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Faster than the wind

Challenge

Ice boats are perfect recreational vehicles for those who like speed. But when someone wants to set an ice boat world speed record, the vehicles design needs to become less "box car" and more "formula one."

Solution

Build off a decades' worth of experience, modify existing ice boat wing design, analyze the new boat's response to wind and be ready to race at a moment's notice when perfect ice and wind conditions collide. 

Stefan Dalberg (MET '11), Principal Investigator for SAIT's Sports and Wellness Engineering Technologies in Applied Research and Innovation Services, decided three years ago that his Lakehead University mechanical engineering degree thesis would focus on designing a very fast ice boat. When Dalberg came to work at SAIT in 2013, wearing a few hats - such as industry partner and student project sponsor - became an option, enabling him to get student help fabricating his ice boat as a side project.

Since second-year student projects come up every year, Dalberg's approach was to "compartmentalize a few key pieces of the boat that still need work and shop them out to the students and see what they come up with." Since fall term 2015, four Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) students - Jordan Doerksen, Cong Xiao, John San Juan and Hung Nguyen - have worked with Dalberg and will continue until the end of spring 2016. "We are analyzing the wind and how the boat responds to it," Dalberg says. 

There are already business opportunities and patents pending on the software design that correlates what happens on the boat and ice with wind direction and wind speed. A group of Mechanical Engineering Technology (MET) students will spend their winter term working with Dalberg on the boat's steering and wing control systems. He wants the students to add more detail and analysis to the basic box he has already designed.

Dalberg grew up in Calgary and has 25 years of ice boating experience on Ghost Lake, half an hour west of the city. He says he started because of his dad, who he describes as "cautiously supportive" because of the risks involved — losing steering control, flipping upside down, skates lifting up off the ice due to the boat catching air. 

The need for speed

Watch ice boats in action...

The current accepted speed record is 230 kilometres/hour over an average of 500 metres. Dalberg wants to go 240 kilometres/hour on Ghost Lake, hopefully by February 2017.

"The hardest part about this entire thing is just getting the boat together and on the ice," he says, adding that he's aware that students only have a short amount of time and limited capacity to help during their school year.

"The intention is not to get a polished product at the end; the intention is just to get some progress," Dalberg says, noting the reward to working with students is seeing them learn quite quickly along the way with something that's real-world.

Written by Michelle Lindstrom
Greg Fulmes Photo