First-ever human-powered helicopter 'set to take to skies'

And after two years of gruelling work, 50 engineers from the University of Maryland in the US are set tomorrow to launch their creation for the first time, the 'Daily Mail' newspaper reported.

The University of Maryland's helicopter, named Gamera, is a huge 60 foot long and each rotor is 42 feet in diameter. Despite its size, which stretches across about a third of a football field, the whole model, made from carbon fibre, foam and balsa wood, weighs just 140 pounds, say its makers.

Aaron Harrington, an aerospace engineering student at Maryland, said he decided to join the team after one of his professors "came to me and said he had this really awesome idea". "I thought it's an awesome idea and really interesting challenge," he added.

The chopper will attempt to be flown by Judy Wexler, 24, a biology student, who will sit beneath the X-shaped frame and furiously pedal with her hands and feet. She has been chosen because she is light and, as a competitive cyclist, has a very strong power-to-weight ratio.If Wexler succeeds in keeping the helicopter off the ground for a minute and manage to get it to rise to a height of three metres, the team will win an award of USD 250,000 and make history by becoming the first ever to achieve the feat.
The Sikorsky Prize was established in 1980 by the American Helicopter Society to encourage people to strive to achieve the first controlled flight of a human powered helicopter.

No one has yet won the prize but a Japanese team of engineers have come closest, flying their helicopter in 1994 for 19.46 seconds at a height of eight inches. It is difficult to achieve flight with a human-powered helicopter because they do not have a fixed wing, like planes.

By pedalling, pilots can gather enough thrust to overcome the drag holding them back and lift forward into the air. But because helicopters take off by going up, rather than forward, thrust alone is not enough.

Dr Antonio Filipponee, from the UK's University of Manchester, said: "With the fixed wing, you need essentially to provide the thrust to overcome the drag, whilst lift is generated by the wings.

"With the helicopter you've got them both. If you want to go forward, you have to try lift yourself and the weight of the machine. So the amount of force you need to create is at least 15 times bigger than the fixed wing aeroplane. So that's a huge challenge."

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