It’s no secret that people occasionally speed between here and Saskatoon. At the speed limit, 258 kilometres should take about 2 1/2 hours. But by doing (in the immortal words of The Dukes of Hazzard theme song) “just a little bit more than the law will allow,” some people cut that down to, say, 2 hours and 15 minutes…or less.
If that still seems like a long time on the road, maybe you’d like the new car being developed in England: it could make the trip in a little under 10 minutes. (Assuming it didn’t slow down in Chamberlain or stop for coffee in Davidson.)
The Bloodhound SSC (Super Sonic Car) will never make the Regina-Saskatoon run, alas. It will only be driven in Nevada, for one simple purpose: to become the first ground vehicle to break the 1,000 mile-per-hour barrier.
The Bloodhound Project was officially launched by Lord Drayson, the U.K.’s Minister of State for Science and Innovation, at the Science Museum in London on October 23. The private venture is being headed by Richard Noble, who himself drove Thrust 2 to a land-speed record of 633.468 mph in 1983. He went on to lead development of the current record-holder, the Thrust SSC, which became the first land vehicle to break the sound barrier on October 15, 1997, achieving a speed of 763 mph.
Royal Air Force fighter pilot Wing Commander Andy Green, who drove the Thrust SSC back when he was just a Squadron Leader, is expected to likewise drive the Bloodhound.
The first official land speed record was set on December 18, 1898, when Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat of Paris drove an electric Jeantaud automobile at 39.24 mph in Achères, France.
Within a month, Belgian engineer Camille Jenatzy drove “la Jamais Contente” (the Never Satisfied), another electric car, along the same stretch of road at 41.42 mph. Whereas Chasseloup-Laubat’s car was an ordinary street vehicle, Jenatzy specially designed his car for speed, encasing it in a smooth, torpedo-shaped shell.
A months-long competition between the two men culminated in Jenatzy’s record of 65.79 mph on April 29, 1899.
Electric cars didn’t rule the roost for long. The 1899 record fell in 1902 to “The Whale,” a steam-powered car: it hit 75.06 mph on April 13 of that year, but before the year was out, an internal-combustion-powered car set a new record of 76.08 mph.
The 100-mph barrier first fell in 1904. Steam had its last gasp (sorry) in 1906, when a Stanley Steamer reached 121.57 mph. After that it was internal-combustion all the way for decades, with the 200 mph barrier falling in 1927 and the 300 mph mark reached in 1935.
The record only crept up after that, until in 1963 Craig Breedlove left internal-combustion-powered cars in his dust when his jet-powered The Spirit of America broke 400 mph. Breedlove went on to break 500 mph the next year and 600 the year after that. (Breedlove hoped he’d be the one first to break 700–and the sound barrier–in 1997, but it wasn’t to be.)
Leap-frogging all the way to 1,000 mph–faster than a bullet fired from a handgun–is an immense engineering challenge. The Bloodhound SSC, 12.8 metres long, will be powered by an all-new combination of fighter-jet engine with hybrid rocket: the jet engine will provide the initial acceleration, then the rocket will provide the extra oomph to get it to 1,000 mph.
At that speed, air pressure on the carbon-fibre-and-titanium body will exceed twelve tonnes per square metre and the 900-millimetre-diameter wheels will spin at more than 10,000 rpm, subjecting the rim to a force equivalent to 50,000 times the pull of Earth’s gravity.
“Why on Earth start another LSR project when the whole country is facing a recession?” Richard Noble himself asks on the Bloodhound Project website.
The prime objective is “to create an unprecedented education and engagement programme” that will capture the interest of children and adults alike. Curriculum plans, YouTube videos, blogs, Twitter and many other methods will be used to communicate “a new story of science that will fascinate and inspire all those who hear it.”
As you can see, it’s already fascinating me!