Bloodhound's 1000mph Land Speed Record Attempt - What Happened Next?
Two years ago we wrote about a car turned rocket ship that promised to break the land speed record and inspire a new generation of engineers. Big plans however quickly gave way to big problems and after much fanfare the very future of the Bloodhound project soon hung in the balance.
Now it's returned from the brink and we’ve taken a look at how. What went wrong and why, from near extinction, are things suddenly back on track? Could the sacred 1,000mph barrier be reached after all?
Rise and Fall
Back in 1997 the ThurstSCC set a new land speed record of 763.035mph. A decade later Richard Noble - the previous record holder - believed it was high time that was superseded.
So came the Bloodhound SSC, a jet powered car constructed with painstaking precision. The initial aim was to eclipse the Thurst SCC and indeed the same driver was recruited to guarantee as much. Thereafter it would chase 1,000mph and immortality. Only that never quite materialised…
Instead the operation ran into a series of high-profile hiccups, culminating in big losses and near bankruptcy in 2018. Administrators were called in and appeals for £25m worth of funding duly followed. On life support, the Bloodhound was saved at the eleventh hour by Yorkshire businessman Ian Warhust.
Having taken his children to visit what was essentially a motoring corpse, he decided to step in so as to prevent it being broken up. Initially the entrepreneur, whose background was in turbochargers and parts, planned to donate the car to a museum.
After much consideration however he opted for a complete reboot. A new holding company - Grafton LSR - was established and further backing sourced from partners and sponsorship.
Warhurst’s salvage job was as recent as March yet big progress has been made since then.
A comeback of cinematic proportions played out at the beginning of November when a series of time trials were held in the Kalahari Desert. The fastest of these clocked 501mph, a significant milestone, albeit one two years overdue.
In the coming days an expert team hope to edge closer to 600mph before taking the Bloohound apart and heading back to their UK base – this the SGC Berkeley Green University Technical College, commonly referred to as UTC.
There on the banks of the River Severn they’ll conduct thorough analysis in a bid to identify marginal gains. High speed data – accumulated with the help of more than 100 sensors, will inform what happens next. Understanding how the car responds to transonic and supersonic speeds is critical.
It is with cautious but understandable optimism that Bloodhound have earmarked a return to South Africa sometime in the next 18 months. It is then they hope to claim the elusive land speed record. Were they to do so, thoughts will immediately turn to the magic 1,000 mark, burning rubber and melting minds in one fell swoop.
That said nobody is getting ahead of themselves. The science and engineering behind this project is mind boggling. Each and every component must be built to withstand frankly astonishing speeds. Imbalance could create a domino effect whereby several parts could simply disintegrate.
The 500mph feat meanwhile was not without incident. Indeed at one point driver Andy Green was heard crying “Fire! Fire! Fire!” as a terrifying alert sounded in his cockpit. In actuality this was a false alarm, caused by a scorching hot day (36C) and heat from the engine.
Rescuers were quick on the scene and nobody was hurt.
Topping 1,000mph has been compared to the first ascent of Mount Everest and if this version of the Bloodhound Gang are to scale their own mountain the likelihood is they’ll be more hazards ahead. They’re prepared.
But what of the motor itself?
Under The Hood
To label it a car is perhaps stretching the truth. Indeed this remarkable model is more F1 meets fighter plane meets spaceship.
It houses a Rolls-Royce EJ200 jet engine usually found in a Eurofighter Typhoon. This particular version was donated by the Royal Air Force. Alongside it sit a host of small rockets enabling 54,000bhp.
Also present are AP racing wheel brakes and drag parachutes, the latter allowing Green to come to a full stop in three miles.
That these work as intended is of utmost importance. Failure to grind to a halt on the Kalahari Desert’s 12-mile test track will almost certainly result in a head-on collision with sand dunes, before what’s left hurtles towards Namibia.
For context the Bloodhound travels the length of a football pitch in a terrifying 0.234 seconds. Blink and you literally would miss it. It could also cover the entire length of Wales in just ten minutes.
Incredible then that some critics feel it could be faster yet…
It is universally accepted that the Bloodhound’s biggest drawback is the fact it has a 560bhp Jaguar V8 at its heart. Many believe replacing this with a smaller electric motor and batteries would quicken things. Of course this technology did not exist – at least not in its current guise – back at the start of the 2010s. Pumping fuel to a jet engine requires a great deal of power and it’s thought engineers opted for one of the cheapest options available back then.
Switching things up in the next year and a half isn’t out of the equation, with a host of revisions likely. One certainty is the team will relocate to South Africa once again, having deemed the desert’s conditions conducive to history making.
Indeed these surroundings allow Green to accelerate for longer, something he was prevented from doing in previous runs at the likes of Newquay. Here he was somewhat restricted, if you can call reaching 200mph in 8 seconds restricted.
Having been destined for the scrap heap the Bloodhound is reborn and making up for lost time. If it were to make the impossible possible it won’t just be the next wave of engineers that sit up and take notice but the wider world.