Richard Noble has a bit of previous when it comes to breaking the world land speed record. He set his first record behind the wheel of Thrust2 in 1983 and held it until 1997, when it was finally eclipsed by Thrust SSC — a car for which Noble was project director.
His latest project aims to break the 1000mph barrier for the first time, with Bloodhound SSC. Noble is again project director for Bloodhound, and Autocar caught up with one of Britain’s great engineering brains.
Where are you now with the Bloodhound project?
We’ve got to build it. We’ve signed off the final designs, got ourselves a rocket and a jet engine and the place to build it. We’ve now just got to get on and do it, and we know we can do it. The aero at the rear needs tidying up, but apart from that we’re there.
What’s the scale of the project you face?
What we’re doing is without precedent. There is no experience we can draw on, from aerospace or automotive, so in engineering terms it’s a real nightmare.
How did you settle on the final design?
We had to be creative. We’d run ideas through our computer software, get appalling results and then have to start again. It was 29 months of sheer hell; we had 10 redesigns along the way and, at £150,000 each, mistakes could be costly. And we had a rocket development programme running alongside the car’s design.
Thrust SSC had two jet engines. Why is there only one on Bloodhound when you need to go faster?
Jet engines are very reliable and controllable, but their air intakes create a lot of drag. To go twice as fast, you need eight times as much power and when you get up to supersonic speeds, you need an enormous amount of power. The J200 Eurofighter is the lightest and most efficient unit around, but two would create too much drag, so we went for one and a rocket.
Where have you put the rocket?
You tend to only make small changes with a design process, but we made a fundamental mistake with the positioning of the rocket. We’ve moved it from on top of the engine to below it, and everything is now much more effective, with less aerodynamic drag and an improved engine air intake. When we realised this, it was a light-bulb moment.
Has this project been a boost for British engineering?
It is having the most incredible effect. The project has exposed the chronic shortage of engineers in this country and we need to get back to designing, manufacturing and exporting again. The recession has seen a strong public movement back towards Britain’s core engineering strengths, and Bloodhound is benefiting from this, because we’ve got some very bright, young talents working on the project.
How’s the financing going?
Britain is not set up to fund something like this. The government would never fund it, because motorsport is seen as a minority sport, so there’s no obvious funding. To get to the point where we can roll the car out of the door will cost £6.3m. We’ve spent £2m now and we’ve still got some money left in the bank.