Attempt on steam powered speed record
August 7, 2011 § 1 Comment
Get ready for the clash of the electric jugs . Almost two years after a British team broke the land-speed record for a vehicle powered by steam, an American group is poised to take revenge.
The attempt is due to take place next month at the Bonneville salt flats in Utah, during the annual speed week. The Americans hope to beat the current record of 148mph and push their vehicle towards 200mph.
“We’re burning the midnight oil,” said William flew their vehicle’s driver and designer. “The body is complete, the engine is pretty much there, and we’ll put them together in the next couple of days. Our testing programme will be very short: it’s close to the wire and it could go wrong, but we have the power available and the car to do it. Our target speed is 160-170mph.”
Williams’s steam car looks like a yellow missile, is 21ft long, 32in tall and weighs less than three-quarters of a ton. Its sleek, thin design is a far cry from the British vehicle, dubbed the world’s fastest kettle when it broke the speed record in 2009. Called Inspiration, the 25ft machine weighed three tons and was powered by 12 giant boilers that consumed 40 litres of water a minute at peak power.
The fighting talk hints at the seriousness with which the Americans are taking the challenge. Although the steam record was regarded as an eccentric quirk in Britain, when the team broke it, it hurt America, as the previous record of 127.7mph had been set in 1906 at Daytona Beach by Fred Marriott, an American, in a Stanley Steamer known as the Rocket. It has become a matter of national pride to win back the record.
The US Land Steam Record team includes a retired Nasa engineer, and Williams spent most of his career working at nuclear power stations. Money is tight, though. “This is a grassroots attempt; most of the car was built in my 20ft x 24ft workshop at home, and I had to position the car diagonally to get it in,” he said.
As well as the streamlined design, which minimises drag, the key to success will be the engine, which is smaller and more efficient than the powertrain of the British car. It is designed by Cyclone Power Technologies, which describes it as an external combustion engine that burns fossil fuel (or biofuel). The heat generated in the combustion chamber superheats the water to 648C. The steam generated is then fed into the engine’s six cylinders, where its rapid expansion drives the pistons.
Williams said the attempt at Bonneville would be the first of several: “The engine will produce around 100bhp to begin with. Next year, we’ll up the steam generator and increase the power to 200bhp, and get much more speed, of course.”