I’m hardly a science man, but I’ve been around cars enough to learn a thing or two about objects in motion. One thing I know for a fact is that wind can’t ever push you faster than it is going. I mean, you can tack a sailboat and technically go faster than your tailwind, but that’s basically flying along a horizontal plane. Whatever, physics is weird and I barely understand regular math. Thankfully the Veritasium channel on YouTube is here to help us understand things a bit better.
In a recent video, Veritasium’s Derek Muller headed out to the famed El Mirage dry lake bed to try to do something lots of scienticians have said was impossible for ages. The Blackbird three-wheeler was built specifically to bring practical science to a theoretical. Is it possible for the wind to push something faster than it itself is moving? The team of Rick and Neil, who built the car, believed it was possible and set out to prove it.
By looking at this car, you might think that the wind is turning the big twin-blade turbine, which then turns the hub at the rear of the car, but you’d be just as wrong as I was when I first laid eyes on it. In actuality, the wheels turn a sprocket, pulling a chain, which in turn moves the turbine to push air rearward and provide forward thrust. So the wind gets the car moving, then wheel speed combined with the angle of the turbine blades determines forward acceleration.
Obviously I wasn’t there for this event, so I can’t say definitively what went down out at El Mirage, but from the evidence presented in the video, it looks like we need to rewrite a few rules of conservation of energy. In the above screenshot, you can see that the car’s telltale is streaking backward, while the wind is pushing the windsock forward, in the direction the car is moving. Not only has the car caught up to wind speed, but it is outpacing it. In a straight line. Powered by nothing but the wind.
There is currently no way to practically apply this borderline perpetual motion machine to our daily commutes, but it does prove that humans are not done learning about energy and propulsion. This “car” is basically an unstable bicycle with some aerodynamic aids and a giant wind turbine stuck on it. Its top speed of around 25 miles per hour, its complete lack of creature comforts and safety equipment, and its reliance on wind power would make it a terrible commuter. Man, it’s fucking cool, though.