Testing a Supersonic Car

How do you test a supersonic car like the Bloodhound SSC in a wind tunnel? With free-flying objects like airplanes, wind tunnel testing is relatively straightforward. Mounting a stationary model in a supersonic flow gives an equivalent flow-field to that object flying through still air at supersonic speeds. The same does not hold true for the supersonic car, though, because you need to account for the effect of the ground on airflow. One option is to build a moving wall in the wind tunnel. For low-speed applications, this is feasible but incredibly complicated and very expensive. For supersonic speeds, it’s impossible. You could achieve the same moving-wall effect at supersonic speeds with a rocket sled, but that is also expensive and difficult to fit in most experimental facilities. The simplest solution is the one you see above – build two models and mount them belly-to-belly. Reflecting the models makes the plane of symmetry a stagnation plane, which, fluid dynamically speaking, acts like an imaginary ground plane relative to the model. For more on the project and the technique, check out this article.  (Photo credit: B. Evans; via ThinkFLIP; submitted by G. Doig)

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