Everyday the boundaries of engineering are challenged with new amazing projects being undertaken and completed to fulfil the needs of modern day life. This article celebrates some famous engineering feats that have helped shape society today and other feats that are simply marvelous in the audacity of the challenges they resolve.
1) Moon Landing – Moon landings can be classified as manned or unmanned landings, but when you mention the ‘moon landing’ then most people think of the first manned landing on the moon when the Apollo 11 mission placed two astronauts (Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin) onto the surface, leaving us with the immortal phrase: ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind…’ The pursuit of placing a person on the surface of the moon began in earnest in the 1960s and was completed within a decade on July 20th 1969. This event marked a definitive point in the 20th Century and at the time helped cement the United States above Russia as the ‘greatest superpower’ whilst firing the imagination of generations of children.
2) Panama Canal – Opened in 1914 this man-made canal joins the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The Panama Canal was a colossal engineer project which resulted in an enormous impact on shipping between the two oceans by reducing the journey time immensely. For example a journey from New York and San Francisco via Cape Horn is around 14,000 miles whilst the same journey but instead utilizing the Panama Canal is less than half the journey at 6000 miles. Average journey time through the canal is between 8-10 hours and the largest ship that can travel through the canal is classed as a Panamax. This size of the ships that can travel the canal are restricted by the maximum size the locks. The max length of a ship allowed to travel along the canal is 294.1 meters with a Draft of 12.0 metres.
3) Burj Dubai – is a skyscraper which holds the record for the world tallest building. The Burj Dubai towers above the surrounding landscape at a huge 818meters tall and has been built as a centerpiece of an urban development that will include homes, hotels and parkland. The previous record holder for the world tallest structure was the KVLY-TV mast located in North Dakota, United States, however the Burj Dubai breaks this record by a long way. The more you read about the Burj Dubai the more amazing the whole structure seems, with many of the building’s sub-systems being record breakers themselves, such as the observatory lifts breaking the record for the longest travel distance between lowest and highest stop. These elevators also travel at 40mph or 18 meters per second which sounds like a fast ride! At the time of writing there are no structures under construction that can challenge the Burj Dubai for the world tallest building, but there are some buildings that have been proposed and have potential funding, such as the Mile High Tower, but those projects still have a long way to go before they are even started.
4) Millau Viaduct – The Millau Viaduct may not be the longest bridge in the world but it is current the tallest vehicular bridge standing at a whopping 353 meters which is taller than the epitome of French symbols- the Eiffel Tower. The bridge was opened in December 2004 and crosses the Valley of the River Tarn close to Millau in the South of France. The bridge was designed by structural engineer Michel Virlogeux and architect Norman Foster and possesses both an engineering wow factor and an audacious design. The architect Normal Foster was quoted as saying that the bridge looked ‘impossibly delicate’ and was a ‘dialogue between nature and the man made.’, after looking at this elegant structure it is hard to disagree.
5) Supertankers – Behemoths of the ocean, the supertanker is the largest class of ocean going oil-tanker. The largest ever tankers were the Knock Nevis (in length at 458.4m long) and the Batillus Class Supertankers, which amongst them hold the records for the highest gross tonnage of 275,276 tons. All four Batillus supertankers have now been scrapped, whilst the Knock Nevis has now been classified as a floating storage and offloading unit therefore these great ships that were built throughout the 1970’s have not been surpassed in size since. To make a comparison in size the Knock Nevis is slightly longer than the height of the Empire State Building in New York (443m high)
6) Channel Tunnel (Le tunnel sous la Manche) The Channel Tunnel is the longest tunnel with an undersea section in the world. The length of the Channel Tunnel is 50.5 kilometres in links Folkestone, England to Coquelles, France. The tunnel itself was bored through a chalk marl stratum which was deemed a good material for tunneling as it is both strong and easy to excavate. The actual tunnel consists of three separate tunnels connected together by cross-passage links. The two main tunnels which or rail tunnels are 7.6 metre in diameter, whilst the service tunnel is 4.8 metre in diameter. Construction of the tunnel began in 1988 and opened in 1994 and has been rated as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
7) Three Gorges Dam – Another huge feat of engineering the Three Gorges Dam is a hydroelectric river dam that spans the Yangtze River in China and is the largest hydroelectric power station in the world with a power output of up to 22,500 MW. It is hard to envision the scale of the dam at 2309 metres wide and 101 metres tall. As with most projects there is an environmental impact and this ensures that the project is controversial as it has a negative impact on the wildlife, landscape and local culture, however from an engineering point of view it is hard not to be impressed by what was achieved by the project.
8) Concorde – Between 1976 and 2003 the only way to fly transatlantic between London and New York (if you were lucky enough to be able to afford it) was by flying in Concorde- the world’s most successful supersonic passenger airline. Concorde was able to cruise at an average speed of Mach 2.02 (1,330 mph) and had a maximum cruise altitude of 60,000 feet making the flight time from London to New York only 3.5 hours long. The designers of Concorde had to pioneer and over come many engineering and technological challenges to make the airplane able to travel at such speeds and altitude. The aircraft enjoyed many successful years but was finally retired in 2003. A number of things coincided with the demise of Concorde, in part a change in the economic climate made the cost to fly transatlantic at supersonic speeds less viable, a crash of one of the Concorde fleet temporarily grounded the airplane and the design was showing signs of age approaching thirty years in commission. Due to the lack of competition Concorde didn’t benefit from many upgrades over the years so the technology ended up being slightly dated. However, as dated as the engineering may have become over its life cycle the fact remains that the concept of a supersonic commercial airline and the design that resulted from that concept hasn’t been surpassed and one could say that technology and engineering has receded with Concorde’s demise as no viable replacement has been put in place. Today high-class commercial passengers are restricted to the same lower speeds achievable by traditional aircraft. The days of supersonic passenger aircraft zooming across the Atlantic have therefore been grounded for the foreseeable future.
9) Langeled Pipeline – On the surface a long pipe may appear boring, but under the surface (no pun intended) the Langeled Pipeline which helps make million of Britons make their tea in the morning is quite the engineering feat. The Langeled Pipeline was built to bring natural gas from Norway to the UK the Langeled Pipeline in the longest underwater pipeline in the world stretching 1,200km from Nyhamna in Norway to Easington, England. Gas from the Langeled equates to 20% of Britain’s gas supply making it an integral part of the Britain’s energy infrastructure and the pipeline can carry 70 million cubic meters of gas per day. The project was finished in two stages with the second half of the project opening in October 2006.
10) TauTona Mine – The TauTona is a gold mine in South Africa which is now the deepest mine in the world at 3.9km deep and can be described by three ways, deep, potentially dangerous and lucrative. The TauTona mine had been challenging for the record of the deepest mine for a while but when the mine’s owners AngloGold Ashanti decided to expand the mine then it took the record from the East Rand Mine which was 3,585m deep. The mine was originally sunk in 1957 with operations starting in 1962, however since the original construction two additional shafts have been created. The mine has around 800km of tunnels and Working in the TauTona mine can be dangerous with miners occasionally losing their life. Workers in the mine have to travel for up to an hour to reach the rock face, which can reach temperatures of 60°C
It is hard not to be impressed by the scale of all these engineering jobs and the vision engineers had when conceiving the ‘almost impossible. Boundaries are constantly being pushed and the ‘largest’, ‘longest’ or ‘fastest’ are constantly challenged and superseded by new engineering and technology.