Shining the Spotlight

Shining the Spotlight

We meet Dr Ben Evans, Senior Lecturer, Aerospace Engineering and a member of the BLOODHOUND SSC Design Team, where we find out about his role and being part of the team focused on breaking the World Land Speed Record project.

Meandbh BwTell us about your role and what you do

I’m a senior lecturer in aerospace engineering at the College of Engineering, Swansea University, that’s my day job! Part of my role allows me to also sit on the design team for the BLOODHOUND SSC, World Land Speed Record project.

What is your background?

I was invited to join the BLOODHOUND SSC team back in 2007 and at that point in time I was writing up my PhD in Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD). The team were right at the concept stage at that point, they had this idea that they might be looking at a British attempt at the World Land Speed Record. They knew they would need some CFD expertise in order to do that and initially just answer the question - ‘Is it physically possible to take a vehicle this scale across the ground at 1,000mph?’ They approached Swansea University because of our involvement in the ThrustSSC project back in the 1990s. I was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. I was coming towards the end of my PhD research and my supervisor approached me with the opportunity and I was asked if I would be interested in taking the lead, and that’s how I got involved.

My background is traditional aerospace engineering which is what I studied at university and anticipated going into for a career. The detour into BLOODHOUND SSC was not a planned thing! I did deliberate on the decision. If you remember back to pre 2007, it was becoming obvious that the world was heading towards a global recession and I was being told that what Britain really needed in the 21st Century was a 1000mph car! When I met with Richard Noble, the project director, the first thing I asked was ‘Why are we doing this? The country is heading into a recession but you think it needs a 1000mph car’. I was sceptical about the value in it but Richard convinced me that there was a much bigger and wider vision than trying to get a car to go really fast. This was what convinced me and is still what I’m most passionate about, that the BLOODHOUND SSC Project is a tool that we are using to inspire a new generation of engineers and scientists. Over the eight years I’ve been involved, that is exactly what has been happening. For me a measure of success is that in 30 years time, there’s a whole bunch of engineers that said the thing that made them interested in engineering was when BLOODHOUND SSC visited their school and they built rocket cars, the educational aspect of the project. Even if we don’t get to 1000mph, what we’ve managed to achieve is success through inspiring a generation of engineers. The reality is, I think in order to maintain the momentum that we’re building, you have to go out there and show that engineering can solve really difficult problems.

Since I’ve been at university, aerodynamics is one area that’s always interested me. If I hadn’t encountered BLOODHOUND SSC and gone into an academic career, it probably would have been one of things I would have focused on. What’s good now is that the programme has matured over the past eight years, so I’ve been working with companies to spin out some of the ideas that we’ve developed specifically for the programme. I work with a range of mainly aerospace companies, applying some of the aerodynamic optimisation techniques that we develop specifically for BLOODHOUND SSC, and those more conventional applications.

Tell us about the BLOODHOUND SSC Project

In essence we’re taking a manned car, which is steered through the wheels, which remain on the ground.  The front two wheels control its direction in a fairly conventional link to the steering wheel, which the driver controls. It weighs around 7.5 tonnes when it’s fully fuelled and is 13.470 metres long. It’s propelled by a jet engine from the Eurofighter Typhoon, the EJ200 jet engine. We’re also building our own hybrid rocket to supplement the thrust for the jet engine. So it's a hybrid, jet, rocket, car that we’re predicting will be capable of going from 0 - 1,000mph and back down to 0 in 100 seconds, covering a distance of around about 10 miles.

What’s the plan with regard to breaking the World Land Speed Record?

On 24th September 2015, the car was revealed to the world. We’re now at the start of a phase of systems checking and testing, taking place in the UK. Over the winter season, we’ll be doing a series of tests on the car, some of them based at our technical centre in Bristol and some of them on a nice long runway at Cornwall Airport, Newquay which they have kindly lent us. There we’ll be checking the car should be doing exactly what we think it should be doing. For spring 2016, we will be taking the car to South Africa and that’s when things really start getting exciting, when we can push the pedal and see what it can do. The test programme will be slow and steady. Although we’ve got this 1,000mph car, we’re not going to say to Andy Green the driver ‘there’s your car, put your foot down, see what you can do’. Our plan will be to step up the speed on each run. We think it will take about 50 - 60 test runs before we make it all the way up to the top speed. 

As the wider vision of the project is to connect with young people and schools, all of the testing will be streamed live through the BLOODHOUND SSC website ( so everyone can watch all of the test runs as they take place. You can also download data from the test run and carry out your own analysis.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

Its really nice because what I actually do for BLOODHOUND SSC varies from being locked away on my own in front of my computer, developing computer code, running simulations and analysing data, and asking some of these big questions - ‘Can you keep a vehicle on the ground at 1000mph? What happens when shockwaves are generated faster than the speed of sound?’ This is really pushing CFD to its limits. It’s very much an academic exercise, and I really enjoy it because it’s a big challenge, which is theoretical. But, I also get to engage with the public and talk about a project that captures people’s imagination. One day, I’ll be in a school assembly, talking about the world's fastest car, the next day I’ll be explaining aerodynamics to a hall of fourteen year olds and later on that day, I might be back in the office writing CFD code and analysing data, visualising shockwaves. There are two very different sides to what I do. It’s also the fact that it’s a challenge and that’s what draws university academics to be academics, that you get the opportunity to ask very difficult questions. The ‘how do you do modelling for something like this’ is a question that’s never been asked before. Then there’s ‘how do you do this safely’ which is the really big, difficult question. 

What are you looking forward to in your field/area of expertise/industry? Any predictions/advice?

Specifically with BLOODHOUND SSC, the day I’m looking forward to is the day we get to 1000mph and it can all be surreal and not something that keeps me awake at night. It’s a great memory that I can have forever, and the worrying about ‘can we do it’ can be put to one side. 

More generally in my research, I’m really excited about the potential for computational optimisation, which will change the way we do design in the aerospace sector. It’s something that the aerospace industry up until now has really only dabbled with, and hasn’t fully embraced as a massive potential to change the way we design any vehicle that is dependent upon aerodynamics. One of the things I think about is how I can direct my research. How do you bring together what a computer guided design process can deliver with human input, intuition and experience? At the moment, it tends to be one or the other, you either have a human designer who says ‘I think the wing should be more like this’ or ‘from my experience, it would be better if you positioned it this way’ or you allow a computer to completely take control and you tell the computer how you want to improve a particular design and it does it for you. I think the future will be very powerful and we’re starting to explore ways of doing this. To combine those two things you allow a human with experience and intuition to interact with the computational optimisation algorithm so that the two are working together, rather than sometimes against each other. 

If you got stranded on a desert island and were granted three items, what would they be and why?

Definitely my record player, as music is very important to me. I’ve got all my favourite albums on vinyl so I would take my collection as well. Probably swimming trunks and sunglasses as I do enjoy the beach, and you can’t be without suntan lotion. 

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