The Bloodhound Project — “…the engineering adventure for the 21st century”
The land speed record as we know it today dates back to the early 1900s when the Automobile Club de France nominated itself as the regulatory body. From this time onwards there were conflicts regarding which body could legitimately award the record, and the conditions that must be met in order to qualify.
Through evolution, standardisation and class-diversification the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) now officiates the various classes of Land Speed Record (LSR) for ‘cars’, including Category C — responsible for the last six absolute LSRs. Since 1963 the absolute LSR has been held by a non-internal combustion engine vehicle, driven independently of its wheels — that is to say a rocket or turbofan/turbojet powered vehicle.
The current holder of the absolute LSR is ThrustSSC, which also ran under the direction of Bloodhound’s Project Director Richard Noble. ThrustSSC was a twin turbofan jet-powered car that achieved 763.035 mph over one mile in October 1997. This was the first supersonic record as it broke the sound barrier at Mach 1.016.
To qualify for the LSR, the vehicle must complete two runs over one mile, in opposite directions, within an hour. Wind-speed, incline and a multitude of other factors are closely measured and monitored by the team to ensure a successful, and legitimate, attempt. Wing Commander Andy Green will once again be the man in the machine, deftly guiding the 6.5 tonne, 12 metre car up to a predicted 1050 mph on a dried-up lake bed in the Hakskeen region of South Africa’s Northern Cape Province… Rather him than me!
The car is powered by both a jet engine and a hybrid rocket. The first test firing of the hybrid Falcon rocket is set to take place in the next couple of months — generating 27,000 lbs of thrust, it will represent the largest rocket to be ignited in the UK for 20 years. Burning a mixture of solid propellant (hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB)) and almost a tonne of liquid oxidizer (high-test peroxide (HTP)) fed by a Cosworth V8 engine from an F1 car, in less than 20 seconds. The Falcon will only ignite once the car has reached 395 mph under the power of the EJ200 Eurofighter-Typhoon jet engine.
Designing a car that will travel safely at 1050 mph is not all about power by any means. The team has worked tirelessly with advanced design and analysis to create a shape that is perfectly neutral in terms of lift and downforce. At supersonic speeds the smallest amount of lift would be amplified and Andy Green would soon be heading skywards… Likewise even a hint of downforce at low speeds would equate to tens of tons of downward pressure above Mach 1.0, forcing the car into the ground. Neither scenario bears thinking about.
So that’s the basic ‘how’, but what about the ‘why’? Dan Johns, a Senior Engineer on the UK’s latest land-speed record attempt explains why this quest for speed is as pressing today as it has ever been: “The Bloodhound Project is more than just the embodiment of the human desire to go faster and faster — it is an important educational tool to inspire our unenlightened scientists and engineers still in school, a branding initiative to demonstrate and promote emerging technologies, and a flagship for British engineering excellence.”
There has been resurgence in interest in pop-engineering projects in recent years, as the industry and government try to reverse the decline in numbers of students pursuing STEM subjects into a career. The Bloodhound Project’s
mission statement reflects this dual purpose: “To confront and overcome the impossible using science, technology, engineering and mathematics. To motivate the next generation to deal with global 21st century challenges.”
So, despite the enormous energy and material resources that this attempt will use to break the 1000 mph barrier, this could be considered a ‘green’ initiative if, as is hoped and expected, it rallies a new generation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates who will go on to deliver the solutions the future world will so desperately need.
Dan, himself a National UK STEM Ambassador, said: “We are faced globally by the challenges of living in a low carbon economy. We need to ramp the uptake in studentships pursuing engineering and physical sciences, in order to ‘engineer’ a balanced ecosystem for the future.” He went on to explain that: “The environmental impact of running a supersonic car (over the distance we plan) is no more than the equivalent CO2 output of five lactating cows per year.”
Some 1.5 million children from over 4,000 educational establishments have already been reached by the project in the UK alone, and the team behind the project hopes to reach the next generation of STEM experts across Europe. Awareness won’t be a problem; the team is gearing up to handle over 600 million end-points from their website alone. Then with all the other digital channels worldwide streaming the project as it develops, this will be a global experience like no other. Already the collective interest on YouTube is reaching over 2 million views.
Over the coming months we will explore how the team have been designing and manufacturing the car, how the education aspect is impacting on young people’s choices, and how individual team members fit into the bigger picture.