And XCOR wasn’t doing the Mother Road to help develop a new crotch rocket. It was using the road trip to test wear on components for rocket engines.
Dan DeLong, chief engineer for XCOR, explained why the company tested components in a motorcycle instead of in a lab:
“This particular motorcycle, the Triumph Street Triple, develops about the same horsepower and has the same cylinder arrangement as the liquid oxygen and kerosene fuel pumps for the Lynx suborbital spacecraft. That makes it ideal for a long-life pump test platform. The bike is much less expensive to operate than the full up rocket pump test stand. We’re adding hours of run time each ride, not just minutes.” […]
“We put twenty hours–the equivalent of 400 Lynx flights–on the rocket pump bearings by driving from Roswell to Mojave taking periodic data readings along the way to make sure things were in good condition,” remarked Dan. “The trip was a great success and the bike performed flawlessly.
And apparently the road test wasn’t all work and no play:
“We saw some amazing country,” remarked XCOR Senior Engineer and principal driver Mike Valant, “we traveled through New Mexico, passing the Very Large Array, then turned northwards to Route 66, traveling as much of the old highway as possible. Meteor Crater was a highlight, as well as the towns of Holbrook, Seligman, Kingman, Oatman, all the classic waypoints on the Mother Road. We drove through sun, snow, rain and everything in-between. Personally for me, it was one of the greatest adventures I’ve had. It was challenging, and there was a lot of payoff. In addition to keeping the bike on the road through all the weather, we had to pay attention to how it was behaving and make sure there was no trouble.”
A video of the motorcycle being put through its paces is below. The Route 66 material begins around the two-minute mark:
Because of its varying terrain and road conditions, I’d always wondered why auto companies didn’t test their vehicles Route 66 before starting production. But apparently a few rocket scientist saw the value of the Mother Road for such a purpose.
(Photo courtesy of XCOR)