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Record breaking wind-powered car is faster than the wind

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Rick Cavallaro

This car is literally faster than the wind…in both directions.

Looking more like a windmill on wheels than an automobile, the Blackbird has set a record by a wind-powered car heading directly upwind at 2.01 times wind speed.

The mark, set earlier this month at the New Jerusalem airstrip in Tracy, Calif., was certified by the North American Land Sailing Association on Monday, and put the vehicle in the record books for the second time.

Two years ago the Blackbird blew the minds of skeptics when it drove directly downwind at nearly three times the speed of the wind, a feat once considered by many to be impossible. It was designed to be pushed by the wind as its wheels, through a transmission, spun a giant propeller which then drove the car even faster with its prop thrust. How it exactly works remains a physics brainteaser and the source of much debate in the scientific community.

To achieve the upwind run, which isn’t as difficult to understand, the system was effectively reversed. The propeller blades were replaced with slightly smaller turbine blades that are spun by the oncoming wind and turn the wheels to drive the lightweight car through gears that increase the turbine to wheel speed ratio. Frictional losses in the design ultimately determine the maximum speed. An annual event called Racing Aeolis is held in the Netherlands each year pitting similarly designed, but slower vehicles in a head-to-head upwind race.

The head of the Blackbird team, Rick Cavallaro, is a professional computer scientist and amateur aerodynamicist and hang and paragliding enthusiast who undertook the challenge as an academic exercise, and any practical applications for the technology have yet to be determined.

As for the Blackbird, Cavallaro says its record breaking days are likely over. He’s in talks with having this very unique car displayed at an aviation museum.

His next project? He won’t say, other than that it is not wind related.

Read: Chinese farmer invents 'wind-powered' car