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Aug 24, 2012

Clock counts down to Hakskeen Pan land-speed record bid

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By this time next year, a new land-speed record, set in South Africa, could be written into the world’s history books –if everything goes according to plan.

The current land speed record, at 1 227 km/h, was set in 1997 by the Thrust supersonic car (SSC). The Bloodhound SSC, named after a decades-old UK missile, would have the same driver the Thrust had: Royal Air Force Wing Commander Andy Green.

The British team working to break the record on Hakskeen Pan, in the Northern Cape, would first aim for a ‘modest’ improvement on the current record, at 1 300 km/h in 2013, with the ultimate goal of 1 600 km/h to be left for 2014, Green told Engineering News on a recent visit to South Africa.

Officially the fastest man on earth, Green came to the continent to see how work on clearing stones and rocks from the pan was progressing.

“We need to do the run in the dry season, which is the third quarter of 2013 – if every- thing works out perfectly, which is unlikely. We are building something like a spaceship on a very tight budget,” he said.

The Bloodhound, which would have the equivalent horsepower of 180 Formula One 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 under a minute.

To achieve this, it would make use of a rocket, a jet from a fighter aircraft, and the engine of a Formula 1 racing car, giving the car a helluva lot of thrust at 212 kN.

Green said the Bloodhound’s major chassis components should be assembled by Christmas this year, with the engine, rocket and fuel tank added by the first quarter of next year.

This would be followed by a test programme for the hand-built prototype, which would include some airfield runs. However, warned Green, inclement weather such as seen in the UK this year, might thwart this schedule.

The 1 300 km/h attempt would serve to determine “how the desert reacts”, he added.

The team had to consider the impact of various factors, such as shock waves and rolling resistance – with too little of the latter “creating a problem to stop”.

To officially set the record, the Bloodhound 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, would be key to the success of the record attempt.

“We’ll pause, look at the data, do some re-engineering through the rainy season, and then bring the car back in 2014 for the 1 600 km/h attempt. We need to establish the car’s credibility. This is probably the safest way to do it,” explained Green.

The entire attempt would rack up a bill of roughly R200-million, with two-thirds of this already promised.

“It looks like we have money to build the car. The closer we get to the record attempt with something to show, the easier it will be to get sponsors,” said Green.

Should the euro collapse, however, owing to the continued economic turmoil in Europe, it could become “much more difficult” to find sponsors, he added.


The current land-speed record was set in Nevada, in the US, in the Black Rock desert, so why not go back there?

Apparently this piece of desert is no longer flat enough. The surface had to be dead-flat and firm, but with some ‘give’ in it, so the Bloodhound’s solid aluminium wheels could dig in a few centimetres and find lateral grip.

South Africa had the biggest and firmest dried-out lake bed in Hakskeen Pan. However, this pan first had to be cleared of stones of all sizes. If one of the Bloodhound’s front wheels flicked up a stone it could come at the car at the speed of a bullet.

This meant the Bloodhound team had been working with the Northern Cape government to ensure the pan could become a world-class race track.

Three-hundred local people had now cleared the 19-km-long and 500-m-wide track for the record attempt. This was a 19.5-million square metre area – the largest area ever cleared by hand, said Green.

Work would now start on clearing the track’s side areas.

“It’s like starting in Johannesburg and clearing two lanes of the N1 all the way to Cape Town– and now you have to turn around and do another two lanes,” said Green.

It would be worth it, though, as Hakskeen Pan could be the world’s “most famous piece of track” by this time next year.

As happened with the job of clearing the track, Green said the Bloodhound team would like to see several franchises, such as T-shirts commemorating the record attempt, go to local entrepreneurs.

The Northern Cape would also benefit from local sponsor MTN erecting several masts to enable global coverage of the record attempts.

“We need to have video of the event and data on the car, and stream it across the globe. We‘ll also have a huge global audience watching this attempt,” said Green.

This meant the remote Hakskeen Pan would have access to some of the fastest phone and Internet coverage in the country – which seems quite appropriate considering what could happen 12 months from now.

Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu
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