UWE engineering staff help BBC with Top Gear rocket

Issue date: 15 February 2007

Rocket testing Engineering staff at the University of the West of England have been helping Top Gear presenters Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond with their latest stunt - flying a rocket powered car. The stunt will be broadcast in the show on Sunday 18 February.

The series producer for BBC Top Gear, Pat Doyle, approached the manufacturing team in the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS) with a request for help with the programme's proposed stunt. Dr Mike Ackerman and Chris Hart worked with Top Gear producers and RocketMen Ltd http://www.rocketmen.tv to run wind tunnel tests using a custom built model of the Reliant Robin rocket powered car. The car was designed to look like a NASA space shuttle!

The plan was that a Robin would be fitted with wings, joined to a rocket and launched. To build it Top Gear had enlisted the help of Damian Hall and colleagues from RocketMen Ltd. They had previously worked with Top Gear when they sent a rocket powered Mini down a ski ramp in Lillehammer, Norway. Construction was already underway in the north of England when UWE were contacted with a request for help with some wind tunnel testing.

Chris says, “First of all we needed to build a model of the rocket. I used CAD editing software to process the raw data supplied and then to build the components by using fused deposition modelling and stereolithography rapid prototyping machines. These build parts, layer by layer, with extruded ABS-plastic filaments or laser cured epoxy resin. The model had to be as accurate as possible but also strong enough to withstand the rigours of 100 mph wind speeds during testing.”

Dr Mike Ackerman carried out the testing using a custom built mounting system to position the model in the wind tunnel. He says, “This allowed us to collect data at different flight altitudes and model configurations - for example with and without the booster rockets attached. The test results were fed back to the team building the rocket.”

The model was filmed in the wind tunnel with presenters James May and Richard Hammond looking on. The two presenters also carried out some experiments of their own under the watchful eye of TG, the Top Gear dog.

Filming took place in July 2006, and the show will finally be broadcast on 18 February 2007.


Editor's notes

See http://www.bbc.co.uk/topgear/show/production_notes/shuttle.shtml for details of Top Gear programme

Visuals available from Press office

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