It's a Bird, It's a Plane ...
It may not get airborne, but it sure can fly. It’s “Opus 1,” a student-designed, record-breaking cycle that receives wide-eyed stares everywhere it goes. And it goes just about everywhere, from a casual spin around the Engineering Building, where it was born a few short months ago, to national human-powered vehicle competitions.
Dubbed Opus 1, Latin for “work,” the machine accurately reflects this label. A group of UAH mechanical engineering students took the project from its initial design concept to the finished project. These students, as many as 30 of them at some stages, worked hard to bring Opus off the drawing board. In return, they received course credit.
“What they’re getting is something not taught in other engineering courses,” said Dr. Mark Bower, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and faculty advisor for the project. “Everything has been up to then, and they’ve done an outstanding job.”
If team work seemed a subjective criterion on which to base students’ grades, Bower had little to worry about. The vehicle (and students) passed with “flying” colors at the Superior Challenge, a national competition for human-powered vehicles held in Michigan. Taking first place in the speed category and second place in a 31-mile road race, the only complaints were of a flat tire and some aching muscles.
Members of the Opus Team are not ready to rest on their laurels, however. They entered and won the TransBama race sponsored by the Birmingham Cycle Club, beating the previous speed record by 2 hours and 8 minutes. According to Frederick Gant, who worked as one of the crew members, a thunderstorm made visibility a real problem.
“Imagine driving your car in a downpour with your windows fogged over, and you have no windshield wipers and no defrost,” Gant said. “Well, that’s what our driver was up against for part of the race.”
The driver, Jeff Lindner, said he was very grateful when the sun broke through and his windshield cleared.
“I owe a big thanks to the police in Greenville, Alabama. They gave a double take when they saw this bizarre, yellow machine coming down their streets, but then they gave me a police escort through town,” Lindner recalled. “They just offered their help. It was pretty neat.”
Opus underwent some modifications after the TransBama victory in order to prepare for future competitions. These included a new upper body half to improve visibility. The rest of the design, consisting of a low-slung bicycle enclosed in a light-weight Kevlar shell, remains pretty much intact.
“We have one of the best vehicles for distance,” said Bower. “We’ve tried to cut our wind resistance as much as possible to increase our speed.”
The team reached an unofficial record of 52 miles per hour, while boogying down University Drive, in Huntsville.
“That’s pretty fast,” exclaimed Gant, who does the sprint riding for the Opus Team. “We’ve heard about teams in California that recorded faster finishes, but we’ve not yet had the opportunity to take them on.”
Lindner, a distance rider, logged between four- and six-hundred miles a week during the peak training periods prior to competitions. Even though he’ll graduate soon and leave behind his student engineering projects for the “real thing,” he waxes philosophical.
“We’ve worked hard to see this thing through. Now future engineering students can become members of the team and take a crack at it.”
Gant a recent graduate, smiled and added, “If this is even close to real world engineering, I’m in the right field.”