In 2016, a team of engineers and adventurers will travel to the South African desert and attempt to become the first people to drive a car at 1,000mph. The British-made vehicle, Bloodhound SSC, is designed to smash the current world land-speed record of 763mph to become the fastest car ever built.
Breaking the land-speed record is nothing new for the UK, which has held the title for 79 of the past 100 years – and continuously for the last 32 years, most recently with Thrust SSC, driven by Andy Green.
Thrust SSC used two jet engines to provide the power. These operate by sucking air in from the front, compressing it, burning fuel, and forcing it out the back to create thrust. This kind of design needs a large frontal area so the jet engines can scoop up enough air. But analysis showed a design like this would never be able to reach 1,000mph. The frontal area would generate so much resistance that you would never be able to produce enough power with current technology to counter it. Instead we had to design a vehicle with a smaller frontal area and that required the use of a rocket engine.
Another concern is that all of the components of the car are subjected to huge pressures. For example, the outside of the wheels spin so fast that they generate a force 50,000 times greater than the Earth’s gravity. That means that each gram of material has an effective mass of 50kg.
To overcome these challenges, the wheels were forged from a single block of high-grade aluminium. The body shell of the car has been manufactured from carbon fibre to ensure a light but incredibly strong structure.
All of these problems show how designing and building a car like Bloodhound requires a huge wealth of expertise. From the chemists who develop the materials to the engineers who work out how to manufacture the components and integrate them into a single working system, breaking the land-speed record is a cooperative project involving many more people than just the driver. When the car makes its nerve-biting record attempt in 2016, it’ll be as if they’re all in the cockpit with him.