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Human-powered helicopter rises

University of Maryland biology student sits in the cockpit of a human-powered helicopter called Gamera.
University of Maryland biology student sits in the cockpit of a human-powered helicopter called Gamera.Earl Zubkoff, Essential Eye Photographics

Judy Wexler pedaled furiously and, for a few fleeting seconds, achieved what no other human has officially done before — she lifted a human-powered helicopter off the ground.

The flight is still awaiting confirmation from the National Aeronautics Association, but from the perspective of University of Maryland students working on the project, and a video of the attempt, the aircraft appears to have achieved liftoff of 3 to 5 inches, with a hover time of 4 seconds.

An announcement from the aeronautics association is pending.

The X-shaped helicopter, called Gamera, has 42-foot diameter rotors at each end of 60-foot long crossbars. A pilot's module is suspended from the middle, where Wexler, a biology student, sat and pedaled with feet and hands. Pilot included, the contraption weighs just over 200 pounds.

The liftoff flight is a milestone on a path winning the $250,000 Sikorsky Prize, an X-prize like contest for human-powered helicopters. Winning the prize requires keeping the helicopter aloft for at least 60 seconds and reaching a height of 10 feet.

To see the feat for yourself, check out the video above. The flight comes at about 3 minutes.

An ecstatic Brandon Bush, a graduate student in the university's school of engineering and project team member, says they'll review the tape but, "it is definitely a world record for us, first woman in a human-powered helicopter, maybe even a time record."

John Roach is a contributing writer for Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).