You may have read about the Bloodhound Project out of Europe. The Bloodhound is an initiative focused on developing a land vehicle that will break the 1,000 mph World Land Speed Record. The specially designed land car uses a jet engine to power it to such high speeds. Parts of this car were prototyped and printed using 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM) technologies.
Well, engineers here is the U.S. are working on their own vehicle that they hope will break the land speed limit first. Since 1997, when the British took home the land speed record in Richard Noble’s Thrust SSC, it has been the vision of Ed Shadle, Driver, Owner, and Project Manager, and Keith Zanghi, Director of Operations, to bring the land speed record back to the USA.
Shadle and Zanghi developed a team of engineers to design the North American Eagle (NAE) land speed record vehicle. The power for the 56-foot long car is a Lockheed F-104 fighter jet fuselage. In order to make the vehicle reach more than 771 miles per hour, the engineering team found themselves developing a number of innovations, some of which will impact vehicle design in the future.
In 1998, the team acquired the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter jet and started adapting it for use on the ground. Using spare time and weekends, the Washington State-based team began by renovating the airframe while the engineers developed a suspension and braking and wheel system.
Once the vehicle started to take shape, the team realized that one of the keys to success would be in ensuring that the vehicle’s aerodynamics and shock resistance were perfect. This step required advanced Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and Finite Element Analysis software, but before that could occur, the team needed a perfect 3D model of the vehicle.
“We considered starting the model from scratch in a CAD system,” said Shadle. “But we realized that there was no way we could create it though manual measurement. The shapes were just too complex, too unique, to recreate manually.”
Reading about 3D imaging – the process of taking 3D scan data and interpolating it into usable 3D data – Shadle and Zanghi approached Ping Fu, CEO of Geomagic, for help. Geomagic software delivers accurate, usable 3D data from scan data. Ping set some of the Geomagic team onto the problem and before long the project was underway.
Using a Photon Laser scanner from FARO and Capture 3D technologies, a point cloud containing 30 million points was created by scanning the vehicle. From here, Geomagic Studio quickly read and transformed the points into usable, precise 3D data. The 3D model was imported into CFD and FEA software to help the team discover airflows, measure the effect of shock waves, how the use of different materials could affect performance and more.
“Having the 3D data to analyze allowed us to move forward quickly and confidently,” said Zanghi. “We discovered aerodynamic issues that would need to be resolved before we could even start testing. But more importantly, we also started to understand how changes to the vehicle body could significantly improve performance, stability and safety. It was a key turning point between having a good idea and creating a viable vehicle.”
Since 2006, the NAE vehicle and team have been doing serious testing, going from 200 mph tests through to 441 mph, each time having to go back home to redesign, and often invent, technologies that will withstand the shock of breaking the sound barrier while on the ground.
This research and innovation means that the team has developed new magnetic braking systems that generate 3600 brake horsepower at 800 mph without wearing out. The speed of the machine has forced the creation of new high-speed bearing and special lubrication designed for wheels that are safe up to 950 mph. New high-speed parachutes were required to ensure that the vehicle would stop, while the team has been testing new nanolaminate materials that are of future interest by the US military.
The high speed testing is set to occur over the next few months. Fund raising, which is constantly a challenge for the team, has increased, enabling the team to add more drivers, including Valerie Thompson—a motorcycle land speed racer.
North American Eagle