InSight Blog

Safety and Speed: Using Remote Video to Inspect a Supersonic Car

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It started with a phone call. I came across the North American Eagle world land speed record project and immediately picked up the phone and called team owner Ed Shadle. They had a turbine-powered supersonic car, and I knew that our IPLEX® NX videoscope could help them reach their goals and do so safely.

The North American Eagle aims to set a new world land speed record. The current record, 763 MPH, was set by a British team in 1997. Their immediate goal is for female driver Jessi Combs to break the current female world land speed record of 512 MPH.

The North American Eagle began its life as a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. The former jet plane was in a dilapidated state when Shadle acquired it; he and his team heavily modified the former aircraft to turn it into one of the fastest ground vehicles on earth. With smaller wings to provide stability at high speeds, a specially designed suspension system, solid billet aluminum wheels, and a J-79 jet engine, the North American Eagle produces a whopping 42,500 HP at full afterburner and has, so far, achieved speeds in excess of 500 MPH.

Running the North American Eagle and all that it entails is very expensive. The all-volunteer team relies on donations to keep their dream alive. They have to be able to prove to their supporters that they actually have a machine capable of accomplishing their goals. We used our IPLEX NX videoscope to help Shadle and his team show their supporters that the North American Eagle was up to the challenge.

Charles and Ed go over some of the features of the IPLEX NX videoscope.

The IPLEX NX videoscope enables users to look at places that are difficult to access. The North American Eagle’s turbine engine needed to be inspected, and our videoscope was the perfect tool for the job.

Working with the North American Eagle team was fun. They were stunned by what they could see using our videoscope. The high-speed runs for the North American Eagle take place in the Alvord Desert in Southeast Oregon, and we found that the edges of the turbine blades were actually getting polished from the sand particles being drawn in through the intake. Perhaps our most important contribution to the project so far was identifying a slight oil leak coming from the bearings inside the turbine.

Charles inspects the North American Eagle’s turbine engine.

At first, it wasn’t clear if we were looking at an oil leak or simply patches of discoloration on the blades caused by sand. Fortunately, the IPLEX NX videoscope has improved lighting and image processing features that enabled us to identify these stains as resulting from oil leaking from the bearings.

Oil leaking from bearings in a turbine engine can potentially lead to serious problems. If the bearings are not oiled properly, it could lead to catastrophic engine failure. While the leak we identified is not yet serious, the team now knows that the bearings need to be watched very carefully. The videoscope’s enhanced Stereo Measurement feature enabled us to make detailed measurements of common areas of wear and tear in the engine as well as the oil staining from the leak. This will give us a baseline that we can measure against future comparisons so we can track the engine’s overall health and whether or not oil is continuing to leak.

When our inspection was complete, the North American Eagle team had the confidence to fire up and test their turbine engine. Engine tests like this are important for achieving their ultimate goal of breaking the world land speed record.

Ed and Charles with the North American Eagle.

We love working on projects like this with North American Eagle. Not only do we get to show off what our products can do, but we get to work with great people. Working with the North American Eagle team embodies a lot of things we do every day — inspect turbines, power generation facilities, and automobiles to help ensure safe operation. The next time Ed or Jessi get behind the wheel of the North American Eagle, they’ll be confident that the engine is going to work properly.

Learn more about what our videoscopes can do.

Sales Engineer, Remote Visual Inspection

Charles holds a BS in Industrial Engineering from Texas State University. He has worked as an automation engineer, a field service technician for medical scanners, and a sales engineer. He has been with Olympus for more than five years.

September 22, 2016
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