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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
What goes up must come down. And what goes way, way up can come down way, way too fast to survive the sudden stop. That’s why [Tom Stanton] built an altitude recording projectile into an oversized golf ball with parachute-controlled descent. Oh, and there’s a trebuchet too.
That’s a lot to unpack, but suffice it to say, all this stems from [Tom]’s obvious appreciation for physics. Where most of us would be satisfied with tossing a ball into the air and estimating the height to solve the classic kinematic equations from Physics 101, [Tom] decided that more extreme means were needed.
Having a compound trebuchet close at hand, a few simple mods were all it took to launch projectiles more or less straight up. The first payload was to be rocket-shaped, but that proved difficult to launch. So [Tom] 3D-printed an upsized golf ball and packed it with electronics to record the details of its brief ballistic flight. Aside from an altimeter, there’s a small servo controlled by an Arduino and an accelerometer. The servo retracts a pin holding the two halves of the ball together, allowing a parachute to deploy and return the package safely to Earth. The video below shows some pretty exciting launches, the best of which reached over 60 meters high.