SSC Bloodhound supersonic vehicle

Bloodhound SSC Project: driven to distraction

The Bloodhound SSC car is designed to crack 1,000mph, but in the seven years since it was announced it has done precisely zero. We analyse the delays and look at what might be expected from its debut run.

It’s been quite a while since the Bloodhound SSC mission to break the land speed record and build the first car capable of achieving 1,000mph was announced – almost seven years in fact.

The Bloodhound car will use a combination of jet and rocket power to reach its target speed (a headline figure that equates to just over 1600km/h). Its Eurojet EJ200 engine is usually found powering a Eurofighter Typhoon, while the Nammo hybrid rockets will provide 123.75kN of thrust – with a Formula One engine needed solely to power the rocket oxidiser pump. With the car weighing just 7.5 tonnes, that mix is expected to produce more than 135,000hp.

The car is now being assembled and in November, Bloodhound will finally be completed and testing of the car can begin in earnest – first with a 200mph trial at the Newquay Aerohub in Cornwall. Next spring, the car will be shipped to Hakskeen Pan in South Africa for a test run with the aim of taking the current land speed record of 763mph up to 800mph.

If all goes well with the initial tests of the car and the attempt to break the current record, 2017 has been earmarked as the year the car will attempt to break the 1,000mph barrier. That is still up in the air and Mark Elvin, Bloodhound’s lead engineer, mechanical design, admits there are still outstanding issues.

“It’s largely funding dependent,” Elvin explains. “We do also need to re-engineer the back end of the car to fit three rockets in, so it’s likely to be 2017 before we make the 1,000mph attempt. It will be the same sort of time of year again, April or May.”

A 2017 attempt to break the 1,000mph barrier means the best part of a decade will have passed since the project was announced.

“The project has done well to survive,” adds Elvin. “It was announced on the day of the recession, so it’s done incredibly well to survive – some would say it’s a miracle that it actually kept going at times. “But what we are trying to do is difficult – it’s very, very difficult. It’s completely uncharted territory for everybody on the team and it’s taken us nearly eight years to get the car as close to finished as we currently are. Some of the team are ex-Thrust SSC [the current record holders] and we’re 33 per cent quicker than that.”

The Bloodhound project’s ambitious target to break the sound barrier at Mach 1 combined with its stunning concept images gathered headlines around the world but that ambition caused setbacks and delays.

Initially, cash flow was a problem. The global financial crisis hit just the project was unveiled and the expected sponsorship money failed to flow in. Over the coming years it did, but the level was still below what the team had hoped for.

By 2013, the Bloodhound team announced that the first attempt to top the existing record would be postponed until 2015 – a year later than planned. At the time this was blamed on the sheer scale of the project and the limited resources the team had at their disposal. “It will be the largest increase in the record by any single car,” reckons Elvin.

A further reason for the delay to the project was that getting the final design right took longer than expected, and as it went on, these changes became more subtle but still took time to implicate.

“In the early days, such basic things as the orientation of the jet and the rocket changed,” explains Elvin. “For aerodynamic reasons and the effect of the thrust of the rocket and the jet interacting with each other, we had to change the orientation so we put the jet at the top – which is counterintuitive as it’s a big heavy lump of metal [that’s] quite high up now. But for the safety of the car, that’s the way it had to be.”

One of the most noticeable changes to the car is the size of the tailfin that is now much larger – 70 per cent bigger than was first anticipated – for aerodynamic advantages.

“The biggest visible change has been the size of the tailfin to keep the centre of pressure rear of the centre of gravity – otherwise you get an effect similar to trying throw a dart backwards at a dartboard, the thing just wants to change direction – so we’ve ended up with this really large fin,” says Elvin.

One of the more subtle design changes has been to modify the front of the chassis so that the nose cone is lower to stop the airflow lifting and endangering the car at speed.

“The nose has dropped slightly as the front of the car used to rise up very slightly underneath and that meant we were getting huge lift at the front of the car, enough to make it unsafe – that order of magnitude – so we had to bring the nose down,” says Elvin. “From the tip of the nose to the front wheels now rather than going up, it’s actually dead level. That was only changed two-and-a-half years ago, but it’s a fairly fundamental change as recently as that.”

The design changes delayed the start of the manufacturing process as the composite panels couldn’t be produced until the external shapes had been defined. Now, most of them have been delivered and the car is in the final stages of assembly – it’s even been painted – ahead of the Newquay test in November.

One of the reasons for the proposed 2017 date for the 1,000mph record attempt is that the Bloodhound team will need to fit two more rockets to generate enough thrust to get to their target and this in turn means re-engineering the car’s assembly areas to make the required extra space.

“For the 1,000mph run we have to have three rockets, which means the entire rear sub frame assembly and potentially some of the suspension components are going to need re-designing,” says Elvin. “We have to change the orientation of the spring damper assemblies to clear the rockets because at the moment there’s insufficient space for them.”

The 2017 date is not set in stone, and one reason for this is that the Bloodhound team may not discover issues with their design until the car has run at high speed next year in South Africa. They need to check their anticipated aerodynamic figures from the simulators match what actually happens to the car on the Hakskeen Pan.

“It’s a rolling testbed, a prototype vehicle so the first time we run it in the desert at high speed will be the first time we’ve ever run at high-speed so we’ll be learning all the time,” explains Elvin. “We’ll go through all the data sets and we’ll check that the computational fluid dynamics (CFD) numbers actually match up with the real world numbers. If they don’t correlate, we need to find out why and we need to make a judgement as to whether or not it gives us an unsafe condition. If it does we have to find a way to make it safer or come home and fix it back at the workshop.”

Image credits: Bloodhound SSC, Getty Images

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