The team from the University of Maryland got the huge Gamera aircraft off the ground twice for two successful flights lasting nine seconds.
However, the helicopter was only able to fly at a height of around a foot, so long-distance travel may be some way off.
Graduate student William Staruk said: “Today you are seeing the first successful flights of the Gamera solar-powered helicopter.
“You are seeing aviation history being made in the history of green aviation and rotary blade aviation.”
He added: “It’s just a matter of drift before (Gamera) gets longer flights.”
More than 100 students at the University of Maryland’s Clark School of Engineering have worked on the Gamera project for around seven years.
It started as an entry for the $250,000 Sikorsky Prize – a competition to design a human-powered helicopter before evolving into a solar power project.
The craft has individually purchased monocrystalline solar cells attached to its rotor blades with foam backings and is powered by a massive solar panel.
Footage of the flight shows engineers standing beside the Gamera, operating the controls as it lifts off with student Michelle Mahon in the cockpit.
After the successful lift-off, Ms Mahon said: “It’s an incredible experience, it’s a first for our team and it’s really exciting that I got to be the pilot.”