What’s the fastest and scariest thing you’ve ever done? For me, they are 2 different events. The fastest is, of course, driving Thrust SSC to the current World Land Speed Record of 763 mph, way back in 1997. The scariest thing, however, is an annual event that feels almost as fast – racing on the Cresta Run.
The Cresta Run is a 1200m-long ice run in Switzerland, ridden head-first on a 30 kg toboggan, at speeds of up to 75 mph, with acceleration forces around 3 ‘G’ – comparable to what BLOODHOUND will experience. As the Royal Air Force Team Captain, and Royal Air Force No. 1 rider, I have to ‘go for it’ ever year on the world’s steepest ice run. That’s the scary bit. Worth the effort though: the Royal Air Force won the annual Inter-Services Championship again – 4th time in a row – which is a great way to start 2012. With that excitement behind us, I have a feeling that this is going to be a great year for the Engineering Adventure that is Project BLOODHOUND.
2012 is the build year for BLOODHOUND and it’s amazing just how much is going on. All of the primary structure (that’s the chassis to you and me) is now being manufactured. The rear chassis, currently with Hampson and being supported by 4 other companies, will weigh just over one tonne when it’s finished, but will take some 6 tonnes of raw materials to manufacture.
Much of the Car will be steel and aluminium. Whilst we are using a lot of carbon fibre at the front of the Car, the metal structures are ideal to withstand the huge heat and vibration from the jet and rocket engines at the back end, and the massive abrasion of the desert dust on the underside. Number of rivets to hold it all together? Current estimate is over 20 000.
The wheels should be fairly straightforward, but nothing is simple when you’re planning to do 1000 mph. The solid desert wheels will spin at over 10 000 RPM and will have to endure 50 000 ‘G’ at the wheel rim. These high speed wheels will be forged from solid aluminium, using low-risk techniques and materials that have worked well in the past. There are places where we can take some technical risk – and wheels isn’t one of them!
Separately, we will need a set of ‘slow speed’ (250 mph) wheels with tyres, to allow us to test the Car on a UK runway next year, before we set off for South Africa. There are 10 companies involved in the design and build of the wheels, and in a curious twist, we’ve shipping the runway tyres from South Africa for the UK runs.
The Falcon rocket testing is going to be one of the big developments of this year. To give you an idea of the complexity, we now have 40 companies just supporting the rocket programme. The test schedule over the next few months involves first testing the whole system with de-ionised water, to check that we have no leaks. There are bound to be some – it’s a new system. Once they are sorted out, we’ll move on to HTP (High Test Peroxide, at 87% concentration), which is pumped into the rocket motor at about 20 litres per second and 76 Bar (1000 psi) – which is why we need the Cosworth Formula 1 engine to provide 700 hp for the pump. This will be the first use of the X-Trac gearbox, which is itself a work of art.
Then we’ll move on to the ‘real thing’ – the hybrid firings, building the power up to the full 25 000 lb+. We can’t announce the test locations just yet but, as Richard Noble observed recently, we won’t need to – you’ll hear it!
As you can see, we are getting terrific support from UK firms. The UK has the second-largest aerospace industry and the largest motorsport industry in the world, so it’s a great resource for us. A number of companies are jumping at the chance to do something this exciting, as well as leaving a legacy behind in the form of our education programme. With nearly 5000 schools and colleges signed up now, and more joining all the time, we really do have the chance to inspire the next generation, and to make a real difference to the UK’s future engineering and science capability. Now we just have the build the Car…
Last month we launched a series of ‘Design and Make’ packages, to give companies a discrete chunk of Car to complete the detailed design and manufacture. The packages are outlined in our latest BLOODHOUND TV episode, filmed at the Autosport International Show last month.
One area where we can use some cutting-edge new technology is in the manufacturing process. Additive Layer Manufacturing, or ALM, gives us the option to ‘build’ components. We can now make incredibly complex shapes – including ones that cannot be machined by normal means – and reduce waste to virtually zero. With even schools now getting access to 3D printers, this is definitely a technology of the future – and we’re using it right now.
In addition to the great support we’re getting from industry and from our Product Sponsors, the public support continues to be outstanding. Access to the BLOODHOUND website regularly hits 10 000 pages per day, and we are now being followed in 215 countries (I didn’t even know there were that many). Since we launched the Project in 2008, the public have been getting behind it in ever-increasing numbers. We have also topped 10 000 names on the tail fin of the Car – but there’s plenty of room for more. Follow the Fin link to have your name (and better still your kids’ names) travelling at 1000 mph one day soon.