Pedal to the Metal

  • Team leader Richard Noble, left, with driver Andy Green and a model of Bloodhound. Inset: A full-size model under construction.
  • North American Eagle
Date:30 June 2009 Tags:, , , ,

On opposite sides of the Atlantic, teams are preparing for another assault on the Land Speed Record. Get set for 1 000 miles per hour* (* 1 600 km/h, or Mach 1,4)

More than a decade has passed since Andy Green earned the right to call himself the fastest human on wheels by blasting to a two-way average of 1 223,657 km/h – breaking the sound barrier in the process – at Black Rock, Nevada. Now he intends to return to go even faster.

This time, though, Green and his team are not alone in their quest. There’s competition from an unlikely, but deadly serious, quarter: a retired IBM engineer who sees no reason why the US shouldn’t claim back the title.

Even if the race isn’t quite head-to-head (the Eagle crew are aiming to make their attempt next July, and the Bloodhound SSC team has a three-year plan) there’s a decided edge. There hasn’t been this much needle to the land speed record in ages – not since the days of Campbell, Arfons and Breedlove and, before them, Seagrave, Cobb and Campbell Snr. The thing is, mounting a record bid has become so expensive and specialised that the last few attempts have been one man against the clock. OK, one man and a huge team against the clock.

Less than a decade after the Comte Gaston de Chasseloup recorded a stately 63,14 km/h, roaring monsters were flashing past the 100 mph (161 km/h) barrier. By the 1930s, Henry Seagrave and Malcolm Campbell were nudging 500 km/h. Twothirds of the way into the millennium, Gary Gabelich had rocketed – literally – beyond 1 000 km/h.

For more than a century, this ultimate need for speed has captured the world’s imagination.

And the rules couldn’t be simpler. You’ll need long, flat area – something in the region of 20 km is a good idea. To qualify for a record, all you have to do is drive a wheeled vehicle (at least four wheels, two of them steerable) as fast as you can over the measured mile, in both directions. The average speed of both runs has to exceed the existing record by a minimum of 1 per cent. But here’s the thing: you’ve got just one hour.

Born in the USA
With its modest origins in the northwestern American state of Washington, the story of the North American Eagle isn’t the stuff of bulging budgets and big-name sponsors. Given the proximity of one of the world’s big aircraft manufacturers, it should be no surprise that there’s a distinct Boeing flavour to the largely volunteer team. Naturally, there’s a clear benefit in having a strong grasp of aeronautics when you’ll be travelling supersonic on land.

Consequently, co-owners Ed Shadle and Keith Zanghi decided to use a proven aerodynamic design. Their 17-metre record contender is built largely from a surplus Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. Retired IBM engineer Shadle, 67, and heavy-equipment trailer manufacturer Zanghi met in a previous record team, but decided to cut their losses and go into partnership on the Eagle project. Long-time racer Shadle – he’s said to have spent around five decades racing everything from horses to planes – will be at the controls.

The actual donor aircraft was used entirely in a non-combat role, at Edwards Air Force Base in California. It acted as a chase plane for the X-15 project in the early days of rocket research back in the 1950s. Famous test pilots such as Scott Crossfield, Joe Engle, Pete Knight and Bill Dana flew it.

The Eagle’s propulsion comes from an 87-kilonewton General Electric J-79-15 Turbojet engine, as used in the F-4 Phantom fighter. The unit is supplied byS&S Services of Canada, which specialises in maintaining and refurbishing turbofan units for, among other uses, repressurising natural gas fields.

In low-speed configuration (test runs under 480 km/h), the Eagle uses a 3-wheel layout with stock tyres from the F104 Starfighter. For high-speed runs, it will streak along on wheels machined from solid billet aluminium and developed at a cost of more than R200 000. Incidentally, the Eagle is said to be the world’s first car with effective non-contact magnetic brakes.

Low-speed runs began in December 2004 and were successfully completed in March 2005. During that period, the team conducted systems integration of the electrical, fuel and hydraulics system. In October of the same year, the team conducted more low-speed test runs at Rogers Dry Lake bed’s Space Shuttle landing strip with the magnetic brakes. More test runs were conducted at El Mirage dry lake in southern California; full-speed record runs will hopefully take place in 2009. “The Brits have held the land speed record for 25 years now,” says Chief Information Officer and Crew Lead Jon Higley. “It’s about time the Americans took the title back, and we’re confident we can do it.”

‘It’s about time the Americans took the title back, and we’re confident we can do it.’ – North American Eagle crew lead Jon Higley

Return to Black Rock
If Bloodhound SSC achieves its target of 1 000 miles per hour (1 600 km/h or Mach 1,4) it will mark the greatest incremental increase in the history of the World Land Speed Record. It will also exceed the low altitude speed record for aircraft of around 1 600 km/h.

The car will be driven by the RAF fighter pilot and adventurer, Wing Commander Andy Green, who set the current record of 1 228 km/h in Thrust SSC in 1997. To illustrate the staggering scope of what’s proposed, we’ll simply quote from the Bloodhound team’s official information: “At speed, it will go faster than a bullet fired from a handgun. Its 900 mm diameter wheels will spin at over 10 000 r/min, generating 50 000 radial g at the rim. It will accelerate from 0 to past 1 600 km/h in 40 seconds.

