The British team aiming to break the landspeed record on Hakskeen Pan, in the Northern Cape, in 2013, on Monday unveiled the project to the local media in Johannesburg, as part of a two-week tour to garner support from South Africa Inc for the 1 600 km/h attempt.
The current land speed record was set in 1997, by the Thrust supersonic car (SSC), at 1 227 km/h. Bloodhound SSC, named after a decades-old UK missile, would feature the same driver as the Thrust had – Royal Air Force Wing Commander Andy Green, who then also led the Bloodhound team visit to South Africa.
Green – officially the fastest man on earth – explained that there was more to the R150-million endeavour than the breaking of records.
“Yes, we want to break the record, but we also want to create a global showcase for science and technology. The UK, Europe and South Africa have a critical shortage of engineers and scientists. We hope the project will inspire young people to become engineers, mathematicians and scientists.”
This ambition was the driving force behind a global special-focus education programme linked to the Bloodhound project. This programme encompassed a range of activities and curriculum resources on how a machine could achieve such speeds on land. A number of South African schools had also signed up.
However, in the end, the major thrill still rested in the actual vehicle and that magical run that would make humankind travel ever faster.
Speed fans had to be patient, though, as the Bloodhound would only be unveiled in the first quarter of 2013, five years after the start of the project.
The second quarter of the same year would see the start of UK testing, followed by testing at incrementally faster speeds in South Africa.
It was not a matter of simply getting in and driving, warned Green. Testing started at low speeds, eventually moving up to 1 600 km/h. This said, though, the car would probably spend 1.5 hours of its life with the wheels turning.
The Bloodhound, with the equivalent horsepower of 180 Formula One (F1) racing cars, was designed to cover 16 km in less than two minutes, and to blast from zero to 1 600 km/h – or 1.4 times the speed of sound, and faster than a bullet fired from a Magnum .357 – in 42 seconds.
To achieve this, the vehicle would make use of a rocket, a jet from a fighter aircraft, and the engine of a F1 racing car.
Hakskeen Pan had been chosen as the site for the record attempt from 34 others, with the site nearly perfect in meeting the team’s requirements: It had to be at least 16 km long, with a 1.6-km clear runoff at each end, and it also had to be flat, as well as firm enough to support the 7-t Bloodhound at full charge.
The only hurdle was the number of stones on the site, which were currently being removed by hand by a 300-strong team of Northern Cape locals – a job which should be completed by next year.
The problem with stones was that they become projectiles. If the front wheels flicked up a stone it could come at the car at the speed of a bullet.
To officially set the record, the Bloodhound SSC would need to complete two runs in opposite directions within one hour. The average speed of the two runs would then be taken as the speed achieved. This meant the ability to control the car’s stopping and, therefore, the turnaround time, was key to the success of the record attempt.
ATTEMPT TO AID NORTHERN CAPE’S UNIVERSITY AMBITIONS
The Northern Cape provincial government was working to establish itself as an extreme sports destination, said premier Hazel Jenkins, with the Bloodhound record attempt set to enhance the province’s appeal to adrenaline junkies.
However, it might also serve to stimulate the province’s ambitions to establish an university within its borders, as the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga were the only two provinces in South Africa without such tertiary institutions, said Jenkins in Johannesburg.
Other Northern Cape projects that also created impetus for the establishment of a science university included the proposed solar park and solar farm development near Upington, and the Square Kilometre Array radio-telescope project – should South Africa outbid Australia as the host of this programme.
Jenkins said parliament had already approved the establishment of a Northern Cape university, but that the institution’s focus still had to be given the go-ahead. The Northern Cape was, however, bidding to establish a science-focused university, providing education to the Southern African Development Community.
It was hoped the university might open its doors in 2014, but Jenkins added that securing funding might prove difficult.