We think nothing of flight today and even take it for granted. It’s not unusual to see a helicopter give a scenic tour or provide a traffic report with “eyes in the sky” for television news. With software from Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks Corp., the Aerospace Engineering department at the University of Maryland’s (UMD) A James Clark School of Engineering is taking flight one step further.

The UMD design team is pursuing a different type of flight: a human-powered helicopter, which runs on energy generated by pedals. While human-powered airplanes have been around for at least a quarter of a century, human-powered helicopters pose a much bigger challenge, as they need more power for flight height and duration. For example, a 60-second flight pushes the limits of human endurance.

To address this issue, the design team turned to DS SolidWorks. Using SolidWorks® CAD software, the team created a helicopter propelled by hand and foot pedals. Not only does the design need to be aerodynamic, but it required durable, lightweight materials.

“SolidWorks has been critical to designing the complex parts this helicopter requires,” said Joseph Schmaus, a UMD graduate student working on the project. “Between the simulation capabilities, which allow us to perform stress analysis on individual components, and the ability to rapidly prototype complex parts, SolidWorks has helped us to ensure we create effective, safe, lightweight pieces for the larger design.”

The helicopter prototype—which weighs only 100 pounds—is currently operational, and has broken two world records to date, according to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the world governing body for air sports, aeronautics and astronautics world records. The first UMD flight was recorded at four seconds and the second flight at 12.4 seconds. The UMD team hopes to achieve the benchmark set for the Sikorsky prize, which requires a flight duration of 60 seconds and a height of three meters.

“We applaud UMD’s accomplishments to date,” said Marie Planchard, Director of World Education Markets for Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks. “This is a cutting-edge design, and coupling the power of human endurance with the right materials positions the design team to continue setting and breaking records. We wish the aerospace engineering department the best of luck with this mission—and we’re proud to be on board.”

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