University of Maryland students continue to soar with alternatively-powered aircraft. Their solar-powered helicopter, Solar Gamera, lifted off the ground earlier this month, marking the first flight of a piloted, solar-powered helicopter. The Solar Gamera lifted over a foot off the earth and flew for nine seconds.
Piloted by materials science major Michelle Mahon, the 100-square-foot Solar Gamera flew twice. The students created the solar panels themselves, according to Mahon, and the craft flies via electronic controls. While nine seconds may not seem like a very long time, doctorate student William Staruk, a member of the Solar Gamera team, said it’s “just a matter of drift” before the Solar Gamera can fly for longer periods of time.
Team Gamera has a storied history, beginning with human-powered flight. Back in 2011 the students who were then working on the Gamera project broke records with the longest human-powered flight in the United States and the longest human-powered flight by a woman in the world. Gamera II achieved the highest altitude reached by a human-powered helicopter ever to that date. In 2014, students rebranded the team as the Solar Gamera, adding solar power to the aircraft’s design.
Staruk said in the video, “This project has come a long way in the past six of seven years from human power to solar power. So we are breaking barriers of all sorts of aviation with this one airframe.” Staruk was also a member of the human-powered helicopter team.
The Solar Gamera likely won’t fly long distances; instead the project is intended to galvanize students and give them hands-on engineering experience. According to Solar Gamera faculty advisor Inderjit Chopra, “This is about inspiring and educating students, that’s our product here. No one thought that solar energy could lift a person [via helicopter].”
Images courtesy of the University of Maryland