Ed Foster's highlight of the year

Land Speed Records

Pick one highlight from your entire year and condense it into one 450-word piece? Now that I’ve sat down to write this I am starting to appreciate the task I have set all our website contributors…

I knew before I started flicking through my 2012 diary (yes, paper still rules) what it would be, though: the test firing of Bloodhound’s rocket on October 3. Igniting the touch paper on a rocket may not seem highlight-worthy – after all, we’ve all lit fireworks before. But the successful firing of this hybrid rocket was another step towards breaking the 1000mph barrier on land. A monumental task, which has some of the best minds in the country working on problems no one has ever faced.

Take the aerodynamics as an example: Ron Ayers is the man in charge and is having to contend with the fact that if at 750mph Thrust SSC’s nose had lifted by as little as half a degree the car would have taken off at 30g. Bloodhound will, hopefully, be going 250mph faster.

The LSR challenger will use an EJ200 jet engine to get to 350mph and then the hybrid rocket will kick in, taking the Bloodhound to 1000mph. Andy Green is the ‘lucky’ man behind the wheel.

Back to the rocket test. Project director Richard Noble was adamant before the firing that the team didn’t quite know how it would turn out. The presence of two sets of blast doors between the rocket and us was evidence of that. It seems strange in today’s world of CFD, wind tunnels and CAD not to know how a technological exercise would turn out, but that’s the knife-edge that this team is working on. No one has ever built a rocket quite like this.

Once the Cosworth F1 engine – which would pump fuel into the rocket – was warmed up, the countdown began. To start with not much happened, there were flames, but they looked more like those seen on an open fire than out the back of a 186-decibel hybrid rocket. Within seconds, though, the rocket ignited properly and continued firing for seven long seconds. As soon as the noise died down the hangar all 400 of us were in erupted in cheers. You couldn’t help but feel that you were a part of something special, another great British project.

Come 2014 and the proper run out in South Africa the rocket will need to fire for 20 seconds and produce even more thrust that it did back in October, but the successful completion of the test was the biggest confirmation yet that the Bloodhound team may well do the impossible (Noble probably wouldn’t like that word) and break the 1000mph barrier.

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