WITH A thunderous shriek that raised heads five miles away Wing Commander Andy Green lit the afterburner today on the world’s most ambitious car, Bloodhound SSC. He expects to hit 1,000mph on an African desert within two years.
During its “low-speed” maiden run, on the runway at Newquay airport in Cornwall, the jet and rocket-powered car effortlessly topped 200mph in seven seconds. That was fast enough: steering, brakes, suspension, afterburner and data systems all performed flawlessly. In front of an audience of 3,000, Bloodhound’s Eurofighter jet engine twice propelled it on a perfect launch along the 1.7-mile runway, and the brakes managed, with much smoke and a flicker of flame, to stop the 7½-ton vehicle before Green ran out of runway.
Bloodhound Project’s director, Richard Noble, himself a former land-speed record-holder, called the run “the biggest milestone in the history of the project so far”, because it allows the team to replace theoretical calculations with empirical data and to move on to the next critical stage on the road to a record that some still believe to be impossible.
The Newquay run was the culmination of almost 12 years of work by a team with a simple objective: to set a world land-speed record that will stand for a lifetime, and possibly for ever. They are utterly convinced they will succeed, and they cannot be dismissed as a bunch of deluded cranks because they are the only people to have designed, built and driven a car through the sound barrier, a record which has stood for 20 years.
They are in the record-breaking business not just to change the number, but to inspire a generation of engineers who it is hoped will keep Britain at the forefront of technology for decades to come. They intend to push automotive design to the limits of our knowledge and materials – and if in the process they push the speed goalposts so far over the horizon that the Union Flag will fly for ever over the record, then that’s only right.
They number among their sponsors a division of the Health and Safety Executive, which is keen to show the world that it is not just there to stop kids playing conkers. It stands for the proper management of risk, because risk will always be with us, and nowhere is that better exemplified than in the breaking of speed records by massive margins.
They are in the record-breaking business not just to change a number, but to inspire a generation of engineers
The education programme that goes with the Bloodhound Project is as prodigious as the technological challenge. In schools in 220 countries around the world, 2m young people – 130,000 in the UK – are following Bloodhound. It brings science, technology, engineering and maths vividly to life and is likely to boost the number of engineering students like nothing since the Apollo Project took man to the moon.
The project was conceived in the mind of the aerodynamicist Ron Ayers 20 years ago when the two jet engines of the supersonic Thrust SSC car he designed were hardly cold. “They say that speed records are like malaria – they only lie dormant between bouts,” he said. “After Thrust SSC there’s the usual ‘never again’ period, but that lasted until I was about halfway home before I began to wonder what the actual limit of technology today was.”
At Newquay the car reached over 200mph on the power of its Eurofighter jet engine alone. With the rocket also lit, Green will be covering a mile every 3.6 seconds, and there’s nowhere in Britain the car can be properly tested. Next year Bloodhound will be taken abroad to a mystery desert location where higher speeds can be attempted – between 650mph and 800mph – and the rocket engine tested. The team hope to make the record attempt on the Hakskeen Pan in South Africa in 2019.
The car is not yet the finished article. At Newquay it ran on Dunlop tyres from an English Electric Lightning fighter, but they wouldn’t last five seconds at high speed – the real wheels, which will turn at 10,200rpm, are made of solid aluminium. And even at this late stage the design is changing. The fuel pump driving oxidiser to the rocket engine is currently powered by a 550bhp supercharged Jaguar V8 engine, but the team is investigating the possibility of replacing it with an electric motor – battery technology has come a long way since the days of Thrust.
While Bloodhound is proudly British, the project owes its continuation to the Chinese car company Geely, which owns Volvo, Lotus and Proton. It stepped in last year when the project had stalled for lack of cash, and more big sponsors would be welcome.