On the heels of Solar Impulse’s groundbreaking solar-powered flight around the world, as well as efforts of Internet of things (IoT) companies like Alphabet (Google) and Facebook, it seems as though the skies could soon be swarming with creative ways to utilize the potential of solar power and technology to fly. Team Gamera, an undergraduate group of students and faculty advisors from the Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland, successfully designed, constructed and tested the first human-piloted helicopter powered entirely by solar energy.
The latest effort was inspired by the team’s efforts to win the American Helicopter Society’s Sikorsky Prize in 2012. For that project, Team Gamera created a human-powered whirly-bird. The new, 100-square-foot solar-powered helicopter was piloted by materials science major Michelle Mahon who achieved two flights totaling 9 seconds while hovering one foot off the ground.
More than 100 undergraduates over the last 6 years from the Clark School have had the opportunity to participate and focus their skills and interest in Gamera’s hands-on engineering and design environment to overcome the impossibilities of human flight.
According to PhD student William Staruk, who participated in Gamera's human and solar powered helicopter teams, “You are seeing aviation history being made in the history of green aviation and rotary blade aviation. This project has come a long way in the past six or seven years from human-power to solar-power. 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.”
“This is about inspiring and educating students, that’s our product here. No one thought that solar energy could lift a person,” said Professor and Gamera Faculty Advisor Inderjit Chopra.
The University of Maryland is a hotbed of solar aviation research and development. At the Maryland Robotics Center, it applied flexible solar cells to the wings of its mechanical bird, Robo Raven III, allowed it to mimic the dives, loops and back flips of birds in flight. Unfortunately, the PV cells did not produce enough energy to enable Robo Raven III to perform extended flight times independent of a battery storage system, but they could charge the bird while it was stationary. According to Professor S.K. Gupta, the initial results will be used to help Robo Raven III and future generations of mechanical fowl to fly further, for longer stretches of time and more independently.Tweet