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By David Rooney on

Fly Like A (green) Bird

Transport Curator David Rooney discusses Greenbird - the fastest wind-powered vehicle on Earth.

We’ve got the remarkable Greenbird vehicle parked on our back lawn right now (until Thursday). It’s the fastest wind-powered vehicle on Earth, having won the record back in March 2009. 126 miles per hour!

The need for speed can still be met in the new carbon-aware age. Here was a team who’d built a vehicle powered only by wind yet reaching speeds that wouldn’t be too shabby for many petrol cars.

I spoke to Richard Jenkins, the driver. He said that visibility was only about one or two seconds of driving (owing to dust clouds), so he used a GPS device to help navigate. What could possibly be in the way on the vast dry Lake Ivanpah, 40 miles south of Las Vegas, USA? His answer: he had to avoid a petrol pipeline that supplies Vegas…

Speed doesn’t have to be all about the internal combustion engine. We can delight in the technological challenge of going fast in greener cars. Of course, this has been going on a while… just as one example, on my way back through the museum I checked in with the Mad Dog II solar-powered car (1998) on show in ‘Making the Modern World’.

It’s no Aston Martin, but (like Greenbird) it represents a whole new set of challenges that today’s and tomorrow’s engineers, scientists and racers will (I am sure) rise to.

I chatted to Richard Jenkins a little about the risk of his record-breaking ride. Greenbird’s name looks back to the Bluebird land and watercraft driven by Malcolm and Donald Campbell. I’ve just finished reading Tonia Bern-Campbell’s book about her marriage to Donald, and it’s pretty moving because Donald was killed in Cumbria attempting the water speed record in 1967.

We’ve got his earlier Bluebird CN7 car in our collection, on loan to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu.

We’ve also got lots of Bluebird / Campbell archive material and photos in our library at Wroughton, including the Leo Villa papers (Leo was the Bluebird engineer). Why not book a visit if you’re out that way, as there’s tons of other great transport stuff (and everything else).