An 85-pound aircraft, powered by a college student pedaling with all her might, flew about two feet above ground for 20 feet Saturday, but failed to match a record for human-powered flight.
The aircraft is the senior class project of nine UC Irvine students, who had hoped their styrofoam plane would fly about 10 feet off the ground during the 10 a.m. flight from Minter Field Airport, about 110 miles north of Los Angeles.
But airport manager Joe Martin said the students considered the flight a success.
Since the mechanical engineering students started testing the aircraft May 21, the flights have been plagued by bad weather. Gusty winds damaged a section of the experimental aircraft's 105-foot-wide wing during a Friday flight.
The plane, dubbed the Medfly--short for Mechanical Engineering Department Fly--rose about 18 inches off the ground Friday, before being downed by winds about 60 yards from liftoff.
The plunge damaged a portion of the left wing, but it was repaired for Saturday's flight.
The plane is pushed for takeoff. Its engine is a bicycle sprocket wheel that the pilot must pedal 80 times a minute to rotate a double-blade propeller and make the aircraft fly, the students said.
University mechanical engineering students are required to design and construct a mechanical device, or improve an existing machine. With $60 each from the university and donations from outside sources, they constructed the plane.
"We wanted to do something challenging, something no one else was doing," student Jon Quon said. "A human-powered machine looked difficult, but doable."
The light plane is constructed of a type of styrofoam and other materials. Pilot Judy Jedziniak, who, like the other students, has no flying experience, weighs 30 pounds more than the plane.
In 1977, the Gossamer Condor, invented by Paul MacCready, became the first human-powered airplane to stay aloft by pedal power. The plane flew for six minutes and 22 seconds at Minter for a 100-yard flight.
"MacCready's famous Gossamer flight occurred here, so this was perfect for their kind of plane," Martin said. "Besides, these were students working on a shoestring budget, with no professional help. I couldn't turn them down."
Martin said the students planned to return the lightweight plane to the university, where they face final exams next week.