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Bloodhound SSC | The Rocket-Powered Fighter Car

Rebekah Valero-Lee Aerospace and Defence

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Man on the Moon

Mankind has always had an obsession with speed, whether it be ancient chariot racing or Formula One. As little as 150 years ago, the fastest a human could travel was either by sitting on the back of a galloping horse or by falling off a cliff.

The world is now a much smaller place thanks to our relentless pursuit of speed, and our persistence in pushing our limits has accelerated technological development in ways you might not even realise. The technology that has enabled us to leave our planet for the first time in human history, the rocket, came from the need for a fast, controlled method of delivering a payload of destructive power hundreds of miles away by the Nazis during World War II. With the end of the war nigh, the particular Nazi behind the technology, Wernher von Braun, quietly surrendered. So sufficiently impressed were the United States with his wartime innovation, they adopted him as one of their own to start their rocket program (where he worked on the Apollo missions) – presumably forgiving him for his previous activities as they used his knowledge to beat their new Russian rivals to the moon.

Here in My Car

In 2008, the Minister of Science for the UK’s Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, announced the Bloodhound project – to create a vehicle capable of hitting 1,000mph on land. Their official press launch described the vehicle they were attempting to build as being “more advanced than most spacecraft and faster than a bullet”. It would be an intriguing combination between a car, a fighter jet and a rocket that would cost upwards of £30million to come to fruition. While the government would provide three years of funding for the education and research, the actual cost of the build of the car would be privately funded.

The announcement, however, made clear that the goal of the project was not to merely get bragging rights over another broken record. The key aim was to capture the imagination of youth in the same way something like the first man in space would have for generations past. “This project will result in tangible scientific developments that will benefit all. The prime objective is to create an unprecedented education and engagement programme […] innovative, curriculum-based lesson plans […] to a schools visitor centre featuring the ‘classroom of the future’.” It is estimated that 3million schoolchildren have been engaged with the STEM-related activites and workshops directly related to the project.

The design of the vehicle has been conducted by Formula One and aerospace engineers. Throughout the project, complex computer modelling has been utilised in conjunction with extensive testing to monitor the performance against this.

The plan is to accelerate from 0-1,000 in 42 seconds (that’s a full 33 seconds less than it takes a 1957 Volkswagen Microbus to do 0-60mph), decelerate to 800mph using air brakes and then deploying a parachute at 600mph to further slow the vehicle. This is achieved by using the jet engine from a Typhoon fighter creating the equivalent of 135,000 horsepower. At 1,000mph, the wheels of the vehicle will rotate fully 170 times a second, with a mile being brushed aside in just 3.6 seconds.

 

The 1,000mph run is set to take place in 2018 or 2019. For the run, hundreds of people have moved thousands of tons of pebbles and rocks from salt flats in South Africa to create 12 miles of uninterupted track. It’s sobering to think that at a sustained top speed, the Bloodhound could theoretically clear all 12 miles in 43 seconds.

bloodhound ssc

Rocket Man

The man who is set to sit in the cockpit when the Bloodhound attempts its 1,000mph run is Andy Green. A former RAF fighter pilot, Green is by no means unaccustomed to extreme speeds. He’s actually currently the land speed record holder, hitting 714.144mph across the Black Rock Desert in 1997. He will once again partner with Richard Noble throughout the project, who held the land speed record himself for 14 years previously (633mph in 1983) and part-funded the 1997 attempt.

One of the most amazing things about the Bloodhound is the cockpit, with the whole space ergonomically designed around the pilot. While on one hand this is to create an internally comfortable and externally aerodynamic environment, the most important reason for this design is simply to make all available controls and switches accessible with the smallest movement by the pilot. The steering wheel is 3D printed out of powdered titanium and is moulded around the pilots hands. Each of the vital buttons – acceleration, parachute system etc – are controlled from buttons on this wheel for ease of access. When you consider that during an unnecessary delay of one second accessing a button, the Bloodhound will have travelled over a third of a mile at top speed, it’s easy to see why the engineers paid attention to the ergonomics.

With the immense acceleration involved, the driver has to be used to the physical strains that this puts on the body. During acceleration, the force will be 2.5g, with deceleration being 3g.

My Generation

The Bloodhound project has been undeniably successful in attracting children into the STEM subjects. It has captured the imagination of a young generation in a way that only a dare-devil, white-knuckle sprint into the unknown can. From building go-karts to runway testing educational days , the positive impact of the research and development is tangible and critical in a world where skills gaps are growing. The Bloodhound might only take 42 seconds to reach its target speed, but it’s influence will last beyond 42 years.

Inspired? Why not take a look at this blog on how to become a Formula One engineer? Click here.