Swansea University aids speed record bid

  • Published
Computerised images of Bloodhound. Pic: Swansea University
Image caption,
The university has used computational fluid dynamics to aid the design of the vehicle

A Welsh university is part of a team aiming to set a new land speed record in 2012 by breaking through the 1,000mph (1,610km/h) barrier.

Swansea University's College of Engineering is assisting the Bloodhound Super Sonic Car (SSC) project.

The Welsh team has been working on the vehicle's aerodynamics, ensuring that it remains stable at high speed.

"Wales has a long association with the record," said Prof Ken Morgan. "We're happy to be carrying on the tradition."

The British team behind Bloodhound launched their record bid in 2007, aiming to beat the 763.04 mph (1,220.86km/h) speed achieved by their vehicle Thrust SSC in Nevada, USA, ten years earlier.

RAF pilot Andy Green, who was aboard Thrust SSC, will again be at the wheel when the attempt is made at Hakskeen Pan, South Africa, in 2012.

Image caption,
Model shape: construction of the Bloodhound starts in the New Year

While the first land speed record - a modest 39.24mph (62.78km/h) - was set in 1898, Wales' involvement dates back to the 1920s when it was broken on five occasions at Pendine Sands, Carmarthenshire.

Swansea University worked on the Thrust SSC record in the 1990s.

Prof Morgan said: "The reason they came to us then is that we had the technology here, that we then passed on to BAE Systems and Airbus, and they developed it. We still have an advanced capability here.

"Thrust was totally designed using computational fluid dynamics (CFD), and I assumed after the record was set that that was the end of our contact with the land speed record, but in 2007 the same people came back to us again with Bloodhound."

Image caption,
Early prototype: After crashing in 1927 at Pendine Sands, a year after setting the record, Babs was restored in 1969

Since then, he said, the university's five-strong research team has been working on the aerodynamics of the new vehicle, making sure it stays on the ground.

"In simple terms that means a study of the interaction between the air and the moving vehicle," said Prof Morgan. "Anybody who has ridden a bike in the wind will understand that concept."

Prof Morgan explained that their main challenge has been balancing the four main forces experienced by the vehicle as it travels - drag, lift, weight and thrust.

"When you move the vehicle over the ground and through the air you create a friction force opposing you, called drag, and you make a force at right angles to the ground, which is called lift," he said.

"The overall forces working on the vehicle are its weight, acting downwards, and thrust, pushing the car forward.

"The thrust has got to more than the drag and the weight has to be more than the lift.

"It's a simple concept, but the problem is how you determine what the lift and drag are. That's why we have to use CFD - using a computer to predict what those forces will be.

"To control that you alter the shape of the vehicle and that's what we have been involved in doing."

This has involved the team looking at where the intakes of the engine should be located, where the wheels should be placed, and the interaction between the wheels.

The design of the car is now settled, and the building process, at Bristol, will begin in the new year and last throughout 2011. In early 2012 it will be tested in the UK.

For Swansea University the project has been high profile.

"We've benefited a lot from it," said Prof Morgan. "There's quite a lot of student interest. It's been beneficial in attracting talent to the department.

"There are two aspects to the Bloodhound bid - the technological challenge and a big push on the educational side, giving lectures at schools to try to get school children interested in subjects such as maths, engineering and science.

"The aim of the Bloodhound project is to get to 1,000 mph. We may not get there but the project will still be deemed a success if we get more pupils studying engineering and similar subjects."

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