“We’re 99% sure this car is capable of a land speed record that begins with the number 8.” Mark Chapman, chief engineer on the Bloodhound car, is reflecting on the vehicle’s high-speed trials this past November. The arrow-shaped racer reached a top speed of 628mph (1,010km/h) on the mudbed of Hakskeen Pan, South Africa, before packing up to head home to England.
The team is now engaged in a review of all the data gathered during testing – from the roughly 200 air-pressure sensors dotted around the car, plus a multitude of strain gauges, temperature readers and accelerometers.
“We’ve only been looking at it for a couple of weeks, but there’s nothing I’ve seen that says Bloodhound can’t do 800mph (1,290km/h),” says Chapman.
The current world best, which has stood for more than 20 years, is 763mph (1,228km/h).
What should be telling is how, overall, the trials were conducted without any major incidents.
The team could be forgiven for anticipating a stream of technical glitches when it arrived in the Kalahari Desert. It certainly had some.
But the schedule of runs designed to achieve a steady, stepwise increase in speed broadly held together.
And only once did engineers have to perform a full strip-down of the vehicle to overhaul a problematic engine bay over-heat alarm system.
“It was a high-stakes gamble to be honest in taking Bloodhound out there, but I wanted to prove that this car and this team could do it,” says businessman Ian Warhurst, who bought Bloodhound out of administration at the beginning of 2019.
“We could have gone out there and been unable to run the car properly, and we’d have returned home with no following and been forced to close the project down. But it was fantastic and the engagement we saw was amazing.”
There’s a lot of work ahead, however.
First, Bloodhound needs sponsorship. Warhurst’s calculation is that £8m is required to break the land speed record.
The Yorkshireman says his conversations with interested parties have been boosted by the successful trials.
The money will cover operations but also the R&D to enable Bloodhound to carry a rocket.
To achieve 800mph, the car needs five to six tonnes of thrust on top of the nine tonnes it already receives from a Eurofighter jet engine.
The extra power will come from a booster supplied by the Norwegian aerospace company Nammo. But Bloodhound’s engineers must develop the pump that feeds this rocket with a high-test peroxide monopropellant.
And the new system will have an electric element – a battery or supercapacitor to run the motor that drives the pump. Bloodhound is about to become a hybrid vehicle.
“I want an electric solution,” says Chapman. “We’ve talked about this for a few years and it’s clear now there are quite a few options out there. It’s a question of seeing what we can package into the car.”
The team left South Africa saying it would return either in late 2020 or in mid-2021 to try to break the land speed record.
The R&D and sponsorship schedules suggest 2021 is the more realistic timeframe.
Another influential factor is the Kalahari weather.
The rain season arrives in November and December, and has the potential to flood Hakskeen Pan. That’s a good thing because it washes away tracks and resets the lakebed surface, but the car can’t run in such conditions.
You have to wait then until the dryness of winter returns.
“It takes time to do the R&D and get the parts made, so it looks like we’ll miss that window towards the end of 2020,” says Warhurst. “But we need to keep things moving, to work to very clear timelines. Sponsors want to know when you’re going to do it. We haven’t finalised things yet because we need to work through the plan, but it will be in 2021, once we get past the wet season.”