In this month: October 1997 Bloodhound SSC breaks the sound barrier

Thrust SSC breaks the sound barrier… First, some figures: 1227.99km/h, or 763.035mph. Or Mach 1.02.


If you’ve driven a land vehicle at this speed, you’ve broken the sound barrier. The first to do so, with the results above, was Royal Air Force Wing Commander Andy Green, driving Thrust SSC.

Conceived by previous world Land Speed Record holder and entrepreneur Richard Noble, Thrust SSC was a remarkable machine. It was designed by Ron Ayers, former chief aerodynamicist at British Aerospace, and his talented team of engineers. They specified a pair of Rolls-Royce Spey Mk202 turbofan jet engines, which together produced over 44,000lb of thrust, equivalent to 92,400bhp, mounted in a wheeled and steerable structure resembling an aeroplane minus its wings.

1997 Bloodhound SSC

1997 Bloodhound SSC

The team had many engineering hurdles to jump. Aerodynamics were the main problem as Mach 1 approached, while composite rubber and nylon wheels would simply disintegrate at that speed so Dunlop Aviation supplied solid alloy wheel/tyre units. The team also solved novel mechanical and control problems, designing a car that properly managed complex dynamic forces including those from reflected shockwaves when nearing Mach 1. Computational fluid dynamics and extensive wind-tunnel testing optimised the body shape, and active suspension minimised drag and wheel lift.

To drive such a car required a special driver – or, indeed, pilot. Andy Green was that man. On 15 October 1997 – 50 years and one day after Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X1 rocket ‘plane – Green boarded SSCat Blackrock in the Nevada desert for the first of two timed runs. He hit 763.035mph over a timed mile and 763.343 over a kilometre, the boom of the broken sound barrier heralding a new age in automotive endeavour.

Not content with this record, Andy Green will next be attempting to break 1000mph in Bloodhound SSC.

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