SUU Student Project sets Land Speed Record

Published: August 18, 2009 | Read Time: 3 minutes

Though Thunderbirds are notoriously fast, one may not expect Southern Utah University to be in the business of motorcycle racing. And yet, last week, SUU’s Department of Engineering Technology and Construction Management did just that, when a student-designed motorcycle broke the two-wheel electric vehicle land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats during its annual Speed Week. 

Computer Aided Design major Shane Johnson designed this record-shattering vehicle under the direction of Professional in Residence Richard Cozzens, and together, student and mentor worked with AirTech Streamlining, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of exotic motorcycle fairing and bodywork, to design the shell and chassis of the vehicle that reached 176 miles per hour at last week’s race. 

AirTech Streamlining’s owner, Kent Riches, applied the design to his own electric vehicle motor design, and together, the two designs made history. 

This partnership between AirTech and Southern Utah University will continue, as Riches and Cozzens, with the help of additional SUU students, plan to build upon Johnson’s initial body design and eventually create a bullet version of the electric racer with the hopes of setting additional land speed records. 

For Riches, who also pilots the racecars he designs, this marks his first electric vehicle speed record, though he does hold several motorcycle and missile-form automotive speed records. 

Electric vehicles are relatively new to the racing circuit, and according to Cozzens, who was on hand to see the SUU-designed vehicle set the world record, the race was quite an anomaly, “We pulled up in our electric motorcycle, with an engine that is almost silent, and it was very different from what everyone there was used to, which is a lot of loud, rumbling engines and exhaust.” 

Cozzens is excited to continue this partnership between the University and Riches and anticipates that many more SUU CAD/CAM students will benefit from this partnership, eventually leaving SUU with valuable real-world experience with one of the industry’s most respected companies. 

Beyond this project, Cozzens and Associate Professor of Engineering Technology Scott Hansen are also planning to involve students in the Mini Baja, a national intercollegiate engineering design competition for undergraduate and graduate engineering students to design and build a prototype of an off-road recreational vehicle that is able to negotiate rough terrain and all types of weather without damage. 

Both projects provide SUU’s engineering technology students with distinct opportunities to apply the concepts they study concerning product design, fabrication and testing. 

And according to Johnson, who since designing the electric vehicle has graduated and secured a job in drafting, these kind of real-world experiences make all the difference in an engineering student’s education. He states, “I took a lot of classes and was involved in a lot of projects that prepared me for graduation, but the vehicle design project with AirTech helped me bring all those experiences together. This project helped me see just how far I had come.” 

Johnson adds, “Beyond that, I really enjoyed working with professionals and seeing how everything comes together in the real world under important deadlines and regulations and budgets.” 

Johnson’s design set the new land speed record for a two-wheel electric vehicle at 176 miles per hour – 11 miles per hour over the old record. If all goes as planned, Riches will continue on with Johnson’s design, relying upon Cozzens and additional SUU students, to continue modifying from this starting point to reach 200 miles per hour by next year’s competition.

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