Retrotechtacular: Discovering Aerodynamics With The Chrysler Airflow

When you think about it, for most of human history we’ve been a pretty slow bunch. At any time before about 150 years ago, if you were moving faster than a horse can run, you were probably falling to your death. And so the need to take aerodynamics into consideration is a pretty new thing.

The relative novelty of aerodynamic design struck us pretty hard when we stumbled across this mid-1930s film about getting better performance from cars. It was produced for the Chrysler Sales Corporation and featured the innovative design of the 1934 Chrysler Airflow. The film’s narration makes it clear why the carmaker would go through the trouble of completely rethinking how cars are made; despite doubling average engine horsepower over the preceding decade, cars had added only about 15% to their top speed. And while to our 21st-century eyes, the Chrysler Airflow might look like a bulked-up Volkswagen Beetle, compared to the standard automotive designs of the day, it was a huge aerodynamic leap forward. This makes sense with what else was going on in the technology world at the time — air travel — the innovations of which, such as wind tunnel testing of models, were spilling over into other areas of design. There’s also the influence of [Orville Wright], who was called in to consult on the Airflow design.

While the Airflow wasn’t exactly a huge hit with the motoring public — not that many were built, and very few remain today; [Jay Leno] is one of the few owners, because of course he is — it set standards that would influence automotive designs for the next 80 years. It’s fascinating too that something seemingly as simple as moving the engine forward and streamlining the body a bit took so long to hit upon, and yet yielded so much bang for the buck.

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A Look At The Most Aerodynamic Cars Ever Built

Whether gasoline, diesel, or electric, automakers work hard to wring every last drop of mileage out of their vehicles. Much of this effort goes towards optimising aerodynamics. The reduction of drag is a major focus for engineers working on the latest high-efficiency models, and has spawned a multitude of innovative designs over the years. We’ll take a look at why reducing drag is so important, and at some of the unique vehicles that have been spawned from these streamlining efforts.

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The Rise And Fall Of The Fan Car

The advent of aerodynamic wings in motorsport was one of the most dramatic changes in the mid-20th century. Suddenly, it was possible to generate more grip at speed outside of altering suspension setups and fitting grippier tyres. However, it was just the beginning, and engineers began to look at more advanced ways of generating downforce without the drag penalty incurred by fitting wings to a racecar.

Perhaps the ultimate expression of this was the fan car. Mechanically complex and arguably dangerous, the technology offered huge downforce with minimal drag. However, the fan car’s time in the spotlight was vanishingly brief, despite the promise inherent in the idea. Let’s take a look at the basic theory behind the fan car, how they worked in practice, and why we don’t see them on racetracks today. Continue reading “The Rise And Fall Of The Fan Car”

Active Aero For A Radio Control Car

Motorsport became obsessed with aerodynamics in the middle of the 20th century. Moving on from simple streamlined shapes, designers aimed to generate downforce with wing elements in order to get more grip between the tyres and the track. This culminated in the development of active aero, where wing elements are controlled by actuators to adjust the downforce as needed for maximum grip and minimum drag. Recently, [Engineering After Hours] decided to implement the technology on his Traxxas RC car.

The system consists of a simple multi-element front wing, chosen for its good trade-off between downforce and drag. The wing is mounted to a servo, which varies the angle of attack as the car’s pitch changes, as detected by a gyroscope. As the car pitches up during acceleration, the angle of the wing is increased to generate more downforce, keeping the nose planted.

The basic concept is sound, though as always, significant issues present themselves in the implementation. Small bumps cause the system to over-react, folding the wing under the front wheels. Additionally, the greater front downforce caused over-steer, leading to the install of a rear wing as well for better aero balance.

Regardless of some hurdles along the way, it’s clear the system has potential. We look forward to the next build from [Engineering After Hours], which promises to mimic the fan cars of the 70s and 80s. If you’re looking to improve aero on your full-size car, we’ve got a guide to that too. Video after the break.

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Dynamic Soaring: 545 MPH RC Planes Have No Motor

The fastest remote-controlled airplane flight ever recorded took place in 2018, with a top speed of 545 miles/hour. That’s 877 km/h, or Mach 0.77!

What was the limiting factor, preventing the pilot-and-designer Spencer Lisenby’s plane from going any faster? The airstream over parts of the wing hitting the sound barrier, and the resulting mini sonic booms wreaking havoc on the aerodynamics. What kind of supercharged jet motor can propel a model plane faster than its wings can carry it? Absolutely none; the fastest RC planes are, surprisingly, gliders.

Dynamic soaring (DS) was first harnessed to propel model planes sometime in the mid 1990s. Since then, an informal international competition among pilots has pushed the state of the art further and further, and in just 20 years the top measured speed has more than tripled. But dynamic soaring is anything but new. Indeed, it’s been possible ever since there has been wind and slopes on the earth. Albatrosses, the long-distance champs of the animal kingdom, have been “DSing” forever, and we’ve known about it for a century.

DS is the highest-tech frontier in model flight, and is full of interesting physical phenomena and engineering challenges. Until now, the planes have all been piloted remotely by people, but reaching new high speeds might require the fast reaction times of onboard silicon, in addition to a new generation of aircraft designs. The “free” speed boost that gliders can get from dynamic soaring could extend the range of unmanned aerial vehicles, when the conditions are right. In short, DS is at a turning point, and things are just about to get very interesting. It’s time you got to know dynamic soaring.

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How To Get Into Cars: Aero Mods For More Grip

In 1960, Enzo Ferrari said “Aerodynamics are for people who can’t build engines”. It’s a quote that’s been proven laughably wrong in decades since. Aerodynamics are a key consideration for anyone serious about performance in almost any branch of motorsport. Today, we’ll take a look at how aero influences the performance of your car, and what modifications you might undertake to improve things.

Gains To Be Had

Improving the aerodynamics of your vehicle can mean wildly different things, depending on what your end goal is. Aerodynamics affects everything from top speed, to fuel economy, to grip, and optimizing for these different attributes can take wildly different routes. Often, it’s necessary to find a balance between several competing factors, as improvements in one area can often be detrimental in another.

To understand aerodynamics with regards to cars, we need to know about the forces of lift (or downforce), and drag. Drag is the force that acts against the direction of motion, slowing a vehicle down. Lift is the force generated perpendicular to the direction of motion. In the context of flight, the lift force is generated upwards with respect to gravity, lofting planes into the air. In an automotive context, we very much prefer to stay on the ground. Wings and aerodynamic surfaces on cars are created to create lift in the opposite direction, pushing the vehicle downwards and creating more grip. We refer to this “downwards lift” as downforce.

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Aerodynamics For Dummies

We don’t know if aerodynamics is really a subject for dummies, per se, but if you are interested in flying or building drones and model aircraft, [Jenny Ma’s] new video that you can see below will help you get an easy introduction to some key concepts. (Embedded below.)

The show starts with coverage of lift, thrust, and drag, but moves on to topics such as stalling and coffin corners. If you have a pilot ticket, you might not learn a lot of new things, but for the rest of us, there are some interesting nuggets that you might not have known or might have forgotten from your physics classes in high school.

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