The world's fastest Buckeye

Chris Gaitten

Last month on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, Ohio State University students fired a shot heard round the world-at least throughout the realm of land speed racing. On Sept. 19, the Venturi Buckeye Bullet 3 set a new world record for electric vehicles when it achieved an average speed of 341.4 mph (with a top speed of 358), smashing the 307.6 mph mark set by its forebear, the Venturi Buckeye Bullet 2.5, in 2010.

(Shivraj Gohil / Spacesuit Media)

Since then, a core team of 10 undergraduate and graduate students from OSU's Center for Automotive Research has been aiming to break 400 mph, which would make it one of the world's elite wheel-driven vehicles regardless of power source. But they've been thwarted for the past several years by early rains on the Salt Flats, which prevented even attempting to push the limits of the overhauled and redesigned Bullet 3.

"To this point, we really hadn't been able to prove out the potential of the vehicle. So there were still a lot of question marks," says Michael Johanni, the team leader, who has been with the Bullet crew for nine years, since he was a student at Upper Arlington High School. The world-record run in September allowed them to speed-test vehicle systems that had previously only been observed in simulations or during slower runs at the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty, Ohio.

The Bullet team was happy with the results on the flats, but Johanni says they still have obstacles to overcome in pursuit of 400. One of the biggest requirements is a longer track. This year's record run was on an 11-mile straightaway, and the Bullet team members estimate that hitting 400 will require 15-16 miles, which the Salt Flats may not accommodate.

(Shivraj Gohil / Spacesuit Media)

As the team continues to tweak the vehicle, Johanni offers some fun facts about the Bullet, a marvel of engineering now 17 years in the making.

  • It's a very large Bullet-38 feet long and 7,800 pounds-and it's powered by 2,000 lithium ion cells.
  • The car is propelled by permanent-magnet motors that must be kept below 320 degrees Fahrenheit. "That's the point at which it turns from a very functional, high-power motor to a giant paperweight," Johanni says.
  • The cockpit was repurposed from an IndyCar chassis.
  • There's more than three miles of control wire running throughout the car. The team has spent days searching for a single loose wire, which is capable of disabling the entire vehicle. "We have a couple power distribution boxes that give you a headache just to look at because there's so much going on in there," Johanni says.
  • The vehicle typically uses parachutes to stop its high-speed runs-a system of three separate chutes engages at the direction of driver Roger Schroer.
  • The Bullet also has brakes meant for an airplane. If all the chutes fail, Schroer can use a braking system designed for regional aircraft to abort takeoffs while still on the runway. "The steel casing of the brakes would turn to goo, and it would completely trash the majority of the driveline," says Johanni, about braking from 400 mph. "But in the case that our parachutes-all three of our parachutes-fail to deploy, as a backup safety measure we have brakes that are capable of stopping the car once from that full-speed run."