Submersible Racecar

While on the surface it seems that submersibles and racecars share nothing in common – dive a little deeper and you'll see that they do. Racecar giants Lola and Cosworth are playing a major role in helping BAE Systems develop an Unmanned Underwater Vehicle known as Talisman.

The Talisman is a demonstrator for an Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) or Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) to detect and destroy underwater mines. BAE Systems' initial submersible had more resemblance to an F117 Nighthawk or Stealth Fighter than a sleek, streamlined submarine. No doubt its faceted hull was optimized to deflect active sonar waves away from nosey enemy transceivers. However, the same angular hull induced excessive drag due to flow separations triggered by the abrupt surface changes between facets. Underwater vehicle movement is governed by drag considerations – drag must be minimized to ensure maximum range and speed for a given power output.

For their next version of the Talisman UUV, BAE Systems enlisted racecar manufacturer Lola to construct a new, sleek, streamlined hull from lightweight carbon fiber. Better known for their Le Mans style endurance racecars and Champ Car chassis – Lola are also experts in making advanced designs using carbon fiber and other advance composite materials. The new curvy hull attempts to minimize drag, which is ironic for a racecar manufacturer, such as Lola, whose primary concern is typically maximizing downforce, usually at the expense of drag.

Where did BAE Systems turn for the Talisman power supply? Their experience with airplane engines was no help for their UUV, so they approached Cosworth to develop a small 3 hp, 2-stroke diesel engine. The engine powers the UUV on the water's surface and simultaneously recharges its lithium-ion batteries for submerged maneuvers. Cosworth were the legendary racecar engine manufacturers of the DFV, which between 1967 - 1983 won a record (for an engine) 155 Formula 1 races.

It seems that the circle of innovation has gone full circle. In the early days of motor racing, the racecar manufacturers often looked to aerospace technologies in aerodynamics and materials for inspiration. Now BAE Systems, with its origins in the British aerospace industry, is looking at motor racing for inspiration – a sure sign that the motor racing industry has come of age.