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On the ground with the Bloodhound land-speed record jet car

TG's Ollie Marriage watches Bloodhound’s latest run across Hakskeen Pan

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I’m stood a few dozen yards up the track when Bloodhound leaves the line. The speed that sound travels at means I see the dust rise behind the car before I hear the change in tone as the roar deepens. 20 seconds after that, I’m engulfed in a cloud of dust, listening to the gentle tinkle of dirt settling back on the ground. Then there’s only the tracks left, carved arrow straight, maybe an inch deep in this alkali pan, running either side of a thin pale blue line.

What happens in between I will never forget. Bloodhound starts to move. It doesn’t jerk into life like something wheel driven, but instead smoothly departs the line. And then the speed just ramps up. I’m not aware of any change in pitch or tone from the engine, but I am aware of the exponential way the car is moving. So my brain reckons ears and eyes are working out of sync.

Watch a dragster, indeed any fast car, and they seem to explode off the line. Maybe you’ve experienced it, in which case you’ll know what happens next: once that initial burst is over, the rate of acceleration slows. Bloodhound is exponential. Acceleration seems to breed acceleration, so it redoubles and, ahh crap, my eardrums start ringing with white noise. Forgot ear defenders. All this in just a handful of car lengths.

And then the air cracks and I feel the physical force of it, my rib cage rattles and pounds, my head vibrates. That’ll be Bloodhound hitting full reheat. As it comes past I’m aware of an orange glow at the back, but Bloodhound is now accelerating faster than my eyes would be able to focus were they not shaking in their sockets. By the time my senses regather themselves the orange glow is a fast receding dot, pursued and soon obscured by a towering cloud of dust.

Now I’m watching a vanishing point. The flat horizon line between desert and sky is being split apart by a wedge of dust, at its point a tiny white dot. The noise fades, the cloud slowly blows over.  

I’ve watched the video back. Twelve seconds from first puff of dust to car out of sight.

The aim today was 550mph. For the second time a sensor in the upper chassis above the Rolls Royce jet engine triggers a temperature warning. Possible fire. Andy Green is forced to abort at 481mph. Actually a bit earlier than that, but as the EJ200 jet takes a second to stop sending fuel to the engine, and the sheer momentum involved with a seven tonne car piling on an extra 45mph per second, it carries on gaining speed after the throttle is lifted.

Bloodhound won’t run for the next two days. As I type this sat alongside Bloodhound, the tail fin has been removed, and soon the entire upper chassis will follow suit as the team tries to trace the issue. If everything ran smoothly, it would be dull. This is an engineering adventure, remember.

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