Human-powered quadcopter flies live tomorrow

A team from the University of Maryland will be taking their human-powered helicopter to the air tomorrow. The current flight record for this type of vehicle is just over 19 seconds of flight at a height of about 8 feet. What surprises us about this attempt is that they’re not pedaling just one main rotor. It seems that the most success in man-powered helicopter flight has come from helicopters with a total of four rotors.

The image seen above is a 2009 test of just one of the four rotor arms that will go into UMD’s finished chopper. Fully assembled it will be about 1/3 the size of a football field, dwarfing the autonomous quadcopters we usually see around here. Get the details about the design from the video after the break. It’s interesting to hear [Dr. Antonio Filipone] talk about the need to generate both the lift and the thrust, where human-powered fixed-wing aircraft only need the thrust. He predicts that human-powered helicopter flight is possible, but that it will only lift the aircraft, with little possibility of moving it in one direction or the other.

The team is attempting to grab the $250,000 Sikorsky Prize with their creation. We wish them the best of luck.

[Thanks Koldfuzion via DiscoveryNews]


  1. Jason says:

    Wow, I wish my school (ASU) was willing to partake in challenges like this! EXCITING!

  2. homer simpson says:


  3. David Rysdam says:

    That shirt is hilarious.

  4. giz says:

    begs the question, would burning human flesh to run a steam engine be considered “human-powered?”

  5. Ben R says:

    That’s some awesome stuff. In high school I briefly considered studying aerospace engineering at UMD. Wish I’d had the discipline to pursue it back then.

  6. _matt says:

    Me too. We seem to be stuck with boring solar power.

  7. Robo says:

    Very cool, hopefully we will see a followup article tomorrow.

  8. ilukester says:

    8inches not feet…

  9. chango says:

    Gamera is really neat! It is filled with human meat.

    (seriously, this is really neat)

  10. nebulous says:

    And for their power source, they use a small Asian grad student… Why not call in someone like Alberto Contador, who can maintain an output of over 600 Watts for quite a few minutes? (whereas I, in decent shape, would struggle at anything approaching 300W for a minute).

    That would at least give them more of a chance.

    That said: This is awesome! Although I’d still like a flying bike.

  11. LearDriver says:

    This is all fine and dandy, but, what’s the point?

    I’ve been flying for over 20+ yrs (everything
    from Learjets to Citations, to Bell 222’s, 430’s).

    What next ? A contest to see if we can make a
    hamster powered weather balloon ?

    I’m surprised Sikorsky is a sponsor. Then again,
    they commissioned that azz-hat over at orange
    county choppers to make a ‘custom’ bike for them.
    (even though the ‘old man’ totally disrespected
    them)… great way to spend my shareholder dollars!

  12. INquiRY says:

    Here, let me do your work HaD:

    Project homepage:

    Link to the video stream:

    Oh, did anyone mention M$ Silverlight is required?

  13. Keith says:

    And here is the guy who will power it:


  14. INquiRY says:

    Stream is still on, but it’s noon over there, so I guess it’s already happened!? Bunch of people in the Gym talking in smaller groups.

  15. TanthT says:

    Just received word that they had a mechanical failure and need to re-machine a few parts. They hope to resume testing hopefully around 2-3PM today.

  16. TanthT says:

    That is 2-3PM EST by the way.

  17. Mike says:


    It is an engineering challenge.

  18. Luke says:

    Leardriver – the point is that discoveries made in technology at the very limits of what can be done today produce future products that are mainstream later on. The developments that came about as a result of the Gossamer Condor and Albatross human powered aircraft ended up in projects for UAVs and possible future Mars long-term flying missions. Aerovironment (the company that was started by the Gossamer designer) is a major player in UAV development.

  19. Matt says:

    For Linux users (or people who just don’t want to use Silverlight), the video file from this morning can be accessed at I’ll try to post a new link when they go live again this afternoon.

  20. Matt says:

    According to the UMD Newsdesk (!/UMDNews), there won’t be a live stream this afternoon.

  21. superkuh says:

    It just started. Thanks for the wmv stream, Matt.

  22. superkuh says:

    Oh. It’s just the old stream replaying. I’m sorry. Nevermind.

  23. salomon says:

    About the live streaming they said (twitter) “Bandwidth issues. We are recording attempts for posting later. Sorry!”

  24. Matt says:
  25. INquiRY says:

    First run in at 1h55m

    another one 2h7m45s

    so that’s boring. Why bother streaming it and then no further info?

  26. UMD Observer says:

    I’m sitting in the UMD gymnasium right now. I’ve been watching the attempts since yesterday, and it’s really thrilling. The mechanical difficulties are almost all worked out, and one attempt had 3 of the 4 legs off the ground. For the record, the pilot is a 20 year old named Judy (not Asian or a grad student). She’s a competitive cyclist, so she has a huge strength to weight ratio. The mechanical problem they were having is that the carbon fiber frame was flexing a lot during operation, so that put slack in the chain connecting the foot pedals and the hand crank, and the chain kept coming off the gears as a result. They have a tensioner on it now, so no more slack. They’re making small mods as we speak, then they’ll try yet again. I’ve taken a video of every attempt, which I’ll put on YouTube at some point. Feel free to ask questions if you want to know anything specific…

  27. JRW says:

    As a Mech/Aero Eng undergrad student at UF, it is interesting to see the design being put forth by UMD. We (myself and some friends) have started a small “exploratory” club to look at multiple designs and whether or not they are possible with current materials available.

    Hell, the prize has only been around for 20 odd years, someone needs to win it soon!

  28. Joe says:

    I’m wondering the prize is still up there or we already have a winer?

  29. t-bone says:

    The first eight feet or so of each rotor- do they provide any lift? It just seems they can only provide drag.

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