Who knew that the University of Maryland would suddenly become the hotbed of pioneering aviation?
While I have been remiss in discussing pioneers or pioneering feats in aviation featuring helicopters—I am a huge fan—let’s take a look at what some aviation engineers have accomplished at the home of the Terrapins, the University of Maryland.
The Terrapin is important, as a student team has (again) become the first to get a helicopter and passenger up off the ground solely through the use of solar power.
Back in 2013, the team also completed the longest duration flight for a human-powered helicopter (you may recall Barney Rubble of the Flintstones cranking a hand pedal to fly his Barneycopter – so did these guys!) in a machine dubbed Gamera.
Gamera, as you sci-fi monster film fans may recall, was the friendly, flying giant space turtle. A terrapin is a turtle that lives in brackish water—so the hand-cranked helicopter name fits!
This time, on August 26, 2016, the University of Maryland team took their new solar-powered helicopter—this one dubbed Solar Gamera—up, up and away into the wild blue yonder! Well… actually, they did manage to get their flying turtle up one foot (30 centimeters) or more off the ground for a total of nine seconds.
And they did it twice.
It may not seem like much, but it is a very important and fantastic first step in the evolution of aviation.
“Today you are seeing the first successful flights of the Gamera Solar-Powered Helicopter,” says Ph.D. student William Staruk (from a University of Maryland web story), who assisted with the flight and was a member of Gamera‘s Human-Powered Helicopter Team. “You are seeing aviation history being made in the history of green aviation and rotary blade aviation.”
Michelle Mahon, a materials science major, was in the cockpit for the successful flight and other attempts.
“It’s just a matter of drift before [Solar Gamera] gets longer flights,” explains Staruk. “It’s easier to trim than human-powered helicopter thanks to electronic controls.”
The solar panels help generate electric power to lift the 100-foot square rotorcraft.
“This is about inspiring and educating students, that’s our product here,” explains Distinguished Professor and Gamera faculty advisor Inderjit Chopra. “No one thought that solar energy could lift a person (via helicopter).”
“This project has come a long way in the past six or seven years from human-power to solar-power,” sums up Staruk. “So we are breaking barriers of all sorts in aviation with this one airframe and we are very proud of that work here at the University of Maryland.”
Now what, University of Maryland? I think the world is curious to see if your team can either improve on the flying process, or perhaps if you will work on turning it into a stealth helicopter capable of performing a controlled loop-de-loop. You guys are crazy enough to make it happen.
Congratulations on your successes and to infinity and beyond.