“At V-max the pressure of air bearing down on its carbon fibre and titanium bodywork will exceed 12 tons per square metre. At this speed, Andy Green will be covering a distance equivalent to over four football pitches every second.” Green will be shoved along by a jet and hybrid rocket. The rocket provides raw power and streamlined appearance (no air intake), but lacks fine control because of its essentially on-off nature. The Eurojet EJ200, the kind of engine you’ll find in a Typhoon fighter, provides controllable, sustained output.

In the middle of Bloodhound SSC sits a V12 600 kW race engine, that doubles as the auxiliary power unit delivering hydraulic power as needed, starting the EJ200 jet engine, and pumping the High Test Peroxide (HTP) oxidiser through to the Falcon rocket. The pump has to move a ton of HTP through to the rocket catalyst in 22 seconds and at 82 bar. It’s inherently safe because the rocket burns its solid fuel only as long as the HTP is flowing. The Bloodhound’s distinctive shape arose from the need to minimise the cross-sectional area for low drag, while incorporating a supersonic intake and a smart suspension system for smooth running over a rough surface. Using computational fluid dynamics with multi-million elements, the designers were able to compute and offset the drag and shock effects of the outrigger rear wheels and struts at Mach 1,4. Rear wheel covers needed take account of incoming airflow that could reach Mach 2,8, and airflow losses caused by the whirling 90 cm wheels.

Designing the body as a whole for yaw stability has meant that the main fin could be kept small. Winglets above the wheels act as dynamic trimmers to make tiny adjustments aimed at maintaining constant wheel load up to Mach 1,4.

Project director, as with Green’s previous bid, is Richard Noble OBE,
himself a former holder of the record with Thrust SSC. Green vs Shadle. Eagle vs Bloodhound. Big money vs sweat equity. Great Britain vs the US. This is starting to sound like a real race. Sources: Bloodhound SSC, North American Eagle

‘Both as a mathematician, and as a Royal Air Force fighter pilot, I can’t think of anything better.’ – Record holder and Bloodhound driver Andy Green

Electric power was the power source of choice for early record attempts, but eventually steam and then internal combustion took over. Once the international governing body gave jet power and undriven wheels the go-ahead, conventional internal combustion and wheel drive were history.

1898 Driver: G de Chasseloup-Laubat Car: Jeantaud Where: Acheres, FRA Top speed in km/h: 63,14
Driver: C Jenatzy Car: Jenatzy Where: Acheres, FRA Top speed in km/h: 105,85
1904 Driver: L E Rigolly Car: Gobron-Brilli Where: Ostend, BE Top speed in km/h: 166,611
1909 Driver: V Hmry Car: Benz Where: Brooklands, GB Top speed in km/h: 202,65
1925 Driver: M Campbell Car: Sunbeam Where: Pendine, GB Top speed in km/h: 242,572
1927 Driver: HOD Seagrave Car: Sunbeam Where: Daytona, USA Top speed in km/h: 327,893
1932 Driver: Sir M Campbell Car: Napier-Campbell Where: Daytona, USA Top speed in km/h: 408,64
1935 Driver: Sir M Campbell Car: R-R Campbell Where: Bonneville, USA Top speed in km/h: 484,524
1937 Driver: GET Eyston Car: Thunderbolt Where: Bonneville, USA Top speed in km/h: 502,11
1939 Driver: JR Cobb Car: Railton-Mobil Where: Bonneville, USA Top speed in km/h: 634,27
1963 Driver: C Breedlove Car: Spirit of America Where: Bonneville, USA Top speed in km/h: 655,595
1964 Driver: D Campbell Car: Proteus-Bluebird Where: Acheres, FRA Top speed in km/h: 648,596
1964 Driver: C Breedlove Car: Spirit of America Where: Bonneville, USA Top speed in km/h: 754,17
1964 Driver: C Breedlove Car: Spirit of America Where: Bonneville, USA Top speed in km/h: 846,787
1965 Driver: A Arfons Car: Green Monster Where: Bonneville, USA Top speed in km/h: 927,673
1965 Driver: C Breedlove Car: Spirit of America Sonic 1 Where: Bonneville, USA Top speed in km/h: 966,3678
1970 Driver: G Gabelich Car: The Blue Flame Where: Bonneville, USA Top speed in km/h: 1 014,2949
1997 Driver: A Green Car: Thrust SSC Where: Black Rock, USA Top speed in km/h: 1 233,70410

How they measure up

North American Eagle
Length 17 m
Propulsion General Electric LM 1500 turbojet
Output (stock) 87 000 newtons
Output (record attempt) 108 000 newtons
Fuel Consumption (stock engine) 152 litres/min100 per cent military 300 litres/min
Full afterburner 340 litres/min
Driver Ed Shadle

Bloodhound SSC
Length 12,8 m
Weight (fully fuelled) 6 422 kg
Propulsion Jet and rocket
Height 2,8 m
Fuel capacity 500 litres
Propulsion Eurojet EJ200 turbofan, Falcon rocket
89 000 newtons
111 000 newtons
Driver Andy Green

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