Inside The 1287km/h Jet Car

Inside The 1287km/h Jet Car

As the attempt on the land-speed record at Hakskeen Pan in the Northern Cape draws nearer, organisers are looking to bed down the vital communications that will be required.

The attempt will be made in November next year by the record holder, Andy Green, in the Bloodhound SSC jet car. Green, who hopes to be speeding down the track at 800mph (1 287km/h), will need to have clear and constant communication with the ground crew so that they can measure the progress of the record attempt as well as the driver’s vital signs, such as his heart and breathing rate.

We recently travelled to Hakskeen Pan to see how the telemetry testing was panning out. Sponsor MTN will provide a 4G LTE network, and Emcom Wireless provides professional mission radio communications. Jaguar also gave the team an F-Type R Coupé equipped with all-wheel drive, to test the telemetry system at a speed of 300km/h. The latest Jaguar, which will be officially launched at the Los Angeles Auto Show this month, was commandeered by Richard Noble, the Bloodhound project director and a former holder of the land-speed record.

We caught up with him when the communications were being tested, and he explained why an L-39 Albatros was roaring overhead. The jet training aircraft was swooping above the pan at 805km/h and, with the Jaguar powering along the track at 300km/h, the testers were get- ting a total closing speed of about 1 126km/h — which gave them a simulation of sorts of how the telemetry would work during the record attempt next year. And, Noble said, the initial tests results were successful.

Furthermore, the Bloodhound SSC — or supersonic car — is about half built, and is expected to be finished and ready by July next year. “We will spend three months on Hakskeen Pan next year from September, with the first shake-down of the Bloodhound SSC on South African soil, before going for the record attempt of 800mph, which will set a new land-speed record,” Noble said.

But the team hope that the attempt in November 2015 will be merely a precursor to the main event in 2016: reaching 1 000mph (1 600km/h). Noble said the Bloodhounds had chosen Hakskeen Pan after visiting several other sites, including the iconic Bonneville Salt Flats in the US, and the Black Rock Desert, where Green set the land-speed record of 763mph (1 227.93km/h) — which still stands — in 1997 in the Thrust SSC jet car.

“Hakskeen Pan represented the perfect conditions for us with the ideal altitude, weather, and alkali playa surface that has minimal friction and works a bit like a mattress,” Noble said. The pan’s surface is fine, dry mud, which is smooth and firm. By contrast, the Bonneville Salt Flats are iron hard. The Bloodhound SSC’s aluminium wheels will spin at more than 10000rpm, and the noise emitted by the thrust engines will be 14 times that of a jet fighter plane. The engines will generate 20 000 pounds of thrust — but petrolheads are more likely to be blown away by the fact that the vehicle will be generating 135 000 brake horsepower, which loosely translates into 100 000kW.

Green will be subjected to 2.5Gs of acceleration and about 3Gs under deceleration, which means the driver will have to be in peak physical condition to cope with the gravs. Local residents have cleared the track — which is 22km long and 300m wide — of 22 tons of stones, mostly by hand, and the work continues. When the record attempt is made, it is likely to be a global spectacle. But it will also highlight the physics and scientific measures required to make it successful. So, to follow through on this theme, the Bloodhound team have invested resources in local schools for the advancement of science and technology — key, Noble said, to ensuring that projects of such magnitude could be realised in future by scientists likely to come from the 230 countries the project is involved with.

Bloodhound SSC has essentially brought together aircraft, spacecraft, and Formula One technology. Noble said that although the 800mph record attempt seemed feasible, the 1000mph mark would be a challenge. If Green were to be successful next year, the jet vehicle would be sent back to Bloodhound headquarters in Bristol, in the UK, and stripped down to see how the various components handled 800mph, and what needed to be tweaked to ensure it could go the extra 200mph. For now, though, the people of Hakskeen Pan continue to check the track for the tiniest of stones, building continues on the record-breaking vehicle in the UK and the Northern Cape awaits the arrival of the team and media attention in September.

According to Jaguar Land Rover South Africa, the F-Type R AWD Coupé will be available in South Africa in the second quarter of 2015.

Lerato Matebese