Supersonic car bid put back to 2016

Bloodhound artist's impression

The Bloodhound Super-Sonic Car is not going to get into the desert this year to break the world land speed record.

The 1,000mph vehicle’s basic build will be complete in a few months, ready for “slow-speed” testing on a UK runway.

But a delay with its rocket system means there will be insufficient time to run Bloodhound on its specially prepared race track in South Africa before seasonal rains start to fall.

The plan now is to wait until April or May 2016 to try to drive at 800mph.

Assuming that goes well, the team would then stage a second campaign on the dried-out lakebed of Hakskeen Pan in Northern Cape, with the aim of getting all the way up to 1,000mph. The hope is that this could also be done in 2016.

The current land speed record is 763mph (1,610km/h).

Bloodhound‘s chief engineer, Mark Chapman, is disappointed to have to announce the slip in schedule, but believes it is the right decision.

“The amount of investment to get us out to South Africa to run the car – to then see our efforts rained off and have to come home having done very little running makes no sense at all,” he told BBC News.

“The most pragmatic thing is to deploy out to the desert in April or May next year, at the start of the dry season, and that gives us the best opportunity to build up those speeds. But, importantly, it also gives us time to complete our rocket development programme.”


The impeller has delivered far better performance than anyone imagined

Bearing and impeller

Finding the limit: Chewed up bearings (L) and impeller (R)

The car’s build is rapidly moving to completion.

The last major structural elements will soon be delivered to the technical HQ in Bristol and bolted together.

Some exterior surfaces on Bloodhound are even now being painted in their distinctive blue and orange livery.

But the team has been hit by a frustrating technical problem related to the vehicle’s rocket, which, in combination with a Eurofighter jet engine, will be absolutely essential to sending the car supersonic.

This hybrid motor burns a solid fuel grain in the presence of a liquid oxidiser, which is pumped through at extremely high pressure.

And tests on this pump system have experienced component failure.

Specifically, the impeller that drives the fluid into the motor has turned out to be so efficient that it has put intolerable loads on the shaft and bearings that support it.

These have been chewed up in testing along with the project’s supply of impellers.

Pump system

The pump must supply 800 litres of High Test Peroxide (oxidiser) to the rocket in just 20 seconds

The fix is very simple – a more robust shaft and bearings, but the exquisite impellers take weeks to manufacture. Some of the angles the cutting tool has to achieve are really quite extreme.

Conor La Grue is the components chief on the Bloodhound project: “The thing we keep saying to the kids when we go into schools is that in engineering you learn more from a failure than you do from a success.

“If a component passes a test and works, how close to the limit were you? You don’t know.

“On the other hand, if you find the edge, if you find the limit – that’s a definitive point from which to measure.

“I’d be much more worried if we hadn’t achieved the performance we needed and we’d had mechanical problems.

“As it is, what actually happened is that we got the performance, and then some, and the mechanical fix has been quite straightforward.”

Nammo hybrid motor

Nammo is providing the motor itself, but Bloodhound is developing a bespoke pump system

Nonetheless, this one issue has put a 10-week slip in the programme.

It is just unfortunate then that when the new equipment becomes available, there will not immediately be an opportunity to test it, because the Norwegian rocket motor manufacturer, Nammo, will be going into its summer holiday recess. Its firing range will be closed.

All this pushes back the public debut of the completed car from August – the originally planned date – to November. Seventeen November, to be precise.

After some 200-plus mph shakedowns on the runway at the Newquay Aerohub in Cornwall, the team could just ship the car directly to South Africa. But this is just when local weather conditions usually take a turn for the worse.

Bloodhound driver and current land speed record holder, Andy Green, said: “The people who live out in the Northern Cape, next to the Hakskeen Pan, have said ‘do not try and run here in December and January – it’s 45-degrees centigrade during the day, and it’s the rainy season’.

“It makes much more sense to take slightly longer to prepare the desert car and get it running at high speed in spring 2016 at the start of the weather window. And then if we get a bit delayed, it doesn’t matter – the weather just keeps getting better and better.”

Those who followed Andy Green’s record-breaking Thrust SSC vehicle back in 1997 will remember that it also battled poor weather en route, ultimately, to becoming the first car to break the sound barrier.

The Bloodhound team is determined to try to avoid the same interference.

Parts of the car are even now being painted in the team's blue and orange livery

Parts of the car are even now being painted in the team’s blue and orange livery

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