First Supersonic Land Speed Record

First Supersonic Land Speed Record

On this day in 1997, Andy Green of the United Kingdom set the first supersonic land speed record in history—still the current land speed record—driving Thrust SSC at speeds of 1227 kilometres per hour (763 mph) through the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, USA. It was the first car to officially break the sound barrier, which previously had only been achieved by supersonic aircraft. This day also fell 50 years and one day after the date on which Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier in Earth’s atmosphere, flying the experimental aircraft Bell-X1 over America.

Thrust SSC—SSC standing for Super Sonic Car—is a jet-propelled vehicle developed in Britain by Richard Noble, Glynne Bowsher, Ron Ayers and Jeremy Bliss. For its successful world record-breaking attempt, it was driven by a fighter pilot from the British Royal Air Force, Wing Commander Andy Green. It also used twin engines usually found in British F-4 Phantom II jet fighters: afterburning Rolls-Royce Spey turbo-fan engines, burning around 4 imperial gallons of fuel every second (that’s a rather fuel-inefficient 0.06 kilometres per gallon). As for its size, the Thrust SSC is huge: 16.5 metres long, 3.5 metres wide and 9,700 kilograms in weight.

Before ever stepping into the Thrust SSC, Noble had already broken the world land speed record in an earlier iteration, Thrust 2, which reached an admirable high speed of 1,018 kilometres per hour (633 mph). Then, in 1996 and 1997, he started extensively testing the Thrust SSC in the Al-Jafr desert in Jordan—before moving over to the American salt deserts for the successful record-breaking attempt. Afterwards, the World Motor Sport Council confirmed: “This is the first time in history that a land vehicle has exceeded the speed of sound. The new records are as follows: Flying mile 1227.986 km/h (763.035 mph). Flying kilometre 1223.657 km/h (760.343 mph).”

Now both the Thrust SSC and the Thrust 2 vehicles are on permanent display at the Coventry Transport Museum in the United Kingdom. However, their records will not stand forever, and a variety of international teams are now competing to create a new super car to smash the 1227.986 km/h (763.035 mph) barrier—including Richard Noble’s Bloodhound SSC project. The Bloodhound is a pencil shaped vehicle powered by both jet engines and rockets, and intended to travel at speeds exceeding 1,600 kilometres per hour—and its first runs are planned to commence at the start of 2012.

Credit: Alamy A0HWBM
Caption: Pilot Andy Green poses in front of the Thrust SSC.