The Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots squared off in Super Bowl LII, with the Eagles taking the victory after an exciting 4th quarter. At first glance, it may not seem like SUVs and game day balls have much in common, but believe it or not, there is an aerodynamic science to both. GMC and Wilson Sporting Goods gave us some insight into how SUVs and footballs are both influenced by aerodynamic design.
In The Tunnel
When it comes to the 2018 GMC Terrain, engineers spend more than 300 hours in the wind tunnel to refine the vehicle’s exterior. The process is extensive and involves balancing aerodynamics, functionality, and the brand’s specific design language. For example, the Terrain’s lifted stance exhibits the automaker’s said design language, but it also means more air will flow under the vehicle. This additional, unwanted air will pressurize the chassis components, increasing aerodynamic drag and lowering efficiency.
GMC’s engineers use testing and simulation to craft features that effectively guide air to the back of the vehicle. In the case of the 2018 GMC Terrain, aerodynamic modifications give the vehicle an EPA-estimated 26 combined mpg for AWD models, an increase of three mpg when compared to the previous generation.
“Reducing the aerodynamic drag of an SUV is always a challenge,” said Alicia Bidwell, GMC Aerodynamic Engineer. “The styling that you can see – and the mechanical components that you can’t – work together in perfect aerodynamic harmony.”
On The Field
In a similar sense, aerodynamics are an essential part of game day footballs. Although the typical football is quite different from the average SUV, the Wilson team uses computational fluid dynamics, similar to how vehicle engineers do, when designing the perfect football.
“Many look at our NFL football and see it as a simple object, however, the amount of engineering, particularly in the area of aerodynamics, that has gone into the ball is pretty extraordinary,” said Daniel Hare, Aerodynamics Research Engineer, Advanced Innovation, Wilson Sporting Goods.
Wilson’s researchers have enhanced the shape of NFL footballs to match today’s more passing-centered game. Aerodynamic properties like velocity, direction of motion, and spin rate are analyzed and studied, meaning when your favorite quarterback let’s it loose on Sunday, the ball flies through the air in a more streamlined fashion. The leather pattern and height of the laces are designed to increase laminar airflow, otherwise known as airflow that is smooth and consistent with as little turbulence as possible.
“Every millimeter of the football has been designed to maximize the airflow around it,” Hare explained. “We can extend its flight, reduce drag, and help maintain stability as much as possible.”
Carl Anthony is Managing Editor of Automoblog and resides in Detroit, Michigan. He studies mechanical engineering at Wayne State University, serves on the Board of Directors for the Ally Jolie Baldwin Foundation, and is a loyal Detroit Lions fan.