It's Gonna Be Slick!

A veteran ice-boater takes a shot at the world record for wind-powered speed

Richard Jenkins MIGHT BE THE ONLY GUY in Montana praying for high winds and no snow this February. The 32-year-old British engineer will need big gusts and clean ice on Helena's Canyon Ferry Reservoir in order to break the speed record for a wind-powered ice craft, with his newest carbon-fiber creation, the Greenbird. The fastest GPS-recorded speed for such an "ice jet" is 84 miles per hour. Jenkins's land version of the Greenbird—which has wheels instead of skates—has unofficially clocked 120 mph. But ice boats, with their complex physics, aren't as fast as land craft. "Put a 100-mile-per-hour land jet on skates and it's actually slower," Jenkins says. "That's unexplained, because there should be a lot less drag." One hypothesis is that the thin layer of glide-inducing meltwater between the runners and ice escapes when the runners are sliding too fast. Jenkins has added weight to the Greenbird to counteract the dry friction and beat the record.

That is, if he gets his weather window and a 20-to-30-mph breeze. "Often, you just can't get enough wind," Jenkins says, "but we're going to wait by the lake and not go anywhere until it's there." Above, a look at what makes the Greenbird fly.

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