Bloodhound gang rides again: That's the Super Sonic Car bods, not the bawdy novelty pop act

Plucky Brit Land Speed Record hopeful bankrolled for South Africa test runs in October

Andy Green
Land Speed Record holder Wing Commander Andy Green with a model of Bloodhound LSR (pic: Richard Speed)

Brit sonic boom botherers Bloodhound are back and ready for a jaunt to South Africa (SA).

The Bloodhound Land Speed Record (LSR) project – formerly Super Sonic Car (SSC) – has emerged fighting fit as Yorkshire-based businessman Ian Warhurst refuelled the project with some high-octane cash.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Warhurst would not disclose how much money he'd poured into Bloodhound LSR, saying only that he was "up to seven figures so far".

Grafton LSR CEO Warhurst sold his Barnsley-based outfit Melett to Wabtec for an undisclosed sum back in 2017. Melett enjoyed annual sales of $40m at the time, so it's safe to say that the man is not short of a bob or two.

The car itself is currently snug at SGS Berkeley Green UTC in Berkeley, Gloucestershire.

The funding means that Bloodhound, which appeared dead in the water until Warhurst stepped in last year, will be shipped to South Africa for test runs on the dry lake bed race track at Hakskeen Pan in the Kalahari desert in SA's Northern Cape province.

From Newquay to the Hakskeen Pan

The focus since the project's rescue has been transitioning the car from the version that tanked up and down Cornwall's Newquay Airport back in 2017 to one fit to go considerably faster in SA.

To that end, a parachute braking system has been added, along with uprated springs and dampers, a ton of sensors (we were relieved that no one uttered the words "edge" or "IoT" during the briefing) and, of course, new wheels.

Those parachutes are critical. Current World Land Speed Record holder Wing Commander Andy Green explained to reporters that while testing would only get to around half the design speed of the car, "the parachutes are close to their operating speed and we will be getting fairly close to the G limit to the car, which is a 3G deceleration."

To put that in context, 56-year-old Green went on to say: "Slowing down at 3G is losing 60 miles an hour in one second. That's doing motorway speeds, and coming to a complete stop in one second."

Ouch.

The wheels also merit a mention, being made of solid aluminium, 900mm in diameter and weighing 95kg a piece. The things are designed to spin at up to 10,200rpm and have a V-shaped keel to dig into the baked mud of the desert. As the speed increases, the wheels will rise out of the mud and plane along the surface like a speedboat on water with just a few millimetres of metal connecting car with ground.

At 500mph and above, those wheels will be more like rudders than conventional car wheels. Green added that, at 10,000rpm, the ring of the wheel "will be pulling 50,000 times the force of gravity radially outwards".

Yikes.

On the 12th High Speed Test run, my true love gave to me...

In answer to a question from The Register, Green explained that the team has budgeted for "a minimum of 12 runs, but we'd like to do some more."

The limiting factor may not be the cash, but that all-important engine (the exporting of which has presented its own challenges). Green went on to say: "We are using an ex-development jet engine from the Eurofighter Typhoon. It is near the end of its life. We're getting some very good advice from the manufacturers on how to use that.

"So we will use up the rest of that engine life, if we've got a bit at the end we will repeat some test runs."

That Rolls-Royce EJ200 jet engine produces around 54,000 thrust horsepower and while Green was deliberately vague on how much fuel the thing would guzzle, he did say "around 300kg" would get burnt through, or about 5 per cent of the weight of the car.

Bring on the rockets

The more observant will be wondering about the Nammo rockets due to be fitted to the car. Green explained that the team needed "nine months-ish to develop and fit the rocket motor" as well as work out how much thrust is required.

The veteran RAF pilot added: "This is the bit where we run up against the limitations of computer modelling for supersonic cars or ground level. Strangely, there are not that many models out there and certainly very little in the way of data."

After all, Green is the only one on the team to have managed the feat, hitting 763mph in Thrust SSC back in 1997.

The high-speed test runs won't be troubling that record just yet, with the gang getting to grips with how the car behaves between 300 and 500mph as its stability transitions from being governed by the wheels on the desert surface to by the aerodynamics of those wheels.

Green said the plan was to "develop it up to 500+ mph" before adding, after a glance at Warhurst: "If we get lucky, and everything goes in our favour, we might even start with a six in front of our peak speed."

If all goes well, the gang would return to SA in late 2020, armed with a fresh Typhoon and some rockets to have a crack at the record.

"The Best Jobs In The World"

Green told The Register that he'd stuck by the project throughout its ups and downs, although he was also occupied by what he described as "the world's best full-time day job as jet pilot in the RAF" and had, conveniently for the imminent trip to SA, "just finished full-time service".

Green said that as a mathematician by training, and working on the computer models for the Bloodhound, he also had "the world's most interesting hobby".

As for his own safety while blasting along in Bloodhound along its 12-mile desert racetrack, Green dismissed the idea of using something like an ejector seat for escaping disaster, giving two reasons.

Describing a wheel leaving the ground as a "dramatic" event too quick to react to, he said: "Number one, it's not on the ground anymore, in which case you've probably left it too late."

The other was a fire, "but you can build an awful lot of fire detection and fire suppression into a vehicle much more cheaply, and much more safely."

And ejecting into a supersonic airflow would be a bad day for all concerned. Green is therefore relying on the massively strong cell in which he will be sat, and the gradual way in which the performance and handling of the vehicle will be explored.

The fact there will be no obstacles on the track will do no harm either. 317 members of the local Mier community have moved 16,500 tonnes of rock from 22 million square metres of dry lakebed in preparation for the arrival of Bloodhound.

And now, according to Ian Warhurst: "We're coming." ®

Bootnote

Since a large portion of the Bloodhound project is about education outreach, we couldn't resist asking Green what he thought about attempts to fire up an old Vulcan engine.

He said: "It's lovely. They're taking an iconic piece of technology and bringing some life and an interest to it. It's all very well sitting outside a gate somewhere looking very impressive, but actually starting the jet engine and letting people hear and see it run brings a realism and realisation of the extraordinary technology that was built into aeroplanes like that.

"Given that Bloodhound is as much about inspiring people about the excitement of great British engineering and technology, and particularly the next generation about the amazing science and technology... what's not to like by inspiring them, not just with the world's fastest straight line racing car, but actually looking back, you know, 50 years in history to using bits of technology to create that effect as well." ®

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