Dave Rowley, one of the brains behind the attempt to break the land speed record on the desolate, flat plains outside of Upington in 12 months’ time, writes exclusively for Leadership about this incredible project


The Bloodhound project has been driven by project director Richard Noble OBE who was himself a World Land Speed Record (WLSR) holder in 1983 with Thrust2 that achieved (1 019.47km/h). Without Richard’s tenacious attitude to seeing a successful WLSR project it is very unlikely there would have been anyone to step into his shoes as funding such an audacious project is extremely difficult, especially when the world launch was October 2008, the start of a world-wide recession!

There have been times when cash-flow has been an issue but major new sponsors have been identified including Rolex, Castrol, Rolls-Royce Engines and Jaguar plus a host of stripe sponsors and companies wishing to provide components and materials and use the Bloodhound name in their marketing. Richard was then project director for the successful ThrustSSC programme that saw the first ever supersonic car runs.

Following the recent world unveiling in London of BLOODHOUND SSC we are now less than 12 months away from the supersonic car arriving in South Africa and I hope that readers of Leadership magazine are aware of this exciting project? BLOODHOUND SSC is a car designed to travel at 1 690 km/h that will be attempting to break the existing WLSR by a staggering 31% in 2016 and 2017 in the Northern Cape.

A new record and speed are not the main aims of the Bloodhound Project, it is, however, to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. We suffer from a dearth of these professionals in most developed countries and the challenge is particularly severe here in South Africa. As an engineer myself, I struggle with the number of people who say maths was hard at school and they are now hopeless at the subject. Would we ever admit to being unable to read or write? It will be the next generation of scientists and engineers that overcome the global challenges we face regarding energy, our reliance on fossil fuels, curing disease, delivering food and water to everyone and the ever increasing issues of global warming.

Inspirational and exciting

Of course we also need many more capable teachers to enthuse our learners in the classroom and this is where the Bloodhound education programme intends to help by providing inspirational and exciting resources to support the teachers. The majority of the population and our learners are enthused by speed, girls as well as the boys, the only difference being a gender choice in vehicle colour!

Bloodhound is unique in the world of advanced engineering exploration and has over 300 companies, research organisations and universities involved in the car’s design, build and testing. Most similar advanced engineering projects, including Formula 1 and aerospace tend to keep all that data confidential, whereas Bloodhound provides all this information on the website and admits where it got things wrong – first time!

An important lesson for young people – we don’t always get it right first time! Also, there is great communication between all our competitor teams around the world as the cars are very different. BLOODHOUND SSC drawings are also on the website. Competitor cars are very different and this is down to there only being three rules for the WLSR, which is governed by the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) who oversee almost all motorsports and world speed records. Given this small number of rules means that innovation is central to a cars design and again a very important lesson for young people – to think outside the box. Proving the theory that if you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got! And we will never progress. Plus during runs all the high definition camera information and 300 data channels will be made available via the internet in virtual real time.

This was a promise the Bloodhound team made at the launch of the project in October 2008, not knowing that the technology to track and upload data from a vehicle on the ground travelling at speeds greater than Mach 1 (the speed of sound is approximately 340 m/s at sea level) was not available anywhere in the world. But now thanks to South African companies MTN, Poynting Antennas and Emcom all of our communications challenges have been solved. All the car data will now be available worldwide in virtual real time as MTN has installed 70m towers around the pan providing LTE broadband (4G) and Poynting has developed the electronics and 10cm square antennas to enable all the run data to be uploaded to the internet.

Hakskeenpan in the Northern Cape was chosen after investigating over 20 000 locations worldwide using satellite imagery and a Swansea University software programme that differentiated areas with long flat dry surfaces, free of trees, vegetation, animals and people. The next stage was for driver Andy Green to visit many of the short listed locations in Australia and the USA where he achieved the current WLSR of 1 227.99km/h in 1997 on the Black Rock desert in Nevada. Andy was therefore the first person to drive a car faster than the speed of sound (Mach 1.020) but since then Black Rock has not seen any significant rainfall, leaving the surface in a very rough and unsound condition.

Skip Margetts (Helimedia Cape Town and the first South African Bloodhound team member) visited both Hakskeenpan and Verneukpan (200km south of Upington and used by Malcolm Campbell in 1929 for a WLSR attempt) to assess their suitability for land speed record attempts. The Northern Cape Provincial Government (NCPG) was contacted and detailed assessments were carried out as to the two pans appropriateness for world land speed record attempts.

Given they are both in close proximity to Upington Airport, which has the longest runway in the southern hemisphere, international communications would be made easier. Verneukpan is, however, a considerable distance from any tarmac roads and accommodation is extremely scarce and may reduce the number of South African and international visitors, which was one of the main reasons for the NCPG supporting the Bloodhound project.

The decision to attempt to increase the WLSR was taken back in 2007 when project director Richard Noble and Andy Green were aware of several teams who were intent on increasing ThrustSSC’s record and achieving speeds above 1 300km/h. Initial feasibility studies suggested that the magical 1 000mph (1 610km/h) target was achievable but this would require the lightest and most powerful jet engine plus a rocket motor to boost the car’s speed through the sound barrier. The jet engine being considered was the Eurojet EJ200 utilised in the Eurofighter Typhoon and covered by the UK Official Secrets Act! Armed with an initial artists impression, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) minister for procurement was approached to see if any of the Eurofighter development programme engines were available.

