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.
While some love to carve up mountain roads, and others relish the challenge of perfectly apexing every corner at the track, many crave a different challenge. Drag racing is a sport all about timing, finesse, and brute power. Like any other discipline in motorsport, to compete you’ll need a vehicle finely honed for the task at hand. Here’s how you go about getting started on your first quarter-mile monster.
It’s All About Power, Right?
It’s true that if you want to go faster, having more power on tap is a great way to do it. If that’s what you’re looking for, we’ve covered that topic in detail – for both the naturally aspirated and forced induction fans. However, anyone that’s been to the drag strip before will tell you that’s only part of the story. All of the power in the world isn’t worth jack if you can’t get it down to the ground. Even if you can, you’ve still got to keep your steering wheels planted if you intend to keep your nose out of the wall. So, if you want more power, consider the articles linked above. For everything else that’s important in drag racing, read on below.
For some mobile projects like small carts or rolling cabinets, your standard casters from Harbor Freight will do just fine. But some projects need big, beefy wheels, and these custom cast aluminum wheels certainly make a statement. Mostly, “Watch your toes!”
To be honest, [Brian Oltrogge]’s wheels are an accessory in search of a project, and won’t be crushing feet anytime soon. He made them just to make them, but we have no beef with that. They’ve got a great look that hearkens back to a time when heavy metal meant something else entirely, and things were made to last. Of course, being cast from aluminum sort of works against that, but there are practical limits to what can be done in the home foundry. [Brian] started with a session of CAD witchcraft followed by machining the cores for his molds. Rather than doing this as lost foam or PLA, he milled the cores from poplar wood. His sand mix is a cut above what we usually see in home-brew sand casting — sodium silicate sand that can be cured with carbon dioxide. All his careful preparation meant the pour went off without a hitch, and the wheels look great.
We’ve featured quite a few metal casting projects recently, some that went well and some that didn’t. [Brian] looks like he knows what he’s doing, and we appreciate the workmanship that he puts on display here.
We’ve probably all experimented with a very clear demonstration of the basic principles of lift: if you’re riding in a car and you put your flattened hand out the window at different angles, your hand will rise and fall like an airplane’s wing, or airfoil. This week’s Retrotechtacular explains exactly how flight is possible through the principles of lift and drag. It’s an Army training documentary from 1941 titled “Aerodynamics: Forces Acting on an Air Foil“.
What is an airfoil? Contextually speaking, it’s the shape of an airplane’s wing. In the face of pressure differences acting upon their surfaces, airfoils produce a useful aerodynamic reaction, such as the lift that makes flight possible. As the film explains, the ideas of lift and drag are measured against the yardstick of relative wind. The force of this wind on the airfoil changes according to the acute angle formed between the airfoil and the direction of the air flow acting upon it. As you may already know, lift is measured at right angles to the relative wind, and drag occurs parallel to it. Lift is opposed by the weight of the foil, and drag by tension.
Airfoils come in several types of thicknesses and curvatures, and the film shows how a chord is derived from each shape. These chords are used to measure and describe the angle of attack in relation to the relative wind.
The forces that act upon an airfoil are measured in wind tunnels which provide straight and predictable airflow. A model airplane is supported by wires that lead to scales. These scales measure drag as well as front and rear lift.
In experimenting with angles of attack, lift and drag increase toward what is known as the stalling angle. After this point, lift decreases abruptly, and drag takes over. Lift and drag are proportional to the area of the wing, the relative wind velocity squared, and the air density. When a plane is in the air, drag is a retarding force that equals the thrust of the craft, or the propelling force.
Airfoil models are also unit tested in wind tunnels. They are built with small tubes running along many points of the foil that sit just under the surface. The tubes leave the model at a single point and are connected to a bank of manometer tubes. These tubes compare the pressures acting on the airfoil model to the reference point of atmospheric pressure. The different liquid levels in the manometer tubes give clear proof of the pressure values along the airfoil. These levels are photographed and mapped to a pressure curve. Now, a diagram can be made to show the positive and negative pressures relative to the angle of attack.
In closing, we are shown the effects of a dive on lift as an aircraft approaches and reaches terminal velocity, and that lift is attained again by pulling slowly out of the dive. Remember that the next time you fly your hand-plane out the window.