The Ashes

Technology, Science and other news
April 10, 2009

Freaky Speeder Rides the Wind to World Record

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Filed under : General

It’s taken 10 years, but Richard Jenkins has at long last achieved his dream of setting the land speed record for a wind-powered vehicle. The British engineer climbed into the land yacht he calls the Ecotricity Greenbird and peeled off a 126.1-mph run across a California desert Thursday to take his place in the record books.

His record-setting dash eclipsed the previous benchmark, which American Bob Schumacher set a decade ago, by almost 10 mph. It also continued a British tradition for speed that dates to the 1920s, when Sir Malcolm Campbell set several records on land and sea.

“It has been an incredibly difficult challenge,” Jenkins said in a statement issued Friday. “Everything came together perfectly and the Greenbird stepped up to the mark and performed amazingly. I am absolutely delighted.”

Jenkins set the record Thursday in Greenbird, a land yacht he’s spent the better part of a decade developing, on Ivanpah Dry Lake — the same place Schumacher set the previous record of 116.7 mph at the wheel of the Iron Duck on March 20, 1999. Perhaps more impressive, Jenkins managed to hit 126.1 mph with winds clocked at just 30 mph.

How did he do it?

Instead of a conventional sail, Greenbird uses a rigid wing that produces thrust in much the same way an airplane wing produces lift. The vehicle is made entirely of carbon composite materials, and the only metal parts are the bearings for the wing and the wheels. Jenkins says the aerodynamic design and light weight lets Greenbird achieve vehicle speeds three to five times greater than the wind speed. An earlierprototype once hit 90 mph in a 25 mph wind. He explains more about it in an earlier post of ours.

Greenbird is the fifth iteration of the land-speed-record car Jenkins has used to chase his dream. He has been testing the car and gunning for the record almost continuously, traveling through Britain, Canada, the United States and Australia searching for just the right weather conditions. He spent several weeks on standby in Australia last fall awaiting ideal conditions, but went home empty-handed after being rained out.

“It has been an incredibly difficult challenge,” he said. “Half the challenge is technical, having to create a more efficient vehicle than the previous record holder, then the rest is luck, being in the right place, at the right time, to get the perfect conditions, with the right people watching. I must have been on record standby at some remote location around the world for at least two months of every year for the past 10 years.”

Jenkins finally hit pay dirt at Ivanpah, about 35 miles southwest of Las Vegas on the California-Nevada border. At long last, he can place his name alongside his countrymen and world speed record holders such as Sir Malcolm Campbell, John Cobb and Andy Green.

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