Spies Hecker

It’s only a few weeks to October when we plan to have Bloodhound SSC running in South Africa, and there is a lot to do between now and then. It’s not just the engineering required to run at high speed: in some ways, getting the car ready is the easy bit. We’ll be testing the car with the jet engine only, so our Bloodhound 500 vehicle will not be much different to the car we ran last year in the UK.

In simple terms, all we have to do is install the desert suspension and high-speed metal wheels, fit the remaining bits of bodywork and add a couple of high speed brake parachutes at the back end of the car. “There’s some internal systems work to do, such as connecting up the rest the sensors (including nearly 200 pressure sensors, so it could take a while). Still, once that’s all done, we’re pretty much ready to go,” said pilot Andy Green.

You can’t just chuck them on

Before engineers everywhere start shouting at me, I know it’s not quite that easy. At our target of 500+mph, the wheels will be rotating at over 5 000 revolutions/minute and the wheel rims will be experiencing loads of well over 12 000 times the force of gravity – in other words, a lot. The safety of the car is critically dependent on things such as the mounting balance and security of these wheels. Just “chucking the wheels on,” isn’t going to cut it.

This precision engineering is of the highest order and we need to get it exactly right, but that’s pretty much routine stuff for our brilliant team of engineers. It’s a big job, but they’ll get it done.

Segrave, making it look easy

While preparing the Car may sound easy, I don’t want to under-estimate the scale of this year’s task. Looking back through the history of the sport, 1929 is probably the last time anyone made it look easy, when Henry Segrave set the World Land Speed Record at 231 mph in the beautiful ‘Golden Arrow.’

Segrave drove his car for the first time in February 1929 with a couple of trial runs on Daytona Beach in Florida. A few weeks later, he did two more runs to set a new World Record. Job done, back home in time for tea and medals!

Record breaking has got more difficult since then. Once the car is ready, our first task will be to transport Bloodhound SSC and all its support equipment to our desert track in South Africa. Let’s assume that everything moves on time and as planned (it won’t). When the car finally gets to Hakskeen Pan, we have to set up a high-tech engineering and operations base, on a desert 5 000 miles from home, to run the World’s most sophisticated Land Speed Record Car. Looking at all these tasks and a number of others I haven’t mentioned (so that I don’t scare myself too much), our first desert visit will be an invaluable rehearsal for future record breaking.

Now comes the good bit. Better than being on snow….

One of the key things we’ll learn on the desert in this Bloodhound 500 year is how to control the car during this critical speed range. This is essential preparation for next year’s runs, as the car’s rocket will be firing somewhere near this minimum-stability point, so we need to be able to control the car effectively at this speed. After that, everything should get easier (I hope).

The other key thing we will test this year is the brake parachutes. In aerodynamic terms, these are probably the most complex devices on the car. That might sound surprising, but it’s true. A brake ’chute is a completely flexible aerodynamic device, operating in turbulent airflow, and its deployment is (mathematically) ‘chaotic’ which causes it to be different every time. I recently read a research paper that described parachute modelling as ‘a non-linear, non-stationary problem of aero-elasticity, the mathematical solution of which presents outstanding difficulties.’ Quite so! The paper goes on to say that ‘the problem has not been fully solved.’ That’s why the brake chutes are just about the only model with a computer.

Everyone in South Africa is so excited that Bloodhound is coming – but there’s some unfinished business to take care of. Meanwhile…