I’ve been fascinated by Bloodhound ever since Richard Noble and Green went public with their plans on 23 October 2008. Even so, the sheer enormity and audacity of what is being attempted retains the ability to reduce the most seasoned of hacks to gasps. While there have been many successful jet-powered land speed record cars and just one successful rocket car, there has never been one that attempted to combine both technologies. The rocket is so powerful that, one year after the project was announced, the team realised that if it continued to sit on top of the engine, it would bury the car’s nose in the desert when it fired. So the entire car was re-engineered to swap them around.
Then there is the feat itself. To qualify for a new land speed record, you must raise the bar by at least 1% – 7.63mph, in this case. Now consider that in the 32 years before Thrust SSC came along in 1997, the record had been raised by just 32mph. In one season, Thrust SSC added a further 130mph, punching a hole in the sound barrier on the way, but Bloodhound is designed for 1050mph, not far off 300mph faster than anyone has ever travelled across the surface of the planet. To me, what they are trying to achieve is almost unimaginable. But they have the tools to do it.
The jet engine is an early experimental EJ200 unit developed for use in the Eurofighter Typhoon. Yet, with the aid of a Nammo rocket, it produces so much power that it will go fully 200mph quicker at sea level than the Typhoon, despite the Typhoon having two EJ200s. All by itself, the jet engine produces nine tonnes of thrust, yet it weighs just one tonne. By contrast, the Rolls-Royce Spey engines used 20 years ago on Thrust SSC produced just eight tonnes of thrust despite weighing two tonnes each.
The Typhoon aircraft has two of these engines, Bloodhound just one. So what? Well, quite a lot as it happens, because they work in tandem and each relies on the other with a constant flow of data to make sure they are perfectly synchronised at all times. Before Bloodhound, no one had ever run one on its own. So the engineers designed what they called ‘a Typhoon in a box’, which, as its name implies, is literally a small metal box that fooled the EJ200 into thinking it was in an aircraft. If you went to an external contractor and asked them to design a control system for the engine from scratch, it would cost tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of pounds. Chapman estimates his Typhoon in a box cost £300.