Is it a car, is it a plane, is it a rocket…no it’s the Bloodhound Super Sonic Car!
Here is a question, how can you get a land-based vehicle to go 1,000 mph? That’s easy. Fashion a long cigar-shaped vehicle, strap a rocket on the back, light a fuse and then just sit back and watch as the projectile shoots off into the sunset. That’s the way it may happen in some comic books, but in reality it is a bit more complex than that.
Going faster than the last guy and setting speed records, whether on water or on dry land, has long been a challenge that has fascinated engineers and pioneers for decades, attracting some of the most weird and wonderful creations on the planet. But not satisfied with just breaking the sound barrier in Thrust SSC in 1997 (driven by Wing Commander Andy Green) Richard Noble’s latest quest is to develop the first car to break the 1,000 mph barrier in a land-based vehicle on four wheels.
This raised more problems and challenges than anyone at first imagined because, for starters, nothing has ever travelled at 1,000 mph on the ground, not even a jet fighter, so what method of propulsion do you employ. It may be easy to say a jet engine would be the right method of drive, but there are the issues of dust ingestion to consider, shock waves in the ground, and a whole host of unknown issues. So when the opportunity arose to visit the Bloodhound SSC technical facility in Bristol in July this year, it was a no-brainer, and I beat a path to the front door.
The visit was attended by around thirty journalists, and Richard Noble proceeded to set out the background to the whole world land speed record playing field, from Art Arfons’ homebuilt Green Monster specials to the current supersonic Thrust SSC record holder. Noble was quite candid in spelling out that the Thrust SSC was the first of the ‘safe’ land speed record vehicles in that it was developed using CFD, thereby ironing out many foibles before the build process even began. As Noble said, “The engineers could now take charge of the project leaving the driver to drive to the profile that was created by the engineers in consultation with the driver, eliminating the very high level of personal risk previously experienced by the driver.”
The difficulty in developing a highly complex land speed record vehicle, is that much of the funding for such exploits dried up in the 1970s after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, and so challenging these barriers on earth had become ‘uncool’. After Richard Noble had done the rounds of the BBC and most of the mainstream magazines, it became obvious to him that a new route to funding needed to be found…, enter the digital age. In the mid-90s the internet began to make its presence felt and so the Thrust SSC team created a website and found to their amazement that most folk were interested in the technical side of the project, and so the team gave the public 800 pages of technical bumph, and they lapped it up. The team was told by Microsoft that the website was number five in the world with 59 million web visits in 1997 and, Noble added, “We haven’t actually updated it for 14 years.”
Armed with this astonishing information, the team put a whole new slant on their search for support, and when Noble approached the UK government for help with the Bloodhound project, they were offered a Eurojet EJ2000 jet engine from the Eurofighter Typhoon on condition they turn this into an educational campaign. It was at this point that this writer’s enthusiasm for what was unfolding before him was launched into orbit, as this was exactly what had motivated every young boy who grew up in the 1960s – rockets, space travel, aeroplanes and fast cars…(see our blog: Corn Flakes and rocket cars, March 2012). If you are not developing new engineers at school level, what hope is their for that sector of the economy in the future?
What has come out of this educational programme is that in the UK alone, the project is already being followed in over 5,000 primary and secondary schools and around seven million students have access to Bloodhound information where this is related to their curriculum. This programme has successfully reignited the passion that drove Britain’s engineers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and not a moment too soon either, when one sees how many foreign students from Asia and the Far East are studying in the UK and then returning to their home countries to develop their expertise and apply their knowledge there.
Getting back to the Bloodhound car though, several challenges faced Noble and his team including how to propel the car from rest to its target speed of 1,050 mph, and also, what wheels the car should run on. After much deliberation it was decided that the Bloodhound would be fitted with a hybrid propulsion system, first the Eurojet EJ2000 jet engine will jolly the car up to 350 mph, at which stage a solid fuel rocket would be fired to take the vehicle on up to its target speed of 1,050 mph. The Falcon rocket will be fed with one tonne of High Test Peroxide at 1,100 psi by way of a 750 bhp Cosworth F1 engine, generating a boost pressure of 27,500 lbf for a 17 second burst – quite some fuel pump.
Considering the phenomenally high speed the wheels would have to rotate at (they will spin at 10,500 rpm) meant that the Bloodhound team would have to get onto the trail of some serious, high tech wheels. Any standard grade alloy wheel would simply explode and disintegrate at that revolution speed, and so the team settled on 900mm-diameter premium grade solid aluminium wheels weighing in at 90kg each.
The test programme included the firing of the Falcon rocket at Newquay airport in Cornwall in October and as this proved to be completely successful, the Bloodhound team’s timetable is on track for testing in 2013 and for the actual run in 2014.
At the time of writing, Bloodhound SSC was in the early stages of assembly and it appears that the planned runs in South Africa in Q2 of 2013 are on target.