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Steam car team surpasses century-old record

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A British steam car team set the record for the fastest speed traveled by a steam car with an official speed of 148.308 miles per hour Aug. 26, breaking the previous world record of 127.659 set in Daytona Beach Fla. in 1906.

"The steam car tests are exactly complementary to what we do here every day," said Maj. Gen. David Eichhorn, Air Force Flight Test Center commander. "That's why we have these natural resources. So that just like they are pushing this car to its limits to see what it can do, we too push our aircraft to their limits to see what they can do and so we can keep a technological edge."

After officials from the Federation Internationale de I'Automobile approved the track for the record attempts Aug. 19, the team began making attempts to break the record.

"The parameters set by the FIA required that the car make two passes across the lake bed in opposite directions within 60 minutes and that the average of the two speeds is the official speed," said project manager Matt Candy.

"This event represents a culmination of ten years of work by various teams of engineers, volunteers and enthusiasts," said the project manager. "This lake bed has helped in a number of ways, due to the nature of the regulations set forth by the FIA; we needed at least six miles of less than one percent gradient. Many of the lake beds around the world are at different altitudes and have different seasons and this one fits us perfectly. Its low altitude gives us more oxygen to run the boilers. All around it's a great venue for us."

Though little has change in the field of steam power in the past 103 years, the team used technology to look at steam power differently and combine the concepts of the past with the technology of today to break the record.

"Going for a record allows you to explore the concept with an open approach that you don't get in mainstream racing," said Mr. Candy. "Steam, like many other ideas are old concepts, but going at it with new technology and a targeted goal allowed us to explore new ways of doing things and hopefully the boilers, turbines and propulsion system create some spin off and advantages going forward."

Working on the project for the last 10 years, the team credited the outcome to the contributions of everyone who's been involved with the project since the beginning and thanked team Edwards for their hospitality and assistance.

"This record is the crowned effort of so many people that have been involved in this over the last ten years," said the project manager. "It's been a long, hard effort by many people to bring down this record that has stood for more than a century."

Though proud of their accomplishment, the team hopes by setting this record they have created a competition that will bring interest in steam car technology back to the forefront.

"Setting this record may have set precedence, after holding it for more than 100 years, an American team may want to claim the record back. They're more than welcome to try to do that, because I hope we would be in a position to try to take it back again and create a bit of a competition," said Donald Charles Wales, the team driver. "It's been a long time for the steam car so it would be nice to see it get some attention."

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