For a car, cracking 210 mph on a runway, in between the planes using a small but operational airport, seems like an impressive day at work. And while it is an important milestone for the team behind Bloohound SSC, it’s also a measly feat compared to the ultimate goal: driving faster than the speed of sound, and reaching speeds north of 1,000 mph.
On Thursday, the Bloodhound SSC (that’s for supersonic car) made its public debut, proving it can indeed hustle over a couple of runs at Newquay airport in Cornwall. The British-built, plane-car hybrid is designed to smash the current land speed record of 763 mph, set in 1997. The driver who hit that number, Andy Green, a Royal Air Force fighter pilot, is back at the wheel for this effort.
These early tests are really just proof that all the assembled systems, from steering to brakes, work properly, and to give the team the necessary confidence to push for higher speeds. Right now, the car’s power comes from a jet engine more commonly found on a Eurojet EJ200 military plane. The team thinks that’ll be good enough to top 600 mph, but they want more. So they’ve drafted Nammo, a Norwegian company, to build a couple of rockets they will strap under the jet engine. A single rocket should get them close to 800 mph, and claim the speed record. Then they’ll use the cluster of three rockets for the 1,000 mph attempt, giving a whole new meaning to ludicrous acceleration. (Sorry, Elon.)
The Bloodhound car looks like a blue and orange space launch vehicle on its side. It’s 44 feet long, and weighs eight and a half tons, making it all the harder for Green to deal with the shockwaves that will form around the car as it blasts through the sound barrier (around 761 mph). He’ll be in a sealed in a claustrophobic cockpit, using a squared off steering wheel to control the vehicle. It’ll run on four skinny forged aluminum wheels and no tires, which will act more like skids at those unthinkably high speeds, than conventional rotating wheels. Nobody’s sure how it’ll all work—hence the slow buildup.
After a few more days of testing in the UK, with a bit of showing off for the public and local schoolkids, the car and team will shift focus to Hakskeen Pan, a dried up lake bed in South Africa, where there’s more room to get up to speed and still stop safely. They’re promising runs that become more and more impressive over the next three years, before finally crossing that 1,000 mph marker, and setting a new record that they’re confident is going to take a long time for anyone to beat.