Flying the optimal line can significantly improve racing times. Although it’s very hard to quantify, lap times flown using an optimal line are probably on the order of one to two seconds faster than flying a line found using experience and intuition alone Most races are won by margins of 0.1–0.5 seconds, so having the right race tactics can be the difference between winning and placing in the middle of the pack.
THE HUMAN ELEMENT Part of my job as race tactician is to translate the results of my optimization into a format that’s usable by the pilot. Before each race, I prepare a report for pilot Goulian, so that he knows the Professor Steve Hall (left) briefs Team 99 pilot Mike Goulian, suggesting the best line through the course, and what g-levels best paths through the racecourse and what g-levels will be required for each turn. (Pablo Branco photograph) are required to use in each turn. Point-of-view, virtual-reality imagery is created ahead of time, giving the pilot a perspective of the track as seen from the airplane’s cockpit during a lap. He uses that information to memorize and visualize the racing line, so that he already knows the track before his first flight. Much of the important work happens during race week. Because there are, at most, three training sessions, it’s important to learn as much as possible from the limited time available on the track. After each training session or race heat, we use data from onboard sensors as well as video footage to analyze the flight. The data is used to compare the line flown to the optimal line, to find where improvements can be made. During post-flight analysis we are able to overlay optimal and actual trajectories, allowing us to know exactly where lap-time was lost or gained and continually perfect the strategy, shaving tenths of a second on every outing.
Published on Nov 18, 2016
Annual magazine review of MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Department research and educational initiatives.