The Bloodhound SSC is unlike any car built in automobile history. It’s actually a rocket and fighter jet hybrid with four wheels and a steering wheel, designed to travel at more than 1,000 miles per hour. That’s 1.3 times the speed of sound when it attempts to establish a new land speed record.
by VIVEK MUKHERJI
The visceral urge for speed has captivated and fascinated humankind since time immemorial. From hunting down fleet-footed quarry for food to supersonic cruise missiles that wreak havoc in battlefields, men and women, innovators and inventors have pushed the envelope to defy the natural laws of physics in their quest for speed. In the process, new records have been set and broken. It’s the same spirit of enterprise and enquiry or, simply, the need for speed that has been driving those who dwell in the esoteric and rarefied firmament of Land Speed Record (LSR) for more than a century.
The latest holy grail in the world of Land Speed Record is breaching the 1,000 mph (1,660 kmph) barrier. Yes, that’s faster than any supersonic fighter aircraft can fly at 15 metres above the ground. Leading this charge is a British team calling itself the Bloodhound Project. And, the weapon of choice for this ambitious mission is a ‘car’ called the Bloodhound SSC. To be honest, the word ‘car’ is a bit of a misnomer in this case.
The Bloodhound SSC is a singularly unique, hybrid form of a rocket, fighter jet engine from the Eurofighter Typhoon and a Cosworth 2.4-litre V8 Formula One engine with four wheels and a steering housed in a high-tech cockpit. The science under the carbon-fibre titanium skin of the Bloodhound SSC is indeed rocket science. In case you are wondering what on earth SSC means, it’s exactly what it says—Super Sonic Car, designed to go 1.3 times faster than the speed of sound. On land, of course. And the piece of land where this record will be attempted, in September or October 2016, depending on the weather conditions, is the arid expanse of the Hakskeenpan desert in South Africa.There is more than one contender in this wild chase such as the American Land Speed Research Vehicle called the Sonic Wind, helmed by flashy Californian Waldo Stakes, and the Aussie Invader 5R with the fastest Australian on Earth, Rosco McGlashan, in command. But the British project headed by the giants of the Land Speed Record world, Richard Noble, and ‘driver’ Wing Commander Andy Green of the Royal Air Force, who holds the existing record of 763 mph (1,227.93 kmph) in the cockpit of the Thrust SSC, also led by Nobel, is tipped by the punters to break the 1,000 mph barrier first.
In the Bloodhound SSC, function dictates form. At 1,660 kmph, the air around the car will be like dense ‘syrup’ and the sleek shape of the Bloodhound SSC will help it to ‘swim’ through this invisible liquid without becoming unstable or airborne. Though the complex power delivery system is every bit exotic, it still obeys the laws of internal combustion engines that drive the more sedate commuter cars.The Bloodhound SSC has three engines, but only two—the rocket and the jet engines—will provide power to the wheels, while the third unit, the Formula One engine, will be used to drive an oxidiser pump.Now comes the exotic bit. At the start of the run, the F1 engine will be fired up, which in turn will work the high-precision pump derived from the Blue Steel cruise missile.
As the Bloodhound SSC starts to accelerate under power from the jet engine for 20 seconds up to almost 370 kmph, the pump mated to the F1 engine will start delivering small amounts of High Test Peroxide (HTP), which in milder form is hair bleach, into a chamber in front of the rocket containing a silver catalyst. The HTP will react with the silver to produce steam, oxygen and a whole lot of heat. This steam will be superheated to 600° Centigrade before coming in contact with the solid fuel of the rocket, which is nothing more than synthetic rubber. After another five seconds, as the Bloodhound SSC reaches 560 kmph, Green will engage a trigger mounted on his 3D printed steering wheel that will pump the whole of the 1,000 kg of liquid HTP into the rocket cluster, pushing up the steam temperature to 3,000° Centigrade—about 1,500° more than the Earth’s molten core. This will ignite the rubber fuel in the rocket, generating enormous amounts of thrust, shockwaves and a 25-foot incandescent flame studded with tiny diamonds!
The peak combined thrust of the jet engine and the rocket will produce a staggering 1,35,000 bhp—equivalent to more than eight times the total power of 22 Formula One cars on the starting grid—that will turn each of the 95kg precision-forged aluminium wheels at 10,000 rpm, generating 50,000 radial g-forces at the rim, and propelling the Bloodhound SCC to its designed top speed of 1,680 kmph. Green, in his cockpit, will experience 2.5 g-force as the car continues to accelerate for another 20 seconds before crossing the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA)-mandated measured mile at more than 1,000 mph (1,600 kmph) in a mere 3.6 seconds. When the Bloodhound SSC reaches 1,225 kmph, an enormous sonic boom will ripple through Hakskeenpan after which Green and his car will out-run the 140 decibel roar of the engines and the rocket. The car will finally come to a halt using a combination of parachute-aided air brakes and conventional friction brakes, about 12 miles (19.20 km) from the starting point, in just 120 seconds. For the record to be validated by the FIA, Green will have to make two passes through the measured mile in one hour.
As the Bloodhound SSC starts test runs in the UK over these summer months, it will mark the home stretch for a project that started almost 13 years ago and will culminate next year. As Green says, “getting to 1,000 mph safely is not just about technology, it’s about engineering expertise.” The greater purpose of the Bloodhound Project is “promoting engineering and inspiring the next generation with the excitement of science and technology.” These are not empty words. According to the FIA, the safety cell of the car will be the safest and most advanced in the history of motor racing. It has a direct application in the civilian world that will
make cars safer in the future.