World’s fastest car used to inspire tomorrow’s engineers

THE fastest car in the world is to be built in the United Kingdom. Not only will it attempt to break the land speed record but the project will also provide a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers”.

THE fastest car in the world is to be built in the United Kingdom. Not only will it attempt to break the land speed record but the project will also provide a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers”.

Known as Bloodhound, the new car will be raced in the Nevada desert and powered by a rocket bolted to a Eurofighter-Typhoon jet engine.

The Bloodhound supersonic car (SSC) project aims to set a world land-speed record of at least 1,000 miles (more than 1,600km) an hour by 2011.

The challenge at the heart of the plan is to construct a vehicle to travel at 30 per cent faster than any other has ever sped before.

The 12.8 metre-long, 6.4-tonne super-car is expected to go faster than a fired bullet. It has 900 mm-diameter wheels that will spin so fast they have to be made from high-grade titanium to prevent them from shattering. The car expects to accelerate from zero to 1,050mph (1,689.7 km/h) in 40 seconds.

The 10 million pounds project will tour schools across the UK, in a bid to boost interest in engineering … “endeavouring to be the catalyst through which young people will acquire the skills and develop innovative talents that will enable them to overcome the challenges we all face on a global scale,” says the Bloodhound team.

An aerodynamics team at Swansea University, Wales – funded by the UK’s Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) – is playing a vital role.

Using computational fluid dynamics, the team has spent the last year creating the predictive airflow data that has shaped the car.

In time, the research could lead to better vehicle or aircraft design, improved fuel efficiencies, and even new medical techniques.

“From the nose to the tail, anything that has any kind of aerodynamic influence – we are modelling,” said researcher Dr Ben Evans who, as a schoolboy, watched Bloodhound’s predecessor Thrust SSC race through the sound barrier and into the record books in 1997, travelling at 763 miles (1,228km) per hour.

Bloodhound will be driven by RAF pilot Andy Green who drove Thrust SSC. The head of the Bloodhound project, as with Thrust SSC, is Richard Noble, the man who took the previous record for the UK in the Thrust 2 jetcar.

Continuing the theme of Bloodhound’s aerodynamics, Dr Evans said: “It’s the kind of thing aerospace engineers would have traditionally done in a wind tunnel, but we are doing it on a computer, a big multi-processor super-computer.

“Wind tunnels have massive limitations. Bloodhound SSC is a car, so it’s rolling on the ground and there are no wind tunnels in existence where you can simulate a rolling ground with a car travelling faster than mach one, faster than the speed of sound.”

This mach factor is the major difference between this vehicle and its predecessor Thrust SSC – a “supersonic car”, in that it crossed the sound barrier and was supersonic for a matter of seconds. But with Bloodhound, the target speed is 1,000mph – mach 1.4.

It will be going supersonic far beyond mach one and for a much longer period and which means the supersonic shockwaves it creates will be far stronger than Thrust SSC, and they will interact with the car and the desert floor for much longer.

“Once you start approaching and go beyond the speed of sound you can no longer send a pressure wave forward to tell the air ahead of you that you are coming,” explained Dr Evans.

“What happens is a big pressure wall builds up in front of you. Rather than air slowly and smoothly getting out of the way, at supersonic speeds these changes happen very suddenly in a shockwave.”

Supersonic aircraft create these shockwaves and they dissipate in the surrounding atmosphere but still reach the ground as a sonic boom.

Dr Evans added: “What we are trying to understand is what happens when this shockwave interacts with a solid surface which is a matter of centimetres away.”

What the team does know is this interaction creates a phenomenon known as spray drag – a term first coined by Bloodhound team member and aerodynamicist Ron Ayers during the Thrust SSC attempts. Spray drag is an additional drag component not accounted for in aerodynamic or rolling resistance theory.

“As the car interacts with the desert, and the shockwaves interact with the desert, they actually eat up the desert floor,” said Dr Evans.

“That introduces sand particles into the aerodynamic flow around the car and this interaction is not accounted for in standard computational fluid dynamics (CFD) work. We plan to look at this spray drag phenomena, what happens and when, and how the sand particles impinge on the car.”

The Swansea team is also looking at key systems in isolation. Work has already changed the car from twin to single air intake for stability.

The car will also sport solid titanium wheels with twin keels.

“Another thing we have been looking at closely is the exact nose shape. We want a nose that constantly generates a small down force on the front to help keep the car on the ground. But we are also constantly looking at how we can minimise spray drag and if we can constantly achieve a positive pressure on the desert surface leading up to the front wheels then, hopefully, the surface will remain intact until the front wheels roll over it.”

But Evans and the team also remain focused on the wider aims of the project and the application of their research in other areas.

“The whole point of doing this is not just to create a fast car. We live in a carbon economy and lots of the issues we face will require engineers and scientists to solve them – part of this project is to inspire young people.”

“Some of my university colleagues are working on blood-flow monitoring through the arterial system and trying to predict when aneurysms will explode through pressure loadings.

“On one side of the office we have pictures of Bloodhound and on the other we have pictures of blood flow through the heart,” said Dr Evans.

“There are the obvious applications in aerospace, but any application you can think of that involves fluid flow can be modelled using CFD. Biomechanical systems seem to be one of the areas CFD is being applied to now.”

The EPSRC has provided funding of almost 741,000 pounds for the modelling of the aerodynamics research for Bloodhound SSC and which is being carried out at the Civil & Computational Engineering Centre at the School of Engineering, Swansea University, Wales.

Bloodhound brings together the UK’s leading science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) organisations and technology-based companies – stimulating the interests of young people in those subjects (more information: www.stemcentres.org.uk/).

Apart from the EPSRC and Swansea University, other major participants include the Ministry of Defence, the Serco Group, the University of the West of England, Clorox, the Engineering & Technology Board, the Royal Academy of Engineering, Royal Air Force and the Institution of Engineering & Technology.

The Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council is the UK’s main agency for funding research in its title’s areas. It invests about 740m pounds a year in research and postgraduate training.

The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. The EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering.

Email: lawrie.jones@epsrc.ac.uk Web: www.epsrc.ac.uk