The Bloodhound SSC (Supersonic Car) travels more than 240 mph faster than a bullet fired from a gun. It uses a Formula 1 engine just to pump the fuel. It’s powered by a combination of a Eurojet aero-engine and a rocket engine, fueled by a form of solid rubber, designed by a man with a handle-bar moustache. At top speed the forces on the outer rim of the aluminium wheels will be 50,000 times greater than Earth’s gravity. It’s going to be driven by Andy Green, the only person in history with experience of supersonic speeds at ground level. There’s only one place on Earth that can withstand the car being driven at full speed. With huge flames shooting out the back of the car, it will cover a mile in 3.6 seconds.
None of which sounds particularly environmentally friendly. Yet the Bloodhound project is making a massive contribution to solving environmental, developmental, and many other global technology problems.
In the 21st century we need to find ways to overcome the issues posed by climate change, political and economic uncertainty, and continuing global population growth. We need to provide clean water, sustainable energy, reliable communication and effective healthcare for up to nine billion people. In 2008 project director Richard Noble recognised the need for a new generation of innovative, skilled, and enthusiastic engineers, scientists, and mathematicians. How do you inspire a generation? With a rocket-powered car capable of up to 0 – 1,000 mph in 54 seconds, of course!
Noble and his team have broken the world land speed record twice before, in 1983 and again in 1997, but this project is more than a mission to engineer a vehicle capable of up to 1,050 mph. 4,000 schools engaged with the project in the first 18 months alone, taking part in practical workshops and design-and- build activities, giving tens of thousands of young people a taste of teamwork, technical design, and problem solving.
It was through my own school’s involvement that I was inspired to become an engineer. I met driver Andy Green when I went to a presentation with a group from my school in 2008. I listened to him speak about how a relatively small group of enthusiastic and experienced people were working together to achieve a goal that sounded impossible and decided that engineering sounded like an amazing job. I now study energy engineering, and I’d like to continue to research novel materials for renewable energy applications. It’s a million miles from the work of the engineers building the thousand-mile-an-hour car but their ingenuity and determination continues to inspire me.
The Bloodhound SSC vehicle is now about 95% complete and is on display at a sold-out exhibition at Canary Warf in London – quite a contrast to the industrial unit near Bristol where it was built. The impact that the project has had on the public’s imagination was made
clear when all 8,000 tickets to the exhibition were booked within days of the announcement. On one side the blue and orange body work has been removed, enabling the exhibition’s visitors to see the inner structure of the car and to look through the carbon-fibre monocoque into the cockpit. Visitors will also be seeing the car in full record-attempt configuration for the first time: engine and structural testing can be performed at a range of speeds, requiring aerodynamic adaptations to the vehicle. For the 1,000 mph record attempt, the fin is a full 2 m high and is covered with the names of members of the public and small organisations that have made donations
to the project. After eight years of work the assembled vehicle will be tested for the first time after Easter 2016, travelling at speeds of up to 200 mph on a runway in Newquay, Cornwall. Providing sufficient funds can be raised, the team hope the car will be tested at 800 mph at the Hakskeen Pan in South Africa next year.
The first ever land speed record was set at 39.24 mph in France in 1898. Since then, ambitious people around the world have continued to push the boundaries of what is considered possible. It has been an epic engineering adventure and it certainly isn’t over yet.