Bloodhound land speed racer blasts to 628mph

By Jonathan Amos
BBC Science Correspondent

Media caption,
Watch how the Bloodhound supercar gets off the line

Bloodhound has now joined the exclusive club of land speed racers that have gone faster than 600mph (965km/h).

Running across its dry lakebed track on Saturday, the British car's GPS sensors clocked 628mph (1,010km/h).

Only seven vehicles in the history of the land speed record have previously driven beyond 600mph.

Bloodhound's achievement is notable because it's been running with only the thrust of a jet engine. The car's design allows for a rocket motor, too.

When this is fitted next year, as planned, the arrow-shaped machine should be in a very strong position to smash the current world record of 763mph (1,228km/h).

This was set 22 years ago by another British car, Thrust SSC. The driver back then was the same as in Bloodhound today - RAF pilot Andy Green.

"The stability and confidence [Bloodhound] gives me as a driver is testament to the years of world class engineering that has been invested in her by team members past and present," he said.

"With all the data generated by reaching 628mph, we're in a great position to focus on setting a new world land speed record in the next year or so."

Bloodhound has been conducting its high-speed trials in South Africa's Northern Cape - on Hakskeen Pan, a wide and extremely flat section of desert.

As on previous fast runs, Saturday's mark was set early in the morning. It's the time of day when air temperatures are at their coolest, enabling Bloodhound's Eurofighter jet to build its thrust very rapidly.

To put the 628mph in some sort of context - that's faster than an airliner would typically be cruising, and Bloodhound is doing it at ground level. And a fighter plane tearing down a runway would be airborne long before it approached this kind of speed.

Sensors on Bloodhound revealed the airflow beneath the car went supersonic during its run. Paintwork 3m back from the front wheels was stripped away.

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The team says the 628mph speed concludes the high-speed trials and it will now return to England.

The seven vehicles to have also raced above 600mph are Sonic 1, Blue Flame, Thrust2, Budweiser Rocket, Sonic Arrow, Aussie Invader III, and Thrust SSC. Only Budweiser Rocket and Thrust SSC went beyond 700mph (1,126km/h).

Image caption,
Thrust SSC's all-time record was set in America's Black Rock Desert is 1997

Whether Bloodhound can eclipse them all is going to depend in large part on financing.

The car's costs are currently being underwritten by wealthy Yorkshire businessman Ian Warhurst. He says the next phase of the project will have to be funded by others, most likely corporate sponsors.

"Our speed objective for these tests was to reach 1,000km/h. Hitting 1,010km/h is a real milestone and shows just what the team and the car can achieve.

"With the high-speed testing phase concluded, we will now move our focus to identifying new sponsors and the investment needed to bring Bloodhound back out to Hakskeen Pan in the next 12 to 18 months' time.

"Not only am I immensely proud of the team, I'm also delighted that we've been able to demonstrate that the car is eminently capable of setting a new world land speed record."

The Norwegian aerospace company Nammo is waiting and willing to put one of its rockets in Bloodhound, and the car will need the booster if it wants to challenge Thrust SSC.

"As you get faster, the main force you're fighting against is the drag," Nammo's chief engineer Adrien Boiron told BBC News.

"The drag is proportional to the square of the speed, which means that it gets more and more of a problem. And the way for Bloodhound to get a lot faster than the previous car, which had two jet engines, is to have a rocket in it." and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos