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How to Fly a Human-Powered Helicopter

• Jason Paur via

It turns out piloting a human-powered helicopter takes a lot more than just pedaling your ass off.

The official challenge of flying (and powering) a helicopter for at least 60 seconds, to a height of three meters and staying within a 10 meter square has been around since 1980. Several teams have tried, and all have failed.

“It’s really a mix of power at the right time and control, and finesse,” pilot/engine Colin Gore told us in describing how to fly one of two helicopters currently trying to win the $250,000 Sikorsky prize.

Gore is part of a team from the University of Maryland that hopes to finally claim the human powered helicopter title this weekend and end their heated battle with a team of Canadians also trying to find the perfect balance of power, control and design.

The Gamera II is huge. It has four large, slow turning rotors, each nearly 43 feet across, and has a total width of 105 feet. Yet it weighs just 71 pounds. The ultra low weight is accomplished using a carbon fiber truss structure that provides just (barely) enough structural strength to keep it from collapsing. The hyper-delicate nature of the craft poses the biggest challenge to getting it airborne — and keeping it there. Pedaling too hard can cause the rotors to self-destruct.

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