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The Bloodhound SuperSonic Car is a rocket-powered land missle

Tue, 06 Nov 2012

The ambitious British Bloodhound SuperSonic Car project took a significant step forward in the quest to raise the world's land speed record to 1,000 mph when the machine's main power unit—a spectacularly forceful rocket engine—was successfully test fired Oct. 3.

The rocket is believed to be the largest designed in Europe in decades, and its 185-decible noise level is said to be many times louder than a Boeing 747 during takeoff.

Demonstrating the potential is a great boost, but multiple tasks still need to be completed before the 44-foot, 17,000-pound Bloodhound SSC is fully ready for its initial run in late 2013 in South Africa. The rocket was tested to just half the thrust required to hit 1,000 mph, while the pencil-like chassis and body are still a collection of beautifully engineered aluminum and carbon-fiber components scattered around various British engineering shops. Later this year, the chassis is expected to be delivered to Bloodhound's Bristol technical center in England for outfitting ahead of practice runs next summer.

The first actual speed test will aim for only 800 mph, achievable with the rocket generating about half its thrust, before the rainy season calls a halt to proceedings.

The speedster will be fully operational in mid-2014 for another run, when the Bloodhound crew will attempt to hit the magical 1,000 mph.

Meanwhile, progress for other key details continues on pace, including deciding on a venue: the Hakskeen Pan in the South African desert where a smooth salt flat is being prepared into a 12-mile long test track. Bloodhound looked at dozens of global locations, including the Bonneville Salt Flats (Utah), though Hakskeen had the edge for the quality of its surface.

A driver has been selected, too, although in reality Royal Air Force pilot Andy Green, who has held the land speed record since 1997 when he guided Thrust SSC to 763 mph, was the only candidate. Green, as unflappable and square-jawed as any Battle of Britain hero, will have his work cut out; the record run will be an adrenaline-pumping 118 seconds, with around 3.6 seconds of those at a peak speed faster than a Magnum 357 slug.

Not only does Green have to fire the rocket and master the forces that follow, including acceleration from 500 to 1,000 mph in just 17 seconds, he must also keep control when hit by a negative 3G braking force—equivalent to a modest car crash—as the rocket cuts out and aero drag slows the Bloodhound to 800 mph.

At that speed he has to deploy air brakes and then operate not-yet-designed wheel brakes for the last 200 mph. No off-the-shelf rotors are capable of surviving at 1,000 mph and then slowing such a heavy object from 200 mph—so Bloodhound must design them from scratch.

Green, 50, exhibits the coolness required to pull off this tremendous task. His last record run featured a heart-stopping moment when the Thrust SSC snapped into a slide at 650 mph. Cockpit cameras filmed Green calmly cutting the thrust before applying corrective lock, and powering back up to snatch the record.

But it won't all be business as usual for Green, if only because he'll have to master the behavior of a very different mechanical layout. Where the Thrust had a fighter-jet engine strapped to each side of its fuselage, Bloodhound has three power sources, including a Eurojet 200 engine mounted on top of the main rocket and a 700-hp Cosworth Formula One engine buried inside the bodywork.

All three must work together: the jet engine to accelerate the Bloodhound up to 350 mph when the rocket fires for 20 seconds in two stages, the second at 400 mph to close the gap to 1,000 mph.

The rocket has such a voracious thirst, about nine gallons per second of liquid hydrogen peroxide fuel, that the pump borrowed from a cruise missile needs the 2.4-liter Cossie V8 engine running at 18,000 rpm to deliver sufficient flow.

One question, of course, has to be answered: Why?

Initially, Bloodhound was triggered in 2007 when the late Steve Fossett was mulling an 800-mph challenge to Green's Thrust SSC record. Fossett, a recordsetting pilot himself, died in a plane crash over the Sierra-Nevada Mountains later that year.

Still, Green and team leader Richard Noble responded with the 1,000-mph figure, though the mission has taken on a different theme: to expose thousands of children and students to the challenge and excitement of science and engineering. Data sheets and information are free to download from the Bloodhound Web site, and team members will visit many of the 3,300 schools officially following progress. Clearly, this is a record attempt that can be measured in many ways.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 29, 2012 issue of Autoweek. To get Autoweek delivered to your door biweekly, click here.

By Julian Rendell