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Life at 1,600kmph…on land

S Muralidhar Elizabeth Mathew | Updated on November 21, 2014

Beyond supersonic Andy Green’s Bloodhound SSC, when completed, will do 20 kilometres from a standing start in just two minutes, and kilometre will take just 2.2 seconds FLOCK/SIEMENS

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The team behind the Bloodhound SSC is hoping to set a new land speed record of 1,000mph



In the rarefied field of super sports cars the performance numbers are already mind-numblingly fast. Now imagine a vehicle that is built to do nearly five times the top speeds of these cars. In fact, imagine a vehicle that will be stuck to tarmac while travelling faster than the fastest fighter jets on the planet. That is the Bloodhound SSC for you.

We are devotees of speed and yet, the Bloodhound SSC’s attempt at setting a new land speed record seems so unreal that we decided to meet the man who will be behind the wheel of this car while it rockets across the South African desert at over 1,600 kmph.

Racing History

The Bloodhound is the latest car in a long line of what is the oldest form of motor sport. Before there was track racing, nine years before the world’s first race track was made – the first landspeed record was set, back in 1890. So this is the oldest form of motorsport in the world. It’s the purest, simplest form of motor sport – just how fast can the car go, in a straight line.

But the sort of speeds that the team behind Bloodhound SSC is attempting now goes way beyond just automotive technology. It takes the best from automotive – like the structural monocoque carbon fibre strength from Formula One technology, combined with the very best of jet engine technology and supersonic aerodynamics. But even this in itself is not enough power because they are now attempting to go faster than any jet fighter has ever been able to at ground level.

Wing Commander Andy Green, who will be steering the Bloodhound SSC already holds the landspeed record, for the last 17 years with the Thrust Super Sonic Car - the only land speed record faster than the speed of sound.

Talking to Auto Focus about the next record project, Andy Green says “We are basically part Formula One car, part jet fighter plane and part space rocket – in a 13 metre long, seven tonne package that in two years time will be doing 1,600kmph in South Africa.”

“We are building the most remarkable racing car in history that will do 20 kilometres from a standing start in just two minutes. A kilometre will take just 2.2 seconds. We could cover the entire pitch of a football stadium in less time than it takes for you to blink your eyes – it’s astonishing”, he says

Blurring lines

The numbers are even more stunning. For example, the sort of aerodynamic load the front end of the car would experience would be 12 tonnes per square metre - like three fully grown elephants standing on a small table! At the back end of the car, the hybrid rocket will generate exhaust gases at a temperature of 3000 degrees Celsius, almost twice as hot as molten lava inside a volcano. So there’s some astonishing technology involved in creating even a simple nozzle to deal with that, and everything in between.

According to Andy Green, the Bloodhound has some essential Indian DNA – the core inside the lower chassis is a very high quality steel made by Tata Steel! And the things like the steering wheel and the acoustic linings inside the cockpit are made by Jaguar, a British brand that is owned by Tata Motors. So when India sees this car run next year, it will have a lot to be proud of – the fastest car in the world would have been built with a lot of Indian assistance.

Tech-laden

Elaborating about the car’s tech, Andy Green adds that they are using a rocket hybrid, for example, because it is safer and more controllable than other forms of rockets and the fuel is solid rubber. It doesn’t burn and doesn’t explode – so it’s safe to handle and store.

“When you’re trying to achieve the speed of sound on land, an additional force that you have to contend with is downforce. It is a blend of understanding the motorsport challenge of keeping the wheels on the ground, when you don’t want any downforce because at supersonic speed, you generate so much of it that it could almost crush the car. So we’re actually trying to achieve zero down-load and zero lift, so that car has just got its own static weight.”

“But its not just stability in the vertical direction, stability in the horizontal direction is equally important. The one thing a car won’t want to do at high speeds is go in a straight line, so there’s a lot of steering input to keep it going straight. And there’s always the risk of a car that’s too stable being set off by crosswind. So a car needs to be stable enough, but not too stable”, he points out.

The Bloodhound SSC weighs 7 tonnes, it generates 21 tonnes of thrust, so it actually gets to full power only at 600 kmph and at that stage the car is accelerating at just under 2G. Andy says that “it will be accelerating at 60kmph, every second, so we get up to super sonic, very, very quickly. Even at 1,600 kmph the car is accelerating at about 20-25 kmph per second, and it needs to keep up that speed and its using distance very very quickly. At peak speed, we’re doing a kilometre every 2.2 seconds. So spending another 5 seconds accelerating is another 2.5 kilometres – and we haven’t got that much desert!”

Cockpit stress

So, what is it going to feel like to be in the car while it will be travelling at nearly twice the speed of average commercial airline flights.

Andy Green says that most of it is the mental discipline of not being distracted in a fantastically noisy cockpit, the G Force, the disorientation, etc., and, of course, controlling three different engines – the jet engine, the rocket engine and the piston engine which powers the rocket pump. “I’ve got to get them all in the right place, and steer the car, monitor the downloads on the wheels and then having got to the measured mile, throttle back, cope with the disorientation, put the airbrakes down at the right place, get the car down to slow speed, get it to walking pace by the end of the track. Then a full steering lock at exactly the right place so that it stops right next to the turnaround crew, because we’ve actually got to do two runs within one hour to set a world land speed record.” What is more mind boggling is when Andy says – “we have 45 minutes to do what looks like an F1 pit stop but with a lot more technology, on something that’s as complicated as a space shuttle.”

British Fighter Pilot and current world land speed record holder Wing Commander Andy Green was in India to deliver the Lord Austin Lecture hosted by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) at SRM University.​​

Published on November 20, 2014

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