Bloodhound Supersonic Car makes world debut in London

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Bloodhound SSC makes its world debut at East Wintergarden in Canary Wharf, London(Credit: Simon Crisp/Gizmag.com)

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The Bloodhound team will aim to set a new land speed record of 800 mph (1,287 km/h) on October 15, 2016, it has been revealed. It will then aim for the 1,000 mph (1,600 km/h) barrier in 2017. But before then, members of the public are being invited to see the impressive, almost-complete Bloodhound Supersonic Car (SSC) at its world debut in London. Gizmag was invited along, and was left suitably awe-struck at the raw power and engineering on show.


Since 2008 we’ve seen Bloodhound SSC develop from a bold ambition to set a new land-speed world record, taking in milestones such as the test firing of the rocket engine, the reveal of the cockpit, and seeing the wheels it will run on. However, so far our experience of the car has been limited to models and CGI impressions. That ended today when we finally got to get up-close with the real thing.

The car (a three letter word which spectacularly fails to do Bloodhound justice) has gone on show at East Wintergarden in Canary Wharf – the Bristol-based team behind it says its technical center just isn’t big enough to cope with the levels of public interest. Also on show are team support vehicles, including the custom-built Jaguar Rapid Response Vehicles, the Mission Control Center, and a Bloodhound driving simulator that will give visitors an insight into what it will be like behind the wheel of this wonderfully crazy beast at 1,000 mph.

Currently 98 percent complete, the 135,000-hp (100,670-kW) land speed racer is being presented in a record attempt configuration, but without the carbon fiber bodywork on one side to allow visitors to get a unique peek at what’s inside and the level of engineering involved. In fact, the remaining two percent to complete Bloodhound SSC will consist of adding the rockets and a couple of minor components, and fitting the rest of the bodywork, which actually means there’d be less to see if it were entirely finished.

The first thing which struck us was the sheer size of Bloodhound SSC. It’s much bigger than it looks in the CGI illustrations we’ve pored over during the past couple of years. It measures 45 ft (14 m) long and cuts a dashing figure with a fin that stands some 13 ft (4 m) tall. Entering the hall we were presented with the finished and branded side of the car, but while that’s all very nice, what everyone wanted to see was the side with the exposed innards.

Looking at the exposed parts of Bloodhound SSC reveals the intricate carbon fiber, steel and alloy chassis that holds the car together, and is the product of the team of Formula 1 and aerospace experts. The absence of branded bodywork also shows the internal skeleton of Bloodhound’s giant tail-fin, which contains a selection of sensors and a camera.

A closer inspection of the gleaming insides reveals why Bloodhound SSC is sometimes said to be part plane, part car, and part spaceship. A Rolls-Royce EJ200 jet engine, more normally deployed in a Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft, sits under the fin and will be used to power the car before the rocket takes over. Also in position is the Jaguar V8 engine which will be used to pump oxidizer into the yet-to-be-fitted Nammo hybrid rockets, themselves more commonly used by the European Space Agency.

The Bloodhound SSC cockpit is frequently referred to as driver Andy Green’s 1,000 mph office, but it’s not your typical cubicle emblazoned with pictures of cute cats. Made from a complex monocoque (single-piece shell) crafted from layers of carbon fiber, it’s understood to be the strongest safety-cell ever fitted in a racing car. Sitting central is a custom steering wheel that has been printed from powdered titanium to the exact profile of Andy’s hands and which contains buttons for the rocket, parachute and air brakes. On the floor are two pedals for the jet engine throttle and wheel brakes.

Three screens display performance information and system status. Should these somehow fail while hurtling along, there are also more retro-style Rolex dials serving as a backup. Should this not already be enough for the driver to focus on while trying to break the land speed record, there is also a bewildering array of control switches. In the event of a power failure there are backups for safety critical systems, including levers for shutting off the supply of fuel to the jet engine and deploying the parachutes.

Other details of the car which jumped out at us included the wheels. On the exposed side were the traditional-looking runway wheels, which will be used in slower tests, while on the complete-looking side were solid aluminum wheels. These each weigh 198 lb (90 kg), measure 35 in (900 mm) in diameter and will be used for the hopefully record-setting runs, where at top speed they will spin 177 times per second.

