US Air Force Academy jumps on board with Nebulous Theorem III

Last Updated on Monday, 2 May 2011 12:51 Written by admin Friday, 25 February 2011 07:38

The US Air Force Academy Applied Mechanics Lab Director LtCol Richard Buckley has agreed to help us out with our quest for speed.  The Nebulous Theorem III will finally get in a wind tunnel.

Below is an article that “LandSpeed” Louise Ann Noeth wrote.


March 2011


TITLE:  Partners in Speed

Written By: “LandSpeed” Louise Ann Noeth

On my way back to St. Louis from Speedweek last year I stopped to visit the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado Springs. A military college, it is to the Air Force what West Point is to the Army and Annapolis is to the Navy – where tomorrow’s leaders are trained, inspired and educated today.

This was no tourist stop; there was land speed racing business that needed tending. Years back, I had inked a deal with the Academy to provide real-world brain tickling projects for the cadet student body while helping Steve Fossett’s Project 800 World Land Speed Record team.

The team needed help with the wheels, sorting out pesky finite elements analysis (FEA) and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) with a trip or two in the supersonic wind tunnels. Yeah, they’ve got more than one.

The actual run data was to be shared with the USAFA faculty to create enticing engineering lessons for future classes keeping our project vital and relevant long after the car was collecting dust in a museum.

At least that was the plan. Then Steve took off one morning from Baron Hilton’s Flying M Ranch and never came back. Hopes and dreams were dashed. I needed to find out if the partnership idea still resonated with the new faculty, so I made a right turn off I80 at I25 and headed south.

There I met with Applied Mechanics Lab Director LtCol Richard Buckley who set aside an entire morning to personally give me a campus walking tour. I discovered the guy is a proper motor head underneath his cool blue uniform that elicited salutes wherever we went.

The afternoon was spent with his “number 2”, Captain Robert Bailey, Deputy Lab Director, who covered the engine test cell area, the lab’s race shop and finished with the supersonic wind tunnels.

I got to start a Mach 2 test that put an exquisite vibratory hum into the thick concrete floor as the screaming psi whistled up from the six massive storage tanks below and into the tunnel where a visiting professor was essentially “tuning” the thing. Can you see me grinning like a fool even now thinking about it?

In the end, it was clear that everyone I met was either an existing, or new fan of land speed racing with special emphasis on the exploits of Bonneville racers. After all, Bonneville is just a big lab where research, development, testing and evaluating happens every single run. How could they not love us?

LtCol Buckley and Capt Bailey joined me in November hiking through the SEMA Show aisles to meet some high performance manufacturers and land speed racers whose vehicles were on display.

This happened through the courtesy of SEMA President Chris Kersting who also gave credentials to several cadets and hosted them all at the industry banquet. A most magnanimous gesture appreciated in so many ways. Thanks Chris.

I asked Vic Edelbrock to meet with us and good conversation ensued about how his company might work with the Academy. Ditto for Paul “Scooter” Brothers from Comp Performance Group, Cam Benty from Flowmaster and the Gurrola’s from GROWit, a rapid prototyping company.

At TEAMVesco #444 streamliner display I explained the long family racing history and recent records achieved at Speedweek. We found Danny Thompson’s Bonneville Mustang, the ethanol record-setting speed machine owned by Hajek Motorsports, out in the front hall in the Ford Display.

We met Dennis Varni at his #909 Speed Nymph streamliner where the officers and cadets got an in-depth walk around the 300-mile-per-hour speed machine and saw video of the car screaming across the salt. The collective look of raised-eyebrow awe on the military faces was priceless.

Next, we stopped to see Amir Rosenbaum’s ultimate gas guzzler, the 415MPH Cadillac-powered Spectre “Speedliner”, sans body panels, the 38-ft long chassis still had a bit of salt here and there giving it a nice touch of speed authenticity.

Outside, we ran into Ed “Isky” Iskenderian while getting the royal treatment from Rocky Robinson who had brought the world’s fastest motorcycle to the Las Vegas mechanical spectacular. Buckley and Bailey are both motorcycle riders and were particularly thrilled to shake hands with the fastest man on two wheels.

Isky put the capper on the day with tales of speed pranks with his buddy, four-star general Curtis Lemay, the father of the Strategic Air Command and a founding member of the Air Force. Watching the “Camfather” casually explain how he and Curtis did this-and-that to two of the guys now training America’s next leaders and defenders was pioneer speed magic. Only Isky. I was utterly chuffed.

Now to the central point of this month’s column: LtCol Buckley is interested in developing relationships that expand cadet educational opportunities with land speed racing teams.

