World's fastest car set to break records, again

Story highlights

  • In 1997, Andy Green and broke the world land speed record driving the Thrust SSC
  • Green drove the car to 763mph, and is now hoping to push it past 1,000mph
  • The Bloodhound Project, as its known, is backed by the British government
  • It took three years to turn 12 miles of desert into a test-run track
Many of the pilots assembled at the Dubai Airshow can boast breaking the sound barrier, but only one man in the world can say he's done it both in the sky and on the ground.
That privilege belongs to former fighter jet pilot Royal Air Force (RAF) Wing Commander Andy Green.
As the driver of Thrust SSC -- the fastest car on the planet -- he broke the sound barrier in 1997 with a world land speed record of 763mph.
Despite the roar of the display jets passing overhead, he remains focused on more terrestrial matters: the quest to drive a car over 1,000 mph with The Bloodhound Project.
"As with everything I do in life, being able to do difficult things and do them well is hugely satisfying," he says from the roof of the Eurofighter chalet at the event.
With a name that could be a code word for a covert Second World War operation (it's actually named after a missile), The Bloodhound Project has plenty of challenges up ahead.
"Basically we're trying to do what no one has done before," he says. "I've got five supersonic runs, which is five more than anybody else. That gives me a unique perspective on the challenges facing the new car and how we're going to take it a lot further."
The design of the car took years to perfect and while it still generally resembles a rocket on wheels, there are plenty of things that make it much more than just a fighter jet without the wings; one of the biggest challenges is dealing with the shockwaves caused by the wheels traveling at such high speeds.
Something that the car does have directly in common with a fighter jet is the engine. It uses an EJ200 engine normally found on a Eurofighter Typhoon jet. It was one of the test-and-development engines donated by Eurofighter.
It's as close as Green gets to a jet engine these days; the 51-year-old flew missions over Bosnia and Iraq and was in charge of running the RAF's air campaign missions over Libya in 2011. During that campaign he says that the success rate of the engine was 97%, which means he has no concerns about sitting in front of one and hurtling across the ground at previously unimaginable speeds.
Thrilling though it may be for Green, the greater aim of the Bloodhound Project is to inspire a new generation of engineers and scientists. The project is clearly quite attractive to the British scientific community as well, as it's backed by the British government's engineering and sciences agency, universities, the armed forces and a number of other organizations.
In order to garner as much interest in science and engineering as possible, the project is mostly open-source (some technical points about engine performance are withheld). It also aims to broadcast the test runs and record attempts live.
"That's almost as big a challenge as getting a car over 1,000 mph," says Green.
The Thrust SSC achieved 763mph
Green is now hoping to set a new record, reaching a speed of 1,000mph
With a chassis built, the aim is to roll out the vehicle for its first tests at the Aerohub in Newquay, southwest England. If everything goes well, the car will be transported to the Hakskeen desert in South Africa where Green and the team will test the vehicle and push it past the speed of sound.
"The idea is to then go back in 2016 and get it above 1,000mph."
It took three years to clear a 12-mile stretch of desert to make a test-run-ready track -- an enormous undertaking that perhaps reflects the ambitions of the project itself. Green was finally given the green light this month.
Ironically, the fastest man on earth doesn't have much time to actually sit back and appreciate the experience.
"[When driving], the ground is terribly close, going past terribly fast, and that's just one of those background things where you have to say, 'Yup, that should be a mind-blowing sensation.' But I can't afford for it to be, I have to concentrate on doing my job."