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Pedal to the metal: Bloodhound in Newquay
Rob Ryan recounts the story of Bloodhound’s first speed test this October and how the team made it to this momentous point
As any racing aficionado will tell you, one of the best places to weigh up the potential of a thoroughbred is not on race day, but on the gallops, the early morning practise sessions when a horse is put through its paces by the trainer and jockey. It is unusual to push the animal to its limits, but the sessions are normally enough for the canny observer to weigh up the power, poise and, above all, the temperament of a mooted future champion. In a way, this October, Bloodhound Supersonic Car (SSC) was put through its own gallops, a chance for everyone from engineers to the fans who crowded Cornwall International Airport Newquay to get a taste of what this Land Record Speed challenger might be capable. A great deal, it transpired.
The Bloodhound that wing commander Andy Green – already the Land Speed Record (LSR) holder with 763mph in Thrust SSC, 20 years ago – drove along the taxiway to make his first run was somewhat underdressed. As chief engineer Mark Chapman explained: 'We have had to run on rubber tyres from an English Electric Lightning. For the actual record attempt, no rubber tyre could stand the centrifugal forces at ten and a half thousand revolution per second. So we have had all-metal aluminium and zinc alloy ones made.' They have, literally, re-invented the wheel. 'But we can’t run those here because they would tear up the runway.' And as Newquay had agreed to suspend all flights for 90 minutes on three days to allow the testing, it would have seemed rather ungrateful.
The temporary wheels meant that some of the fairings that will enclose those aluminium discs had to be left off. The distinctive tail fin was also not in its final configuration, plus (in addition to the EJ200 jet engine from a Typhoon fighter) for the LSR attempt, Bloodhound will add a cluster of rocket engines to take it past 1,000mph. Even stripped back, though, and with a more modest aim of 200mph, as it lined up in perfect conditions for the first of its 'shakedown runs', the blue-and-orange liveried Bloodhound looked magnificent.
'Ready to roll,' said air traffic control and with a roar and glare of flames from the rear as the re-heat ignited – fuel is pumped directly into the hot exhaust gases to give an extra boost – Bloodhound was unleashed for the first time in public, accelerating at 30mph per second along the runway. As Andy Green later said: 'I was very pleasantly surprised by how good the car felt to drive. Precise steering response, good brake feel, smooth suspension. It just felt right.' Mark Chapman added: 'It is hard not to be impressed by the car as it goes a couple of hundred miles an hour almost effortlessly. When Andy puts his foot down, it just goes.'
The three days of runs up to 200mph were a great success, especially with the large number of children who saw the displays – Bloodhound’s mission is not just the LSR but to inspire future engineers and technicians. The team were happy, so was the driver ('The best Land Speed Record car ever built') and the public were impressed with the looks, pace and the sheer volume of Bloodhound. But they ain’t heard nothing yet. Unless, as Mark Chapman says, 'there is a space rocket launch or a very large volcano' on the day when it makes its challenge run along the Hakskeen Pan in the South African desert, Bloodhound will create the loudest sound on earth, in excess of 180db.
Belstaff, of course, will be there for what Andy Green calls 'an engineering adventure'. Belstaff has been associated with the Land Speed Record since the days of Malcolm Campbell. He first took the crown of fastest man alive (at 146.16mph) along Pendine Sands in Wales in 1924, the same year that Belstaff introduced its new breathable, waterproof wax cotton clothing. Campbell, also a keen motorcyclist, quickly adopted Belstaff kit. More recently, Belstaff has partnered with another famous two-wheeler, Guy Martin (and Triumph) for an attempt on the motorcycle LSR along the legendary salt flats of Bonneville.
For the Bloodhound project, Belstaff has designed a new generation of breathable, waterproof, windproof yet flexible jackets in a unique 'Bloodhound Blue' (with integral orange hood) to cope with whatever the South African desert climate might throw at them. It has also created lightweight but tough blue-and-orange polyamide sunglasses that are suitably hi-tech and swish. They will help the team cope with the unforgiving glare of the dry lake where, by shifting 16,000 tonnes of stone, they have built a 12-mile track for the SSC to blast along.
For the moment, the Bloodhound team are tight lipped about when and where the next test will be or what 'profile' (top speed) they will aim for. But all are agreed on one thing post-Newquay: Bloodhound is very definitely Go.