In 1997, British Royal Air Force fighter pilot Andy Green broke the world land-speed record at 763 miles per hour (1228 kilometers per hour)—literally faster than some bullets. Now he's gunning for a new record in 2012—driving 1000 mph (1609 km/h) in the new Bloodhound supersonic car.
Getting there is tricky. A 30 percent increase in speed takes a lot more than 30 percent more power or strength. Loads and stresses increase by the square of the speed—power by the cube, says Green. So the main challenges were building a craft that could maintain control and stability at supersonic speeds, and engines that could produce enough thrust while keeping weight and air resistance down. There's a jet engine to accelerate the Bloodhound to 350 mph (563 km/h), and a rocket to boost it to 1050 mph (1690 km/h). The US $15 million project, led by British entrepreneur Richard Noble and funded by more than 300 sponsors, uses a computer at Swansea University, in Wales, with 128 parallel processors to analyze 100 million concurrent data points involving fluid dynamics and aerodynamics, and another three processors to monitor engine systems and controls.
"We're doing things jet fighters can't do," says Green, who graduated from the University of Oxford in 1983 with a bachelor's in mathematics and has been on active Royal Air Force duty ever since. "For example, the wheels have to handle 50 000 g's and 10 300 revolutions per minute."
The Paris-based Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, official keeper of the world land-speed record, allows competitors—like the joint U.S./Canadian North American Eagle Project and Australia's Aussie Invader—to discuss their approaches with each other. (Another competitor, the Fossett LSR, is on hold. Its former sponsor, the American adventurer Steve Fossett, disappeared and presumably died in a plane crash in 2007.) "The only rules are that the vehicles have four wheels and be controlled by a driver," says Green. "Our vehicles are remarkably different, so we can share information with the competition." (Among the many differences, the Eagle is jet powered only, the Bloodhound has both a jet and a hybrid rocket engine, and the Invader uses a single liquid-fueled rocket motor.
While the Bloodhound project accelerates toward a 2012 summer test of 800 mph (1287 km/h), it also serves as an educational program that uses the physics, engineering, and environmental problems it encounters to teach math, science, and technology and inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers. The project is being followed by 4000 schools and colleges in the United Kingdom and in 202 other countries worldwide.
"The world is short of engineers," says Green. One goal of the project is to inspire a new generation of engineers. "Kids nowadays want to make money or be on reality television," he says. "How do you ignite interest at school level? This is what Bloodhound is trying to achieve."