Minister Lord Drayson was very much aware of the challenges faced by the MOD and supplier companies in recruiting sufficient numbers of good scientists and engineers. He eventually approved that three development programme EJ200’s would be made available to the Bloodhound programme and Rolls-Royce engines, who are one of the Eurojet partners, would support their integration into BLOODHOUND SSC. Therefore serious research began and sponsors were sought.

The EJ200 does not provide sufficient power to push the car through the sound barrier and considerable additional thrust is required from a hybrid rocket that is now being further developed by Nammo in Norway. The jet engine produces 90kN of power with reheat and the rocket 123kN that together equates to approximately 135 000 horsepower (100 000kW) or the equivalent of 180 Formula 1 cars.

The concept of a hybrid rocket motor was originally developed by the Falcon Project in the UK using hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) as the oxidiser, enabling the rocket to be shut down instantly in the event of any car malfunction. The rocket will operate for approximately 20 seconds requiring 46 litres of hydrogen peroxide every second and accelerating the car at 85km/h/s. This requires a big fuel pump and a Jaguar V8 supercharged engine that produces 550bhp to drive the fuel pump. This engine is normally found in the Jaguar F-Type R AWD Coupe’ that is capable of 300km/h. The engineers challenge is to get all three engines working nicely together!

Many have asked where the name Bloodhound came from as you do not associate this animal with speed. Bloodhound was considered to be a code name as the small engineering team was still carrying out detailed research into the feasibility of a 1 000mph car. The name came about as the project's chief aerodynamicist is Ron Ayers MBE and Ron was also the chief aerodynamicist on the Bristol Bloodhound Mark 2 surface to air missile system that entered service in 1964. We were convinced that the world’s media would not connect the Bloodhound programme with a world land speed car and nothing was picked-up on until the launch at the end of 2008. When it came to deciding on an alternative name, all the team suggested we should stick with Bloodhound, and so it was launched as BLOODHOUND SSC (supersonic car).

Inspiring the next generation

We very quickly identified the launch sponsors who invested funding even before feasibility studies were completed and there was still the possibility that there could be no car! Serco, Swansea University (who focused on the aerodynamic shape using computational fluid dynamics), University of the West of England (UWE) Bristol (provided an early engineering design base), STP and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) eagerly provided the start-up funding, excited by the concept of a supersonic car that would inspire the next generation.

Bristol was chosen as a base for the engineering design with Brunel’s ss Great Britain museum and the City Council providing a larger base overlooking a magnificent harbour side location.

Brunel was the designer of the first iron hull ship powered by a steam engine with a propeller in 1843 destined for the trans-Atlantic passenger route. Bristol is a major aerospace centre, being the home of Rolls-Royce Military Engines and Airbus UK, two excellent universities and a residential magnet town for engineers.

Design work began in earnest in 2008 with a small team recruited from the F1 and aerospace industries and it was decided that the very latest materials and manufacturing processes would be employed to ensure the car was used as an iconic case study by all levels of education. For instance, the wheels are aerospace grade 7037 aluminium supplied by ThyssenKrupp UK and forged in Germany by Otto Fuchs KG. The billets are then transported to Castle Engineering in Edinburgh who machine the desert wheels to their final 90cm diameter and 95kg mass that have to withstand 50 000 radial g as they spin at 172 revolutions per second.

The car will initially carry out 300km/h low speed system tests in the UK in early 2016 on a runway at Newquay Airport (Cornwall) using tyres obtained from Thunder City in Cape Town. The tyres were originally manufactured for the EE Lightning aircraft of the 1960/70’s and these will replace the solid metal wheels as they would not be welcomed on a tarmac runway!

Another of the reasons why Hakskeenpan was chosen was because the pan normally floods once per year to a depth of between 600mm and 1m and after drying out it leaves a very flat surface that is crusty on top to a depth of 30mm but extremely hard underneath. The crusty surface will allow the car to sit down into the crusty surface thus providing additional lateral grip for the vehicle. There is no rudder on the fin, steering of the car being through the driver’s yoke that provides 6 degrees of movement for the front wheels and a 250m turning circle.

The Bloodhound team of 50 engineers and technicians is expecting to deploy to South Africa in the second half of 2016 where the first target will be 1 300km/h and a new record. The car will then require modification for the ultimate target of 1 610km/h (1 000mph) and another three month deployment. Taking a car to any country, especially one with a hybrid rocket requires many legal compliance issues to be satisfied and this includes ensuring we comply with environmental and ecology matters related to running a car on a dried lake bed that is part of a national watercourse.

Beautiful but unknown

The NCPG will be responsible for all matters land side, including the many thousands of visitors expected to descend on this beautiful but unknown part of South Africa. Just over 300 local people from Mier Municipality have removed almost 16 000 tonnes of stones and rocks from the pan surface by hand and we expect there to be further economic benefits for this extremely poor part of South Africa where regular employment is rare.

The local schools are already seeing benefits through the education programme and we have Father Aloysius, a Bloodhound Ambassador based in Keimoes who visits local schools and delivers Bloodhound presentations, focusing on science, maths and the materials used on the car. The education programme is supported in South Africa by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the British High Commission.

The Bloodhound education team has registered over 1 000 schools and universities in South Africa and teachers are supplied with a DVD that contains exciting videos and 50 short Cisco TV programmes that explain why the car uses three engines, why it is that shape and why there is no ejection seat, plus an insight into the materials used and how the components are manufactured using the very latest techniques.

Wendy Maxwell is our education manager and was formally with Scifest Africa in Grahamstown. She also manages the Ambassador network of enthusiasts who help to promote the education programme to schools across South Africa— but we need more to help take this exciting project to local schools. Contact Wendy at

Dave Rowley

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