University of Maryland Achieves First Flight of a Solar-Powered, Piloted Helicopter

University of Maryland Achieves First Flight of a Solar-Powered, Piloted Helicopter

A University of Maryland student team has once again achieved new aviation heights, this time by successfully lifting a helicopter and passenger through the sole use of solar power.

After successfully completing the longest duration flight for a human-powered helicopter in fall of 2013, the UMD Gamera Team, a student team originally inspired in 2012 by the American Helicopter Society’s Sikorsky Prize, has continued raising the bar. In 2014, a new group of undergraduate students took over Team Gamera, reinventing itself as Solar 
Gamera to test the feasibility of applying solar power in achieving human helicopter flight.

"Today you are seeing the first successful flights of the Gamera Solar-Powered Helicopter," said Ph.D. student William Staruk, 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."

With materials science major Michelle Mahon in the cockpit, Solar Gamera achieved two successful flights, flying for 9 seconds and gaining more than a foot of height.

"It's just a matter of drift before [Solar Gamera] gets longer flights," explained Staruk. "It's easier to trim than human-powered helicopter thanks to electronic controls."

Solar Gamera Team (Left to right): Distinguished Professor Inderjit Chopra (advisor), Loic Barret (AE B.S. '16), Michelle Mahon (Materials Science '17  , Pilot), Tyler Sinotte (Aerospace Engineering Graduate Student), Tyler DeGraw (Aerospace Engineering '17), Lauren Trollinger (Aerospace Engineering Graduate Student), Henry Cameron (Astronomy), Scott Jordan (Aerospace Engineering '17), Assistant Research Scientist Dr. Vikram Hrishikeshavan, Senior Research Scientist Dr. V.T. Nagaraj and George Murphy (Computer Science)While electronic controls offer an advantage over Gamera's human-powered predecessor, the challenge of lifting a 100-foot square rotorcraft solely through solar power has posed its own unique set of challenges.

“This is about inspiring and educating students, that’s our product here," explained Distinguished Professor and Gamera faculty advisor Inderjit Chopra. “No one thought that solar energy could lift a person [via helicopter]."

The craft may never engage in long-distance flight, but through this project's immense hands-on opportunities, students hone their engineering chops and find focus for their future.

"When I started this, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my engineering degree," said Anthony Prete (B.S. '16), who served as Gameras' team lead during the 2015-2016 school year. "This experience focused me into something, design."

More than a hundred students from across the Clark School have worked on Gamera at some point in the more than six years the team has been active, offering unlimited possibilities to explore achieving the impossible in engineering and flight.

"This project has come a long way in the past six or seven years from human-power to solar-power," added 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."

September 9, 2016


Prev   Next

Current Headlines

UMD Division of Research Announces Summer Tier 1 Awards

Gamma-ray Burst Captured in Unprecedented Detail

New UMD Research Tracks Global IT’s Shift from Cost-Cutting to Revenue-Boosting

UMD Engineers Invent the First Bio-Compatible, Ion Current Battery

Flying Dog Brewery and University of Maryland Partner on Hops Production Initiative

UMD’s “It Takes Just One” Student Team Wins National Competition to Curb Violent Extremism Online

Call for Proposals: UMD-TEC Seed Grant Program

UMD Named a 2017 Best College by MONEY Magazine

News Resources

Return to Newsroom

Search News

Archived News

Events Resources

Events Calendar

Additional Resources

UM Newsdesk

Faculty Experts

Connect

social iconstwitterlinkedinrssYouTube
Division of Research
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742-1541

Email: vpr@umd.edu
© Copyright 2017 University of Maryland

Did You Know

UMD is the only major public research university inside the Washington, DC beltway.