Bloodhound SSC: the 1000 mph car

Everything you wanted to know about the 135,000 bhp LSR car that’ll do a mile in 3.6 seconds.

Formula 1 has always been considered to be the pinnacle of motorsport. Though, lately, some pundits have argued that World Endurance Championship – where cars are made to run for 24 hours at Le Mans – showcases much superior technology. At the same time, some others swear by the rugged supremacy of Dakar machines.
However, there is one form of motorsport – which doesn’t necessarily have a championship but – the sport has been in operation since the invention of automobile; that sport is called LSR or ‘Land Speed Record’.

The current record holder Thrust SSC was piloted by RAF Wing Commander Andy Green who pushed the twin-jet-powered supersonic car through the sound barrier in 1997 at the Black Rock Desert in Nevada posting an average speed (of two runs) of 763.035 mph. Andy Green’s back to break his own record and this time, he and his team are aiming to go past the 1000 mph mark in their blue-and-orange 135,000 bhp Bloodhound SSC at Hakskeen Plan in South Africa. The test runs will start later this year and the final assault on the world record will take place sometime in 2016. The team assembled by project leader and ex-land speed record holder Richard Nobel consists of some of the best of engineers working on some of the world’s best racing technologies.

The technology used in Bloodhound SSC is so advanced, it can make an F1 car look like a soapbox. Every stat pertaining to Bloodhound is staggering. A jet engine borrowed from a Typhoon jet fighter, a rocket hotter than a volcano, thrust equivalent to 135,000 bhp and the ability to cover a mile in 3.6 second; Bloodhound is most certainly the most technologically advanced sports car ever created.
Unlike Formula 1, World Land Speed Record is not guarded by too many rules and regulations; there are two main things that one needs to keep in mind:

Four wheels: For the world land speed record to be considered, it is essential to have four wheels in contact with the ground at all time.

Average time of two runs done in opposite directions: For the world land speed record to be registered, one needs to do two runs in opposite directions. This is done so that nobody can take undue advantage of slope or wind conditions. Also, the run needs to be completed within one hour through the measured mile (one kilometer) and the average speed of the two runs is calculated as the final time.
History of land speed record. (Image credit: Flock and Siemens)
The current world record holder Thrust SSC is the only car till date to have broken the sound barrier; if Bloodhound SSC manages to break Thrust SSC’s world record, it’ll only be the second car ever to go faster than the speed of sound (hence the name SSC = supersonic car).
Here’s a look under the skin of the Land Speed Record challenger – Bloodhound SSC – to find more about its DNA.

There are three of them.

1. A 5.0 liter V8 engine producing 550 bhp that’s lifted from the Jaguar’s flagship model – the F-type R.
2. An EJ200 jet engine taken from a Typhoon jet fighter.
3. Nammo rocket. Three of them.

The only traditional car engine, Jaguar F-Type R’s 550 bhp V8 engine, that’s present in Bloodhound won’t even be used to propel the wheels. In fact, it’ll only be used to pump fuel to the rocket. EJ200 jet engine will propel the car to 200 mph. Thereafter, the Nammo rockets will be engaged and with their combined power, 135,000 bhp of trust will be produced which will then push Bloodhound to the sound barrier and beyond. The current design involves just one record but to build an assault on the LSR, the team will make necessary changes to the design and fit in two more rockets.

The exterior is made up of carbon fibre monocoque. The seat is moulded in such a way that it perfectly fits the shape of Andy Green’s body. The steering wheel is 3D printed from powdered Titanium to make a snug fit with Andy’s grip. All the systems on the dashboard are electronically powered but should something go wrong, as a fail-safe, Andy has three mechanical levers – one to physically shut off the fuel supply and two more to release the parachutes. Let’s hope he never has to make use of them.
Bloodhound SSC’s cockpit (Image Credit: Stefan Marjoram)
They’re made from forged aluminum, each one weighing in excess of a quintal. Why not have a traditional tyre, you’d ask? Well, that’s because at 1000 mph, the wheel will be moving at 10,200 rpm. Regular tyres would start to come off the rim at 1/4th that speed. Also, at 1000 mph, the wheel rim would endure a pressure of 50,000 Gs; normal wheels can’t handle that pressure. Also, a supersonic puncture is not something the team is planning to achieve. Hence, aluminum.
In addition to the traditional wheel brakes, Bloodhound SSC will use two types of brakes: parachute and airbrake. Bloodhound will be using one of the largest air brakes of its kind.
Here’s what’s going to happen:
1000 mph: Turn off the rockets and ease off the throttle – deceleration rate is 3 ‘g’ initially, then falls off rapidly as the speed is lost.
Below 600 mph: Parachute is deployed to maintain the deceleration rate of 3 ‘g’
Below 400 mph: If required, another parachute is deployed
Below 250 mph: Wheel brakes are applied and the car comes to a standstill.
Sounds simple. So, what can possibly go wrong?
Well, many things.
While the team at Bloodhound SSC is making sure that every eventuality is accounted for, we’re here talking about 1000 mph – a place where no one’s ever been before. The land beyond 763 mph is virtually unknown. To give you a scale of the project and persistent dangers, here are some of the heart-in-mouth scenarios we hope never occurs:
  • According to the project leader Mark Chapman, “The speed of sound is faster through the desert floor than it is through the air. Hence, there is a faint possibility that the desert floor start to crack even before Bloodhound reaches it.” There is no real way to test this, even if they do test it in England, the soil composition of Hakskeen Pan is quite different and hence the date will be irrelevant. However, Andy Green believes that while this is theoretically possible, it’s a highly-unlikely scenario.
  • Air brakes doesn’t open equally. In this case, the air would pass through one side of the car faster than it would through the other making it highly unstable.
  • Parachutes open up too soon or too late. We want the ‘chutes to open up at precisely the right moment. Open up too soon and they’ll get ripped off; open up too late and there won’t have enough wind to fill them up and create sufficient drag, in which case the car won’t slow down on time and it will have to rely on run-off area in the desert. To counter the parachutes’ timing issue, there’s a mechanical lever in the cockpit which has a rope running along the length of the Bloodhound which would physically pull a pin that would deploy the parachute.
  • Bird hit. A 2 kg bird hitting the car at 800 mph is something that can be highly dangerous to the car as well as the driver. The canopy is made up of two 25mm layers of highly-durable acrylic which can withstand a bird hit at supersonic speeds.
Some facts about Bloodhound SSC (Image credit: Flock and Siemens)
But, is it safe?

Well, it’s certainly safer than any of the previous LSR (Land Speed Record) attempts. With the advancement in technology, the CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) and other simulation techniques; the team is able to test the effect of laws of physics and simulate various scenarios to a much greater detail and derive a lot more precise result, which wasn’t possible earlier. In fact, the Bloodhound team even ran computer simulation tests on Thrust SSC’s model and learnt how to overcome the challenges that the previous team faced during their world record attempt in 1997.

So what’s Bloodhound SSC trying to achieve?

“Besides creating the world’s fastest car and breaking the 1000 mph barrier, Bloodhound SSC’s core aim is to make world’s largest engineering experience to the world’s largest audience,” says Andy Green.

For this reason, all the data that will be generated through the course of development and through the world record runs will be for anyone who wishes to analyze them. It’s an open-source project and through this, the Bloodhound team is hoping to inspire a generation of students to take up science and engineering as a career. For this reason, the Bloodhound team has various education initiatives to get more and more students excited about the project (and science).

We will keep tracking Bloodhound Team’s progress and bring you all the latest happening as they move from Bristol, UK to Hakskeen Pan, SA to make their land speed record attempt.