There was a time when Britain was at the forefront of engineering in the world. During the Victorian era, and with the vast resources of its empire, Britain regularly dared to design and build the biggest, longest, deepest structures in the world. From incredible bridges, such as the Forth Bridge for example, to giant ships such as the doomed Titanic, Britain was never one to shy away for displaying its global dominance through a vast engineering feat. It regularly held giant exhibitions where it could display the latest advances in engineering, one notable example being ‘the Rocket’ steam engine which revolutionised the railway industry.
Of course, over the next hundred years global politics shifted and new super powers arose as the result of two world wars and the break-up of the empire. Today the tallest buildings and longest bridges are now titles held by other nations, though Britain has still contributed over the last 30 years with projects like the Channel Tunnel and the Shard.
Now it may not seem like it so far, but I’ve not written the above out of some patriotic British-ness whilst dreaming of a renewed empire. It is because over the next year there is a project reaching its conclusion that will have the country once again as an out in front leader in world engineering.
The land speed record has been hotly contested for 120 years. On December 18th 1898, a French man named Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat drove his electric powered vehicle at a respectable speed of 39.24mph. He held the record for 1 month, when a Belgian rival named Camille Jenatzy drove the same stretch at 41.42mph. This started a back and forth between the two drivers over the next six months, with each taking and retaking the record until finally Jenatzy reached an unassailable 65.79mph.
Well unassailable for a few years at least that is. New technology was being developed and electric cars were cast aside, only to return recently as our desire for clean emissions from our vehicles grows stronger. What replaced the electric car was steam, where another French man named Léon Serpollet pushed the record up to 75.06mph.
No sooner as steam power cars had arrived that they were usurped by an even greater technology, the internal combustion engine. This revolutionised transport around the world and pushed the land speed record up by 32.51mph over a 3 year period, from 77.08mph in 1902 (American William K. Vanderbilt) to 109.59mph in 1905 (Frenchman Victor Hémery).
The steam engine was to have one final hurrah though in 1906, American Fred Marriott pushing the record up to 127.66mph, which was the first time another vehicle had gone faster than contemporary railways and was still the fasted steam powered engine speed until 2009!
That land speed was to last till 1924, when the first British driver to claim the record, Ernest Eldridge, pushed it up to 145.89mph. By this time record attempts were now under the two-way rule where each driver had to two runs there and back over the same stretch of ground.
British drivers were to dominate over the next decade, pushing the record up to 369.74mph in 1939, a run driven by John Cobb, who would return after the second world war to set an even better 394.196mph in 1947.
The record remained until 1963, where the invention of the jet engine would revolutionise the land speed record. Americans dominated, with Craig Breedlove reaching 407.447mh, and Gary Gabelich reaching 630.478mph by 1970.
There wasn’t to be another attempt untill 1983, when Brit Richard Noble did just enough to claim the record at 634.051mph, and it was another 14 years till the next attempt.
Brit Andy Green broke the record twice in the space of a month in 1997, reaching 714.144mph in September, and 763.035mph in October. This is the record that stands today.
So what does all this info have to do with the next year? Well Andy Green is back for his next attempt, except this time not only are they looking to break the land speed record but try to reach a staggering 1000mph.
The Bloodhound Supersonic Car (SSC) project was launched in October 2008 at the Science Museum in London with two core aims, to smash the world land speed record, and to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers in the UK.
Its taken 9 years to design and build frame of the car, select a propulsion system , find a suitable testing area, and spread the message all around the UK.
The car itself is 13.4m long and approx. weighs 7.5 tonnes. The design is a mix of car and aircraft technology, with the front section being a carbon fibre monocoque (like a racing car) and the back portion being a metallic framework and panels (like an aircraft). For propulsion the Bloodhound SSC will use three engines in total: a Eurojet EJ200 jet engine and the Nammo rocket/rocket cluster for thrust, as well as a Jaguar Supercharge V8 engine to drive the rocket oxidiser pump.
It will require 400 litres of fuel and 800 litres of rocket oxidiser for every 1000mph run.
To carry out the world record attempt the team have selected the Hakskeen Pan in South Africa, an area that is 19km long and 5km with little surface stones.
Before the car heads to South Africa the engines need tested, which is what is currently happening in Newquay Air field in Cornwall, and will continue for the next month. Last week they fired up the jet engine for the first time, doing a ‘tied test’ so that its immense propulsion didn’t carry the engine for miles. The plan is to do so ‘slow speed’ testing with the actual car, at speed of ‘just’ 200-300mph, before the car is transported to South Africa in the New Year for the main event. Whats more the general public can buy tickets to view the initial tests and see the sheer potential speed of the car for themselves.
It’s taken 10 years to reach this stage and the Bloodhound SSC is something I highly recommend everyone to keep an eye out for in 2018!