What has a jet engine, a rocket booster and travels on a set of aluminum wheels? It’s the Bloodhound SuperSonic Car (SSC) and it has plans to hit the world land speed record at 1,000 mph.
Made of titanium, carbon fiber and, like superman, is designed to go faster than a speeding bullet, the Bloodhound SSC has been painstakingly put together and tested over the better part of six years.
In 2016, the UK-based team plan to take the 42-foot (8.9m) vehicle to Hakskeen Pan, a dry lake bed in South Africa, for a crack at the record breaking attempt.
Former fighter jet pilot Royal Air Force (RAF) Wing Commander Andy Green said even designing a car that can hold together at these blistering speeds has been a triumph of the engineer’s art.
“No rubber,” he told CNN from The Bloodhound Project headquarters in Bristol, UK. “Beyond about 450mph it’s really, really hard to keep a tire on – they just get flung off. So we have solid aluminum.
“We’ve been through a huge evolution of finding something that’s tough enough that would do the job. Basically this car goes faster than a speeding bullet, so anything that hits this is like being shot at from a gun.”
The former jet ace, who has flown combat missions over Iraq, Bosnia and Afghanistan, can lay claim to be the only man to have broken the sound barrier in the air and on land. In 1997, he hit 763 mph or Mach 1 in the vehicle ThrustSSC to become the first man to break the sound barrier on land.
The Bloodhound Project takes the land speed record a step further in a car that is part jet fighter, part Formula 1 racer and part space rocket.
“A thousand miles an hour at ground level is faster than any jet fighter has ever traveled in history, so there are going to be some major challenges,” Green said.
Besides three engines delivering 135,000 horsepower, the Bloodhound is equipped with rocket boosters to deliver the thrust necessary to get it to 1,000 mph.
“(The jet engines) on their own will take us to 600mph or thereabouts, but to get a land speed record, at about 350 miles an hour we turn on a rocket engine to take us all the way through to a 1000mph,” said lead designer Mark Chapman. “The rocket is the key — that’s the difference between 750 mph and 1,000 mph.”
The Bloodhound team scoured the globe to find a desert run that could accommodate a vehicle which, at 1,000 mph, is likely to run out of road in a matter of seconds. The requirements were a perfectly flat landscape, at least 12 miles long and two miles wide.
They eventually selected Hakskeen Pan, in Northern Cape, South Africa where Bloodhound SSC will cover a mile in 3.6 seconds — equivalent to 4.5 football pitches laid end to end every second.
Having already set the land speed record, Green is in a good place to describe what it is like in the cockpit of the world’s fastest cars. Even so, the new challenges presented by Bloodhound SSC sometimes leave him lost for words.
“The best single description I’ve ever heard was from the late, great Art Arfons who set three world records in the 1960s and got up to almost 600 mph.
“Somebody asked him one day what it was like and he said: ‘What is it like to drive a land-speed (record)? To drive a jet car to do 600 miles an hour over the ground?
“And he said: ‘It’s a bit like the taste of chocolate. If you’ve never had a bar of chocolate I am really going to struggle to explain what it is like’.”
Ultimately, he said, the cockpit is place of tremendous G forces, heat and vibration.
“In a land-speed car, that’s just a normal day in the office. Uncomfortable, but that’s what it’s like. It’s hugely busy, it’s very hot, it’s very noisy. Apart from all those things, it should be fairly simple.”
While the aim of the project is to crack the magic 1,000 mph mark (the closest yet has been an American F104 jet fighter which flew just above ground level at 988mph), Green said the ultimately the record attempt is about instilling a sense of engineering progress in future generations.
“This about developing technology. This is about finding out new things. This is about exploring,” he said. “And the story of engineering exploration is about the failures and the challenges, not just about the successes.”