Eastbound and Green: AirFlow BulletTruck Aims to Improve Fuel Economy for Long Haulers
By Davey G. Johnson
In the late 1970s, the AirFlow Truck Co.'s Bob Sliwa graduated from violently shepherding a Chevrolet Chevelle down Connecticut drag strips to the world of owner-operator trucking. Frustrated with the 4.4 mpg of his cab-over Ford CLT-9000, Sliwa applied aero-dynamic principles to the diesel behemoth. Through trial and error, he managed to wring 9.33 mpg out of his 18-wheeler.
Three decades later, the American truck fleet's average fuel economy stands at 6.5 mpg. In 2008, sick of his software job's shrinking 401(k) and the rising price of diesel, Sliwa decided to do something about it. He figured it would take about six months to engineer and build a superefficient Kenworth T2000, a tractor made semifamous by its role on 18 Wheels of Justice alongside Billy Dee Williams and G. Gordon Liddy.
What followed was a three-year odyssey that saw sponsors frustrated with the slow pace, Kenworth/ Peterbilt parent Paccar monitoring his Web site and a few platinum cards' worth of debt. The result? Well, Sliwa's not quite sure yet. On its maiden voyage, his aircraft-style glass cockpit returned wildly disparate economy numbers.
“It would say 1.4 mpg,” he said. “Then it would say 200 mpg.”
The problem remains elusive. Without hard consumption numbers, he estimated economy between 12.3 mpg and 14.3 mpg on his first 858-mile jaunt with an unladen trailer.
The AirFlow BulletTruck's Cummins engine is stock, churning out 450 hp and 1,800 lb-ft of torque. There's no dramatic program to reduce weight. But there is a custom-ducted Horton radiator that allows for the extreme degree of rake in the hood. Sliwa figures he's put in 700 hours of work ahead of the firewall alone.
He painstakingly reproduced the computer model created by industrial designer Jeremy Singley using wooden stringers and fiberglass. The pair also developed aluminum side skirts and an inflatable end cap to streamline the trailer.
The ultimate goal is to build a run of AirFlow cabs to mount on existing chassis, but for now, Sliwa's hauling loads to pay bills and looking for funding for future trucks.
“Best case,” he jokes, “is to go up to Seattle, get rear-ended by Bill Gates's chauffeur and have Bill get out and say, ‘Hey, what're you doing?'”
On its maiden voyage, his aircraft-style glass cockpit returned wildly disparate economy numbers...“It would say 1.4 mpg,” he said. “Then it would say 200 mpg.”
Couldn't he have hand calculated the mileage? I do that every time I fuel up. Number of miles divided by the gallons used. A simple calculator would give him the answer.
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