Like the “Little Engine that Could” the “Bahama Blue” wrought its way over the unceasing hills of Texas on Saturday and rolled into Ardmore, Okla., on the first leg of a long trek that eventually brings it through Fremont Thursday evening along with a caravan of similar vehicles that represent the epitome of innovation.
With a 60 volt, 4.86 kilowatt hour battery juiced up by sunshine and a lath of overhead solar panels that transform tiny photonic packets of sunlight into a continuous 16 horsepower output (a maximum of 40 hp), the little Bahama Blue can achieve average speeds up around 40 miles per hour. The young minds behind the design and construction – and the wheel – of the Bahama Blue, achieved their first goal Sunday night completing the initial leg of a 1,000 mile trek from Fort Worth, Texas to Minneapolis in the 2016 annual Solar Car Challenge.
Sunday, over 20 high school-age teams began the pinnacle event of their yearlong venture into the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) based initiative, the Solar Car Challenge & Education Program. This year the challenge tasked young minds from 31 different states to spend months designing, constructing, testing and evaluating a solar car from scratch. On Sunday, teams began the final stretch of that challenge, a week-long race from Texas to Minn., pulling in for a pit stop, and a meet and greet, in the Fremont Walmart Supercenter parking lot Thursday night between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. During that time the solar cars will be on public display with their designers and builders on hand to answer questions.
The Fremont Tribune will be following two teams throughout the week as the innovative procession of light-powered vehicles journey north. The first, named the Shine Runners, the team behind the Bahama Blue, all attend school in Mansfield, Texas and brandish a mix of aspirations that include professional welding, the Naval Academy and mechanical, aerospace and electrical engineering college-bound studies.
The second team, Liberty Christian Solar Car Team out of Argyle, Texas, commands a car named “Solis Bellator,” Latin for “warrior of the sun,” an appropriate pick considering the task before ahead.
On Sunday, on the road to Ardmore, where the first overnight stop occurred, teams faced hills with gradually rising gradients that pushed the limits of car batteries and team resources.
“Hill after hill and mile after mile passed by as we made our way steadily to (Ardmore),” wrote team member Alex Winston in an email to the Fremont Tribune. “Each team member started to settle into their role more and more and the camaraderie really shined as we started to hit challenges around the middle of our (first day on the road).”
For the small cars, the taxing hills required a few stops to recharge batteries under the Texas and Oklahoma sun. Team members watched as the charge on the car batteries faded through one steep inclination after another.
“We watched as our charge diminished to the point where it began to become a critical issue,” Winston wrote.
However, engineered for efficiency, the small cars succeeded, coasting into Ardmore on the dwindling electrical fumes of solar-charged batteries.
“Our car cruised into our designated trailering spot (in Ardmore) with virtually no power left,” Winston reported. “But we accomplished what we set out to do that day … and at the end of the day we had a team that was more cohesive, in sync and ready than ever.”
Preparation plays a vital role on Tuesday as teams sail their vehicles on the winds of sunlight for a distance just over 200 miles from Ponca City, Okla., to Manhattan, Kan. A big step for a small, single-driver a solar car.