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Human-powered helicopter rises

Earl Zubkoff, Essential Eye Photographics

University of Maryland biology student sits in the cockpit of a human-powered helicopter called Gamera.

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.

Final Gamera Test Flight from May 12, 2011 at the Comcast Center, University of Maryland, College Park.

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 msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).