The concept of a human-powered helicopter dates back to Leonardo Da Vinci. A team of University of Maryland Students has made it a reality, breaking a flight duration record.

Called the Gamera II, the helicopter has four rotor blades, and is 105 feet across but only weighs about 71 pounds. It's powered by the pilot, who controls the flight via a system of cables. Yesterday the craft managed a flight of 50 seconds, far surpassing the last record of 11.4 seconds set last year by the Gamera I, the first version. (The Wright brothers first flights were about 12 seconds, so this group of students has done at least as well).

The helicopter was built by students at the Alfred Gessow Rotocraft Center, part of the university's school of engineering, and is aimed at the $250,000 Sikorsky Prize, given by the American Helicopter Society. The winning design has to hover about 10 feet off the ground for 60 seconds. The University of Maryland team didn't manage to fill out the requirements for the prize, but they have come closer than any team before.

More flights are planned for August that will be observed by the National Aeronautic Association, which will certify the record.

There are still some problems to be ironed out: one is drift. Dennis Bodewits, an assistant research scientist in the astronomy department and one of the pilots, told Discovery News that the size of the room can limit the tests because the helicopter drifts too close to a wall. But flights of 30 seconds are becoming standard, and the group is still working to optimize the drive train to get more power.


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