Thank Frankel it's Friday: Hearing the heart of Bloodhound SSC roar for the first time

28th September 2017
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

To be honest, it wasn’t much to listen to, a whirring whistling sound, gaining in intensity and pitch but not much else. A Colombo V12 it most certainly was not. But to my ears, it was the rarest, most special kind of music. For this was the sound of the Bloodhound SSC Land Speed Record car being fired up for the very first time.


Ok, no it wasn’t. Not properly. It was more of a systems check for its Rolls-Royce-developed EJ200 jet engine more usually found in the Eurofighter Typhoon. But it did function, the LSR equivalent of turning the key in the ignition. Those in attendance must have felt like Dr Frankenstein watching their creature breathe for the first time. I wonder if any was overwhelmed by the urge to shout, ‘it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive.’ Even just watching the video I struggled to resist.

Of course, the engine has been run before but not when installed in a finished car with wheels attached as its readied for its first ever run. In that moment it wasn’t just the Bloodhound car that sprang to life, but a project fully 10 years in the creation, that at times seemed like it might never happen.

Land Speed Record breaking has never been the easiest of pursuits, the task of going faster across the surface of the planet than man has gone before usually being something of a breeze compared to raising the finances to put him in the cockpit in the first place. Recently, however, money from Chinese investor Geely and others has allowed the team to progress to the point where within one month from now, the car should have run at speeds of up to 250mph.

The first time it will move under its own power in public and, I am assured, ever, will be on Thursday, October 26th at Cornwall Airport Newquay, but the event is open only to VIP, press and members of Bloodhound’s 1K club.  But two days later on Saturday 28th October it will run in front of the general public – tickets for which are available on their website. Schools can see it run the following day.

Cornwall might seem a long way to go from most places to see anything, but this is history in the making. Given that Hakskeen Pan in South Africa’s Northern Cape where the record attempt will actually take place next year rivals Lake Eyre for the title of most remote setting for a Land Speed Record attempt, if you want to see Bloodhound in action, this will likely be your best and possibly only chance.

And what a thing it is. I’ve been to visit it a couple of times as it was being built and on each occasion come away ever more dumbfounded by what it takes to power a car through the sound barrier and onto 1,000mph, which the team hopes to do in 2019, and is the ultimate aim of the project. So here are just a few little nuggets to take home with you.

When fully configured with its rocket and jet propulsion systems, Bloodhound will cover 0-1,000mph in 55 seconds, the last 500mph being added in just 17 seconds thanks to the rocket’s assistance. At 1,000mph the drag is so great that the simple act of taking his foot off the gas will subject Andy Green to 3g deceleration. Modern road cars emergency brake on good surfaces at around 1.2g.

At 1,000mph, there is a force equivalent to 55,000g at the edge of the wheels. Also, these wheels are designed to plane at speed so that 1,000mph they will have a contact patch with the desert no more than 2mm wide and, in terms of how they steer the car at such speeds, they should more properly be considered as rudders rather than wheels.

Safety measures involved firing a 1kg bird (already dead, I promise) into Andy Green’s stretched acrylic canopy at 900mph, and testing the armour around the cockpit likely to be hit if a fragment of wheel comes loose by firing the equivalent of a cricket ball at it travelling at 2000mph. Both passed without problem.

There are a thousand other stats no less impressive than these, but in their entirety, none is likely to approach the actual sight of the car at speed. And at speed, it will be: if all goes to plan Bloodhound will exceed 200mph right in front of the assembled crowd.

I will, of course, be there and will report back in this slot as soon as I am able. But don’t wait to read about it: get down there and see it for yourself. Adult tickets cost from £65, children from just £20. For that, you’ll have not only a great day out, but in a very real and material way help Andy Green, Richard Noble and their team do something that, even ten years after I first heard about it, still seems like the stuff of science fiction. But then I suspect the idea of driving a car at one thousand miles per hour always will, even after it’s been done.

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