At the Air Force’s sprawling campus in the mountains of Colorado Springs just south of Denver, Academy research labs are offering land speed racers access to highly technical engineering and science laboratories.

How? One way is through independent studies where cadets complete a project that is not structured around a text book, or a formally taught course. The second is a Capstone Design Project where the cadet starts with a requirement, or two or three, and finishes with a working prototype. All partnership projects are conducted with serious faculty (read: super duper smart) oversight.

“Automotive-related projects are excellent for learning design, analysis and control of complex systems,” explained Lt Col Buckley, “If you want to get students interested and really learn something you have to get them excited. Learning systems engineering from a text book can be boring, but using a race car to teach how systems work and interrelate, now that gets future fighter pilots excited.”

What this means to the land speed racer is the Academy can help design an entire vehicle, or just figure out why the heck that darn roadster keeps spinning out every time the speedo reads north of 200MPH.

Or maybe you are sneaking up a record but need a little aerodynamic help to keep the car’s suspension planted. What about moving into the blown categories? Do you need some help sorting out the fuel delivery at various altitudes?

How about some weight and balance issues? Got some driveline chatter or vibration you haven’t been able to chase down?

How about traction issues? Think about getting access to a knowledge bank that makes it a priority to stay informed about the world’s BEST materials, associated stresses and load characteristics. Maybe you’d like to lighten up that behemoth without losing traction or stability?

“Aerodynamic issues are always being considered by land speed racers,” observed racer and Bonneville 200MPH Club President Dan Warner, “Packaging is another area where land speed racers are always having difficulty.”

The idea here is to HELP your racing program, not to take over, the partnering has to keep both sides smiling and engaged.

Early in 2011 I hope to ignite a healthy curiosity about straight-line speed deeds. LtCol Buckley has invited me to give a presentation on land speed racing to the cadet student body.

As I see it, developing relationships with land speed racing teams will yield real-world, practical data for cadet educational projects where once only theoretical, or computer modeling data was possible. Equally important, the land speed racing community will go faster, safer and hopefully — for less money.

Through my company, LandSpeed Productions, we are already investigating record attempts at various levels and technologies, and we are interested in helping land speed record teams in all classes.

The Mission of the US Air Force Academy is to educate, train and inspire men and women to become officers of character, motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation.

They are governed by an honor code that states:

“We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.”

The Academy is also very selective, admitting only 17% of all applicants, and graduating roughly 75% of those admitted. Post-graduation, every cadet serves a minimum of 5 years in the US military, over half the graduating class attends pilot training.

The Mechanical Engineering department’s Applied Mechanics Lab has set a vision of becoming the Nation’s best undergraduate engineering research, education and fabrication lab.

The Mechanical and Aeronautical engineering programs at USAFA are consistently ranked in the top 5 Undergraduate programs nationally, in part due to its emphasis in the core curriculum on science, engineering and technology.

All engineering cadets are required to complete Capstone design and instrumentation projects to show their proficiency in their field of study – often independent studies related to real-world challenges outside normal classroom instruction. Need another crew member on the salt?

Projects run the gamut from Micro-air vehicles for reconnaissance to battlefield transportation challenges, to the Formula SAE and Mini-Baja competition teams. And soon we will add land speed racing to this mix.

The department has a dedicated “research garage” space equipped with a SuperFlow chassis dyno and water brake engine dyno. Current projects include engine management systems for motorcycle engines and an EFI retrofit and research instrumentation of a small-block Chevy engine.

Future planned projects include instrumented research engines and a 1000HP engine for demonstrations and cadet independent research.

The Aeronautical Engineering lab is equipped with several wind tunnels, ranging from low-speed sub-sonic, transonic, and supersonic up to Mach 4; Jet engine test stands capable of measuring up to 7000lb of thrust, and several engine dynos capable of up to 1000 ft-lb and 1000 HP.

Because USAFA is a federal agency, cadet design and research teams are not allowed to solicit sponsors from commercial businesses.  This puts our future service members at a significant disadvantage compared to other universities. It also makes it more difficult for cadets to be involved with state of the art product development and research.

There is not a prohibition from working with the industry, just a prohibition from soliciting. This is where LandSpeed Productions comes in. My company will act as the conduit by which projects flow into the Academy’s research labs and connect to cadet study programs.

I look at this as a chance for land speed racing to make a patriotic difference and engaging young, eager minds to “spool up” to their potential. Land speed racers who are interested in collaborating can contact me via email:

Note: Photojournalist Louise Ann Noeth is the authoress of the award-winning book, “Bonneville: The Fastest Place on Earth,” a complete historical review of the first 50 years of land speed racing. After 11 years in print only a VERY limited number of the author’s special autographed edition remain. For more details and to order, go to:

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