Inside The Bloodhound SSC Quest For 1000 mph



Andy Green drives an AWD Jaguar F-Type to work. It makes sense for the only man who has driven faster than the speed of sound to have a powerful machine as a daily driver. It’s a beautiful car, sleek, looks fast standing still. You know the sort. Its 5.0-liter V-8 makes 550 hp. That would barely power the fuel pump on Andy’s real car, a carbon-fiber rocket-powered needle that makes the streamlined Jag look like a speed bump. The Bloodhound SSC Project goal: 1,000 mph. Let’s say that again:


We’re in the U.K., on the edge of Bristol, in an industrial park that looks like every other industrial park in the galaxy. Inside, it’s equal parts aircraft hanger and hot-rod shop. To the left there’s a small but well-equipped metal fabrication space. Next to that there’s a long, narrow surface plate, a fixture to build and test rocket fuel delivery setups, and a parts cage. To the right of us sits a gantry crane used to lift the top half of the car off, a trolley with a cradle for quickly changing the rockets, and a jig to build the car’s tail fin.

Poised in the middle of it all is the hero of our story, sitting naked in the center of the room. Raw carbon fiber is visible throughout the chassis, in both beautiful weaves and 3-D-printed form. There’s so much machined aluminum that the cash value in leftover shavings could buy a house in the English countryside. There’s military-grade electrical connectors and miles of wires and slick control arms with integrated brake calipers. “FoMoCo” is stamped on the heads of a Jaguar V-8. We weren’t kidding about it powering the fuel pump.


The Bloodhound concept was originally proposed to Green and fellow land speed record holder Richard Noble by Lord Drayson, at the time the U.K. minister of science. Drayson saw an opportunity for the private sector to fill the void the British government left open when it stopped pushing the aerospace envelope. With no Concorde, no Vulcan, and no Lightning to drool over, Britain has experienced a steep decline in students enrolling to become engineers. The Brits already own the land speed record; Noble and Green have swapped it between them for the past 33 years, and it currently stands at 763.035 mph – 1227.985 km/h – set over one mile in October 1997 with ThrustSSC, a twin turbofan jet-powered car which set the first supersonic landspeed record. They don’t just want to break it (again). They want to destroy it, with the entire country tagging along. Education and inspiration are job one for the Bloodhound SSC, but close behind them looms that ambitious goal, 1,000 mph. What will it take?


When the time comes, rubber-shod wheels will be replaced by one-piece aluminum discs, a specially forged high-strength alloy called 7037. Rubber would build too much friction on the sand in Hakskeen Pan, South Africa, where the record attempts will occur. The wheel shape was modeled so that it will spin but not sink in the desert surface. They’ll turn at 10,200 rpm.


During low speed testing (you know, under 600 mph) it’ll only need the jet engine. The turbofan was built for a fighter jet. Sensors that are supposed to measure flight, not ground conditions, have to be fooled into thinking it’s A-OK to fire off while at an elevation of about 5 inches.


Runway testing for the car is expected to commence this fall. Due to funding issues, the Bloodhound SSC Project has faced some delays, but the goal is still the same. As of right now, they expect to make a run toward 800 mph October 2017, and if all goes well, they’ll shoot for 1,000 in 2018.


Early in the project a 750-hp 2.4-liter Cosworth F1 engine turned the fuel pump. The pump, which is a based on a piece that did the same job in a ’60s cruise missile, feeds 210 gallons of high-test peroxide to the Nammo rocket in 20 seconds. (An APU connected to the EJ200 powers the electronics and hydraulics.) When Jaguar replaced the F1 mill with the same 550-hp supercharged mill found in their F-Type, some might have thought they compromised performance for a new sponsor. But that wasn’t the case. The F1 engine required a lengthy warm-up time and pretty much had to be torn down and inspected after every run. A team of F1 mechanics had to follow the Bloodhound team to every event, and only they were allowed to touch the Cosworth. The entire “shrouded in secrecy” process flew in the face of the “open door” educational foundation the Bloodhound SSC Project stands on.


Carbon-ceramic brakes may be the new hotness with street-legal race cars like the Camaro Z/28 and Viper ACR, but at forces like those the Bloodhound generates, they’re prone to explode around 300 mph. Ask how they know. Old-school steel discs get tasked with bringing the Bloodhound down to a complete standstill.


The fin is a piece that looks simple in finished form, but underneath is an orgy of cameras, gauges, and sensors along with a puzzle of aluminum struts and spars snapped together precisely with a laser-aligned jig. A RAF squadron of engineers has taken responsibility for this section, as it is very much like the tail sections of fighter jets they work with daily. The fin’s most important task is keeping the Bloodhound straight. The team likens it to feathers on an arrow, a long, narrow “shaft” in flight with aim kept true by those feather fins.


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Roadkill Fall 2016 Cover