How fast is 800 miles per hour, really?
That’s 2.5 times faster than the fastest tornado ever recorded (315mph). 3.3 times as fast as the fastest bird on the planet, Mr. Peregrine Falcon, and 10 times the fastest recorded fish (the black marlin). The fastest speed recorded in Formula One is a meagre 231.5mph.
The current land speed record for a vehicle is 763mph, faster than the speed of sound.
The record was set by Wing Commander Andy Green all the way back in 1997. Now, the long-gestating project Bloodhound LSR is planning on surpassing that again with some of the most astounding technology at their disposal, with a target of hitting over 800mph in a vehicle that has seemingly been spliced from the minds of HG Wells, George Méliès, and Gordon Murray.
And 23 years later, Andy Green is again in the cockpit. The British Royal Air Force fighter pilot has been involved in the project for over a decade, initially coming on board as a consultant before it was ultimately decided that he remained the best man for the job all these years on.
The vehicle has just returned from testing in a specially prepared stretch of land in South Africa, with further tests and modifications due throughout 2020. After returning to Blighty, Andy told The Sportsman why this particular project is so important right now.
The car itself is magnificent, could you describe some of the technology behind it?
The wheels are made from solid aluminium. They’re designed to rotate 170 times a second and survive forces 50,000 times the force of gravity at the wheel rim. The reason that we have to use solid wheels is that there is no type of rubber tyre ever created that can survive that kind of load.
We’re lucky enough to have the loan of one of the Rolls Royce EJ 200 jet engines from the Eurofighter Typhoon, the most power dense and, importantly, most reliable jet engine in the history of military aviation.
The actual motor is just over half a metre long. The motor breaks down the peroxide into water and oxygen and releases a lot of energy, which comes out as steam and oxygen at around 600 degrees centigrade, travelling three times faster than the speed of sound, up around 2100/2200 miles per hour.
The exhaust velocity, having been through this very short motor, gives us an extra six tonnes of thrust to add to the nine tonnes of thrust the jet engine’s producing, and that gives us enough power to get over 800mph next year.
With all that in mind, and the dangers that can befall working with such extremes, how do you still have the courage to get into the cockpit?
I’ve had the world’s best career flying jet fighters for the Royal Air Force, trusting in very high-quality engineering and technology to keep me safe every single day. I’m seeing exactly the same thing here but perhaps even to a higher level. This is a level the likes of which I have never seen before. The best straight-line racing team in the world is working on the project right now. It is the world’s most advanced straight-line racing car. I’m watching all of this world-class engineering going on around me, both in terms of problem-solving and overall quality that goes into it.
It’s not a case of worrying about getting into the car, the only thing I need to worry about is getting up to the same world-class standard that the engineering team is producing in building and running this car.
You helped design the cockpit yourself, what type of things were at the forefront of your mind to make it just right and what are the intricacies and technicalities of the cockpit?
It looks like a very busy cockpit because there is a lot in there. There are around 30 different controls and switches and that’s entirely intentional. This is so that we can configure the car with different systems switched on at any point that we need to, and fire the car up step by step. This allows us to check, stage by stage, that it’s working at the start of the run i.e. the pump and the power assistance. And consequently we can configure it anyway we want.
The advantage of having all those switches in the cockpit is that it gives me the control to be able to do that. It’s flexible, it’s quick, it’s easy to adapt to whatever situation it is on the day. Of course, the three screens provide a huge amount of information, nearly all of which I can ignore while the car is actually moving, but it’s there if I need it before, during, or after the run.
It’s been almost a quarter of a century since you broke the world land speed record. What do you remember from that feat, why do you think the record has stood for such a long time, and what especially are you going to take for the next attempt?
In some ways the experience is not that relevant because the car is so different. The principles behind how to support a team of engineers 5500 miles from home, out in the middle of the desert and get a car ready and make sure all of the performance figures for each run are correct: for example, they’ve got the right stopping distances and we’re putting the parachutes out at the right moments.
The more detail you put into the plan the more successful the execution tends to be. Knowing how to plan and how to brief it, how to execute it with the team is an absolutely key part of doing that.
Not only do I have the experience and background of being in the RAF and as the person who broke the land-speed record last time out, we’re also pulling together the best in aerospace and motorsport technology in the Bloodhound team to deliver a car the likes of which the world has never seen.
At the last testing in South Africa, not only did the car exceed all of our expectations by getting up above 600mph and indeed above 1000kph, it got as fast as we could possibly have hoped for. The team dealt with a whole load of niggles - which you would expect in debugging a prototype car - and just sailed over it perfectly.
Why ultimately is this an important venture?
We’re talking to companies about sponsorship for next year, and there is evidence of the genuine global interest. There are millions of people out there who are checking out the social media updates, watching the video clips and producing millions of views. And this is just high-speed testing. Wait until we start doing supersonic runs and setting an 800mph land speed record, those numbers are going to go off the chart.
This is the first high speed straight-line racing car of the digital age, the ‘YouTube Generation’. We can share this, as we are doing it, with an audience of millions of people in a way that has never been done before. We can literally conduct the most exciting engineering experiment in motor-racing ever and millions of people could be looking at the data as we find out about it and sharing the experience.
Equally as important, the high-technology, low carbon world of the future is going to be built by the kids who are now at school. Getting them excited about the magic of science and technology while watching the world’s fastest car, at 800mph plus, what’s not to like?!
What are the next stages of the project?
We’ve got another year of working on the car and getting more sponsors in for our next attempt. By the time we’ve done all that we’ll be looking at running in the South African winter, so around July time in 2021. That will make sure the rocket is developed and fully integrated into the car and everything else is ready to go.
Could you articulate the sensation of travelling at such high speeds?
My task is to remain absolutely focused on driving the car. I’ve been lucky enough to be part of a team of the world’s most extraordinary straight-line racing vehicle and I need to make sure I drive it as precisely and carefully and accurately as possible every single time. I need to bring it back in the condition they lent it to me: just keeping it straight.
The car is cross-wind sensitive with the configuration we used last year and it’s a relatively low-grip surface so it is literally like driving on ice with a relatively large-bodied vehicle so the car does slide around pretty much continuously. The run keeps me 100 per cent focused on the car and the track.
It’s afterwards that we can get out, look at the car and say ‘Wow, we’ve just achieved something amazing.’