Human-powered helicopters have made headlines again and again over the last 12 months, and a team from the University of Maryland even broke the record for longest human-powered flight. However, a 19 year old student from UC Berkeley is now aiming to claim the American Helicopter Society Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Prize by building a human-powered helicopter that can hover for one minute and reach a height of 10 feet.

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It’s not as easy as it sounds, especially considering the current record is 12 seconds, and that had taken 31 years to achieve — so what makes young Kyle Zampaglione’s bid so different? First, he has an ultra-lightweight helicopter called Upturn that was designed by aeronautical engineer Neal Saiki specifically to break the record. With its 85-foot and 48-foot rotors, the duo believe they can do it.

“Today is the first time we have ever put it together,” said aeronautical engineer Neal Saiki of Scotts Valley speaking to Mercury News. “This is a process. It’s a lot of innovation.”

The team has already undertaken a day of testing, where several engineering errors were ironed out. Several adjustments were also made to make sure the helicopter, which has taken 20 years of planning and five years of construction, is ready to break the record.

“It will all come together,” Saiki said. “People will get really excited. This is one of the last frontiers. This is the last aviation achievement to fall.”

In order to win the Sikorsky Prize, the helicopter can only be powered by muscle power with no stored energy, and the vehicle has to stay within a 10-foot square area. The prize was recently increased from $20,000 to $250,000.

Upturn weighs about 95lbs and is made from lightweight plastic and hollow foam rotor blades. The design enables a cyclist, who is under 140 pounds, to generate one horsepower of energy a minute.

The team’s progress can be followed at

+ NTS Works

Via Mercury News