University of Maryland Students Fly Solar-Powered Helicopter

New craft flew for nine seconds with one person aboard.

Solar Gamera University of Maryland
A team of student engineers from the University of Maryland have successfully flown their solar-powered helicopter.University of Maryland

Not to be outdone after creating a mere human-powered helicopter a few years ago, a number of University of Maryland undergrad students from the A. James Clark School of Engineering on August 26 successfully launched the Solar Gamera, a solar-powered helicopter. First flights, which you can watch below, took place on the engineering fields of the university campus in College Park, Maryland, with UM materials major Michelle Mahon as pilot. The longest flight lasted nine seconds, climbing to 1 foot above the ground.

The electronically-controlled Solar Gamera measures 100 square feet and comprises four banks of solar panels and four individual rotors. The student team purchased and created the foam backing for each solar cell, hand-gluing each in place before the flight. A team spokesman said they expect longer flights once the craft's electronic control system is better able to compensate for drift.

"Today you are seeing the first successful flights of the Gamera solar-powered helicopter, William Staruk said. A Ph.D. candidate, Staruk added, "You are seeing aviation history being made, as well as the history of green aviation and rotary-blade aviation."

The student effort was not without critics, of course, who claim the Solar Gamara's not technically a helicopter but rather a quadcopter, one that only appears to operate in ground effect.