Given our current hiatus in testing as we await word from the AHS, invited us to come watch their latest and tentatively last round of flight testing this week. We jumped at the chance, eager to learn from the most rigorous and research-intensive team to ever attack the human-powered helicopter challenge. I was lucky enough to be there for Tuesday evening and most of Wednesday, for some of the most exciting flights to-date.
Team Gamera”s goals for this round of tests were to answer the last burning questions facing the team: 1) Would the variable-RPM control system work at high altitude, and 2) was this helicopter, so different in every detail from Atlas, also capable of winning the AHS Sikorsky Prize? After seeing this helicopter in action, and after the final list of flights was tallied, I would venture a “Yes” to the second question! It”s been an incredibly close race for the AHS Sikorsky Prize, and it”s impossible to overstate the intensity, pressure, and drama that both of our teams have seen in the neck-and-neck pursuit of this historic goal.
The most notable flights of Wednesday included: 10.8ft peak altitude/48 seconds duration, 9.3ft peak altitude/60 seconds duration, and a 74 second controlled flight (staying within a prescribed 10m x 10m box). The AHS congratulated Team Gamera on satisfying the three monumental requirements of the Sikorsky Prize in these three separate landmark flights.
I had a great opportunity to speak with many of the team members and to learn about their research, design approach, and experience.
I had met the team before over Christmas of 2012 in College Park at UMD, and then again at the AHS Forum in Phoenix, AZ, but it was a surreal experience to be able to witness their incredible aircraft and their team organization during testing. It was mind-boggling to find that although outwardly Gamera and Atlas look very similar, almost every design decision and detail has been made differently. It”s a dramatic illustration of how creative engineering solutions and different paths can both arrive at valid answers to the same challenge.
Of particular interest were many of Gamera”s unique and ingenuitive mechanical and structural designs. AeroVelo hopes to be working on several more human-powered aircraft projects in the near future, and Team Gamera”s innovations have great potential for application to our next aircraft.
On a less elated note, this round of testing concludes the University of Maryland”s project (pending AHS”s ruling on our Sikorsky Prize attempt), and Gamera is not slated to fly again. I hope that the team can find a suitable home for this piece of history, on display to inspire the public for years to come.
Thanks again to Team Gamera for your generosity with your time and your great hospitality, we appreciated this special opportunity.
A side note, Solar Impulse
While on my way to Richmond to see Gamera”s testing, I was able to stop by the Smithsonian Institution”s Udvar-Hazy Centre outside Washington, D.C., where the Solar Impulse was on display. Solar Impulse is an enormous but very light solar-powered aircraft, flying from coast-to-coast across the US on its mission to demonstrate how with innovation we can change the definition of possible, and how with focus on renewable energies we can create a brighter future. Clearly our goals and mission are very much aligned! Solar Impulse will be concluding its sojourn in New York City, and has the ultimate goal of a non-stop Around-the-World flight in 2015. Keep a close eye on this exciting project for news and updates!