend the Fourth Asian-Australian Rotorcraft Forum (ARF) at IISc.

The solar-powered helicopter called Gamera S is a modified model of the human-powered helicopter called the Gamera IID that competed for the Sikorsky Prize. Fitted with monocrystalline silicon solar cells, Gamer S has an installed capacity of 1.1 kilowatt of solar power. The first piloted flight was tested on September 18 this year.

At a time when aircrafts and planes were becoming more sophisticated and advanced, a competition to build the world’s first human-powered helicopter might have seemed like an oddity. However, in 1980, the American Helicopter Society (AHS) International announced the Sikorsky Competition with requirements being - to have a human-powered helicopter fly for a duration of 60 seconds at an altitude of three meters or around 10 feet.

Project Gamera was started in 2008 with more than 125 students and by 2011, it was flying at impressive altitudes and duration. In 2013, the Gamera II XR clocked 97 seconds of flying time and created a record.

“We received a lot of attention for this feat. It was in the front pages of newspapers and we even got calls from China to rebuild the whole thing there,” said Prof Chopra.

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