We were also intrigued by the 12 cameras which cover the car, and will be used to stream and record the action. The camera on the fin, which can be displayed on one of the screens in the cockpit, will also offer RAF Wing Commander Andy Green a back-up view should his view become obstructed. While exhibition visitors should be able to see this in action, it wasn’t working correctly during our visit.

Bloodhound SSC wasn't the only vehicle on show at the exhibition, and with this project even the support vehicles are something special. The custom Jaguar XJR Rapid Response Vehicles, which we were introduced at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, have a top speed of 174 mph (280 km/h) and use a 542-hp (404 kW) 5.0-liter supercharged V8 to push them to 60 mph (96.5 km/h) in just 4.4 seconds.

Outside we got to see the Supacat, which will be on hand and kitted out with fire and rescue equipment. It’s also fitted with a 1,500-liter (396 US gal) water tank, which would be used to dilute the concentrated hydrogen peroxide (High Test Peroxide) in the event of a spillage.

The Mission Control Center – essentially an air traffic control for the desert – was also present, letting visitors see how the team will keep in contact with the car during the runs, and how it will stream the action to fans at home. We’re told that during the record attempts there won’t be too many people in here, with only key team members using the three main consoles and in contact with Andy.

A number of the 90-strong Bloodhound team were on hand to take us through the finer points of what creating a car capable of shattering the current 763 mph (1,228 km/h) record set by Thrust SSC entails. As part of the educational outreach program which is central to the project, the team will also be on hand during the public exhibition. Indeed, engagement with over 100,000 UK school children is partly why demand to see Bloodhound in person is so high, with 8,000 visitors expected over the next two days.

"The Bloodhound Expo is a project gateway, unveiling the car is very important to us," Bloodhound Operations Director, Martyn Davidson, told Gizmag. "Up until now all of our events have been attended by full-size fiberglass models, this is the first public showing of the finished car ... But it’s also about fundraising as well. We survive on cash sponsorship. We are constantly inviting people in that we think are potential sponsors. We are looking for probably another £10 million (US$15m) per year for the operational side, for another couple of years.

"On Monday we take the car back to Avonmouth and strip it," he told us, regarding future plans. "To be honest these cars are like F1 cars, they spend most of their time on trestles and stripped down. They need a lot of tender loving care. We’ve still got some pipework to go in, and the rocket system, it’s not a lot ... The next stage for us is Newquay where we do the runway tests, and there are a number of objectives for us there. It will be the first time it’s pumped fluids, and we’ve also got to shake-down all the support vehicles, and the team.

“We’ve got to start developing our turnaround processes as well, because in the actual record attempt we’ve got one hour to turn around the car, of which 45 minutes is devoted to the physical mechanical turning around. We’ve got to get the team choreographed, the refueling, the change of rocket motors, the download of data and checking it against the model ... If we can’t do that there’s no point doing this, if we can’t turn around in 45 minutes, we’re not going to get a record. This is an FIA competition, the car has to go through FIA scrutiny, the venue has to be licensed by the FIA, the time-keepers have to be appointed by the FIA."

Going into 2016 the team will head over to Hakskeen Pan, South Africa where it has identified the perfect spot for a bit of record breaking – a flat dried up lake bed which gives the 12 miles (19 km) of running space needed. First Bloodhound will try to break 800 mph (1287 km/h) on October 15th, before upping the rocket-count from one to a cluster of three and aiming for the 1,000 mph (1,600 km/h) target in 2017, where it would cover a mile (1.6 km) in just 3.6 seconds.


Before leaving the exhibition, we also got the chance to go hands-on with the Castrol EDGE and Jaguar Bloodhound Driving Simulator. This involved trying to virtually break the record in a dome simulator with a projected display and a steering wheel like that in Bloodhound SSC. Luckily for us, we only had to operate a couple of buttons and pedals rather than the full array of controls. Luckily for Andy Green, even though we felt the jolt of going supersonic, we didn’t manage to break the record, so his job is safe for now.

The Bloodhound Expo in London will be open to members of the public on Friday 25th and Saturday 26th September. While the event is free of charge, would-be visitors will need tickets, and they’ve unfortunately already all been taken.

You can check out more photos from our visit in the photo gallery.


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