Squadron leader Andy Green officially became the fastest man on earth on Thursday, September 25, when he drove Thrust SSC to a new absolute Land Speed Record of 714.144mph (subject to FIA ratification) in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert in the USA.
But with winter fast approaching, time was running out for Green to achieve the project’s ultimate ambition by becoming the first man through the sound barrier. As we closed for press, subsequent attempts to reach the required speed of between 740 and 780mph (depending on ambient temperature) were thwarted by dust storms and minor stability problems. Financial constraints have also hampered the team’s efforts. More than 230 commercial and trade sponsors, and 5000 individual members of the Mach 1 Club have contributed to the success, but project leader Richard Noble has expressed disappointment that the record did not bring the additional sponsorship injection which is needed to realise the car’s potential to go supersonic.
Thrust SSC driver Green, 34, who flies Tornado aircraft on RAF duty, not only smashed the 633.468mph mark set in October 1983 by his boss Noble, but also won the tense race with veteran challenger and former five-time record holder Craig Breedlove, whose Spirit of America Sonic Arrow car repaired since its 675mph crash last year was beset with problems.
‘This will be one of the greatest records ever set,’ said an elated Noble when United States Auto Club timekeepers had confirmed the speeds. Green’s initial reaction was typically understated. When asked what does the world look like at 700mph, he reportedly replied: “Like stationary, only faster…” Prior to the successful sorties, Green had twice bettered Noble’s record by lesser figures only for technical problems to preclude a return run in the opposite direction within the hour stipulated in the rules for the confirmation of any outright Land Speed Record. The 10-ton Thrust SSC, powered by two Rolls-Royce Spey turbojet engines developing 22,500lbs of thrust or 50,000bhp apiece the equivalent of 145 Grand Prix engines was designed to reach 850mph inside half a minute Green eventually averaged 697.580 and 730.784mph over a flying kilometre, and 700.661mph and 728.008mph through the flying mile respectively, increasing the record by the largest margin in the pursuit’s near 100-year history.
The phenomenal achievement of Green, Noble and the 30-man Thrust SSC crew, following six years of preparation, was acknowledged immediately in messages of congratulation from HM the Queen, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Formula One World Champion Damon Hill and Grand Prix team boss Frank Williams, as well as rival Breedlove and his 1960s sparring partner Art Arfons.