first_imgHuman-powered flight has eluded mankind from the very beginning. Our bulky bodies just aren’t designed for flying, but we persist, enlisting all means of contraptions, high-tech materials, and mechanical advantages in order to get closer to sustained flight. Ultimately our strength-to-weight ratio means that no matter how many gears we use, how much carbon fiber we employee, and how much lift the wings provide, we still can’t get off the ground — and stay there — for any length of time. But, through all those attempts, we are improving.The video above covers the Sikorsky Prize for human-powered helicopter flight (we covered last year as well). The prize, which was set in 1980, will be awarded to the team that can fly a heavier-than-air machine, solely with human-provided power, with no energy storage devices (springs, rubber bands, etc.) for one full minute. During that minute the craft will not be able to leave a 10 square meter box, and at one point its bottom will have to exceed 3 meters in height. There is no limit to the number of people who can power it, through at least one of them cannot rotate. Being a helicopter, the machine must be capable of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL).The current prize is $250,000, so while this isn’t something you’d do for the money, it is a reasonable pastime for young aerospace engineers and (at least) one of their flyweight cyclist friends. The video runs through two attempts at the prize, in the first of which Kyle Gluesenkamp flies a quadcopter about 8 feet into the air. Ultimately the height ended up being more of a challenge than the duration, though the sustained sprint is clearly a limitation to the helicopter’s abilities.It’s not entirely clear why the team was able to get to 8 feet after a previously going just 3.5, but they were thrilled with the progress. It does not appear that the hand and foot pedals have any gearing (likely to save weight and complexity) though that seems like it would be a logical step, if it could be done without interruption to the pedaling. The use of both hand and foot cranks could prevent this, so it’s possible that the added power and endurance provided by the arms is more of an advantage than gearing.Another team, from the University of Maryland, was able to get their craft up to the 9-foot mark, but the record remained intact. Surely, within a brief matter of time, we’ll see this record broken and bigger things being done in human-powered aviation.More at NPR.last_img read more