UMD students working to perfect 'man-powered' flight

UMD students building 'helicopter'

BALTIMORE - "Ours is a better design than Da Vinci's," said UMD grad student William Staruk . "His probably wouldn't get off the ground as well as ours does, but it's similar."

They're similar in concept because they're aircrafts running only by human power. However, the difference is that the Gamera II is the result of the collective ingenuity and determination of a team from the University of Maryland.

Saruk guides his teammates through the necessary steps, prepping their human-powered helicopter for flight.

It's a project once thought impossible 30 years ago. Now it's a distinct reality, Staruk says, thanks to a healthy debate a few years ago between UMD professors.

"They decided ‘let's find out,'" he said. "So they put a team together to explore the possibility, and the students came back and said that it was. Four years later, here we are."

And "here" is inside a massive convention hall, checking every carbon rod, pulley and cable, competing with a Canadian team for $250,000 and the AHS Sikorsky Prize. The goal of the team is not only to get the helicopter off the ground, but it has to get to a height of 10 ft. and remain there for one minute.

The third and more daunting challenge involves the helicopter remaining a 10 meter square box which is more than a little challenging.

The man piloting the Gamera II is UMD senior tri-athlete Austin Jacob. "They did the hard work," he said. "I've just got to get in and make it look good."

So with tens of thousands of man hours and even more money invested in the project, what's kept this team dedicated for more than four years?

"The coolest part is the ability to take an idea, design it and see it fly," William Staruk said. "You're perfecting a piece of technology, and it's amazing."

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