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North American Eagle Using Modified Jet Fighter in Land Speed Record Bid

Team aims to go faster than 763 MPH. CFD analysis running on Lenovo workstations is critical.

By Rachel Park, August 13, 2012

When you talk about driving fast, conversation typically turns to motorsport - maybe NASCAR, certainly Formula 1, perhaps MotoGP, and the like. These sports command attention and produce excitement, with high profile teams in the public consciousness, and drivers who in the minds of mere mortals exist as demi-gods. It’s all down to one central element: SPEED. As a species, we are fascinated with racing and speed. These days, increasing vehicular speed goes hand-in-hand with superior engineering principles and high-grade computing power to produce milliseconds of extra speed for the vehicles that we watch and admire as they are raced along and around the track.

Beyond the track, however, is a hard-core group of individuals who are pushing for the ultimate in speed - the land speed record. The record stands from 1997 and is held by Thrust SSC, led by Richard Noble and his team in the UK. In the USA, the North American Eagle (NAE) project is working to break the record. It is the brainchild of racing driver Ed Shadle and business partner Keith Zanghi. The two men share a dream that originated in 1999, and they share an obsession with speed with a dedicated and committed team in a bid to break the current land speed record of 763 miles per hour (1,120kph).

Ed is resolute in his belief that the record should be brought back to the USA, and so is currently working, with his team and some high profile sponsors, to do just that. The project involves converting the jet from a former USAF Lockheed F-104 fighter aircraft into a sophisticated land vehicle operating on earth with a speed goal of 800mph.

Figure 1: The North American Eagle aims to break the land speed record through the use a jet engine. (Photo credit: North American Eagle.)

I caught up with Ed to find out more about his mission and how one NAE sponsor in particular - Lenovo - is contributing to this mission.

Not just one of the principle owners of NAE, Ed is also project manager and the designated driver! It should come as no surprise that Ed’s fascination with speed is born of 23 years as an experienced race driver. Already with 31 test-drives under his belt as the car is being developed, Ed knows every single nut and bolt. He understands precisely how the NAE does and should perform, and as such he plans on being in the driving seat when the team goes for the record in 2013.

While the physical development of the car is fundamental to its performance, to get every ounce of performance just right there is great deal of digital work that goes on behind the scenes. Simulation of the car’s components and the complete car itself is done using digital tools such as CFD (computational fluid dynamics) to check the air flow and FEA (finite element analysis) to optimize the car’s strength. Comprehensive data acquisition is vital in understanding all the elements of the car’s performance.

Figure 2: Computational fluid dynamics shows how different wheel flaring, nose cones, and canards affect the flow of air. (Photo credit: Dassault Systemes.)

These activities require major computing power. This is where Lenovo comes in. The relationship originated a few years back after Ed attended a Dassault Systemes event in Paris, France at which Lenovo was also participating. It was an immediate affinity as Lenovo quickly saw the value of becoming an NAE partner. Now as an official sponsor of the NAE project, Lenovo supplies the team with some serious computing firepower to facilitate the digital activities.

Ed too confesses "a kinship with Lenovo." He explains, "After 31 years with IBM as a field engineer, I have a sense of the power of the products themselves and the empowerment that they bring." The kinship comes from Lenovo’s historical link to IBM.

The Lenovo brand name came into existence in 2004, built on the long history of the largest personal computer company in China - Legend Holdings. Legend in 2004 changed its name to Lenovo, and then in 2005 acquired the Personal Computer division of IBM. Today, Lenovo is the second largest PC vendor globally, boasting revenues of $21 billion and employees of 26,000 around the world.

"It’s a great fit with North American Eagle; the correlation is obvious to me and I am delighted that they are supporting us," concludes Ed.

From this is it not hard to understand the fit that Ed talks about. The complex computational nature of the NAE project makes huge demands on PC technology, but Ed maintains that the Lenovo workstations "have been a blessing. They are extremely powerful and always reliable, even as we put them through some serious paces."

He explains further: "Data acquisition is vital for NAE, and involves many sensors placed all over the vehicle gathering vital information from every nook and cranny. All this data has to be preserved, and then fed to numerous Lenovo workstations for analysis. We are talking substantial volumes of data here, and the Lenovo equipment gets the job done every time!”

The simulation disciplines require huge amounts of computing power to produce wire mesh models of components and then to run simulations continuously. The Lenovo workstations process data from mega-size scans of the entire vehicle, that are converted into 3D models by software from Geomagic. The 3D models are used by subsequent simulations to test and retest performance well before any physical driving or aerodynamic runs.

Ed is quick to praise the service and support the NAE team received from Lenovo. "They have been a tremendous sponsor for us. Not only have they provided the serious products that we need for our endeavors, but they have been there, every step of the way with practical advice and support with the technology when we have needed it.”

As the North American Eagle edges closer to the record attempt, the commitment and zeal that is so obviously at the heart of the project, means that I for one, would not bet against them!

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About the Author

Rachel Park is a freelance writer who previously spent 12 years as the editor of The TCT Magazine, a publication dedicated to advanced technologies for manufacturing, including 3D printing and additive manufacturing. More…


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