Solar-powered helicopter flies into aviation history

Michelle Mahon rides in the Solar Gamera, with Tyler DeGraw at the controls(Credit: University of Maryland)

As some readers may recall, several years ago a group of students from the University of Maryland achieved the world's longest human-powered helicopter flight. In 2014, a new team of undergrads took over the project and began converting the aircraft to solar-electric power. It made its first purely sun-powered flight late last month.

Originally named the Gamera, the helicopter is now appropriately known as the Solar Gamera. Although little has been provided in the way of technical details, the aircraft is powered solely by four banks of solar panels, with lift provided by four sets of rotor blades. It measures 100 ft (30.5 m) square.

On August 26th, it successfully carried a passenger over one foot (0.3 m) into the air, staying airborne for nine seconds. According to the team, once its electronic control system is better able to compensate for drift, that duration figure should rise significantly.

"Today you are seeing the first successful flights of the Gamera Solar-Powered Helicopter," said team member William Staruk. "You are seeing aviation history being made in the history of green aviation and rotary blade aviation."

The record-setting flight was captured in the video below.

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