July 14, 2010 By Dale VinceFiled under: Transport
Hopefully you will remember the Greenbird? A project we were involved in with British engineer & adventurer Richard Jenkins, which successfully smashed the world land speed record for wind powered vehicles… Richard just sent me an email about another wind powered vehicle project that is quite a mind boggler. Here’s Richard’s thoughts on it – we’d be interested to hear yours…
So, one night, I was happily drinking my beer and tending to my inbox of endless boring emails that had be answered but were of no real consequence, when Lester, my landsailing buddy texted me a link to fasterthanthewind.org. Lester knows a lot, and if he says this needs my attention, then it gets it. I am not sure if it was how many beers I had had, or simply the inane nature of the quest, but I laughed enough to email all my friends to share the absurdity of their mission. My heart is split between belittling idiots, and saluting eccentrics, and this downwind quest lay somewhere in the middle. These loonies were pursuing a pointless goal, doomed to failure, but there was some genuine merit in the myth and their enthusiasm.
I dismissed it as utterly impossible. Travelling through zero apparent wind, with no stored power? Impossible. Why would you even attempt it? (Though I’m no stranger to that question myself!) But had I been asked to bet at that moment, I would have just lost a lot of money.
A few months later I actually met the idiots in question and, to my surprise and concern we not only have a few mutual friends, but they seemed to be rather technically credible. But, everyone makes mistakes, and I let them off as decent people with a blinkered view of fundamentally flawed engineering….
A few months later they were claiming success and if it was not for another great friend, Bob Dill, advising that they were actually correct, I would have discarded their claim as an April fool. I thought about the possibility that I was wrong, and then considered that as Bob was getting on a bit and had a bit of a shake with his stopwatch finger, maybe it was he who was mistaken. There was, however, a growing momentum of technical people (who should have known better), saying that these idiots have actually proven that it is possible to travel faster than the wind going directly down wind.
Not content, I had to witness this myself. When I heard it was on for the official record at El Mirage, I jumped on a plane and went to check it out.
The video speaks for itself. These guys are not idiots, but sincere, genuine, technical people who took a myth and made it real. It works. It starts from rest, trundles to true wind speed, then powers to a multiple of about 3 times the true wind speed. Bob will confirm the final number I am sure.
To all fellow skeptics, start baking that humble pie, or eat your hat. Your choice
Here’s a video Richard shot on the day he visited.
Check out the Faster Than the Wind site for more info.
ETA: Just in case you are wondering at the strange tone in Richard’s post (and references to ‘idiots’ and such) – this story has a lot of history, so Richard is referencing the often heated debates about whether this DDWFTTW idea is actually possible or not. As Wired magazines puts it “The concept known as DWFTTW can cause world-renowned physicists to throw their Nobel Prizes in fits of rage.”
You can check out some of those lengthy & heated discussions in the links below: