Bloodhound land speed record car breaks 500mph barrier in South Africa test

by Jake Williams-Smith on 6th November 2019

Bloodhound LSR topped its benchmark testing target of 500mph in the South African desert, posting a new top speed of 501mph as it builds up to a land speed record attempt in 2020/21

Bloodhound land speed record car during its 501mph run on November 6 2019

Bloodhound at the start of its 501mph run at Hakskeenpan Photo: Charlie Sperring

The Bloodhound land speed record car has passed its 500mph testing target, with a new top speed of 501mph.

On his eighth run in the South African desert on November 6, driver Andy Green hit the benchmark in preparation for an attempt on the record in 12 to 18 months time.

The car had been damaged on previous runs when, at more than 400mph, the force of the had peeled away bodywork.

But the Bloodhound LSR team announced that the repair work had held and the car returned from its 501mph blast without no major issues.

Watch the 501mph run below.

Bloodhound's speed tests are taking place on the dry lake bed of the Hakskeenpan in the Kalahari desert, where the Bloodhound Land Speed Record (LSR) team hope that it will eventually become the fastest car in the world, beating the current record of 763.035mph, set by Green in Thrust SSC in 1997.

The team is now targeting a higher speed of 550mph but aborted the first attempt due to an engine issue.

As testing speeds rose above 400mph last week, the extreme forces began to damage the car.

"The issue was with an ‘into wind step’, which is an area of the bodywork that high speed air and desert grit blasted into at such a rate on this run, that it peeled back a corner, up to the first rivet," said Mark Chapman, the project's engineering director.

"The Fabrication Team are trimming the 30mm long piece of titanium off before they bond and rivet a patch to cover the area."

The team noted after the seventh run that damage to the rear of the car was inflicted by impact damage caused by debris originating around the front wheels.


Bloodhound South Africa testing: as it happened

After a week of preparation on Hakskeenpan, Bloodhound's Rolls-Royce EJ200 jet engine was fired up for the first time in South Africa at the end of October. It's the only engine needed for the test; a rocket will also be needed for the land speed record attempt.

The testing programme marks the first time that the car has been driven since 2017 when the car hit 200mph on the runway at Cornwall Airport.

Since then the Bloodhound Land Speed Record (LSR) project was rescued from administration last December by businessman Ian Warhurst. The car's distinctive blue and orange livery has been replaced, but the tail fin with the names of 36,000 supporters has been recreated.

Bloodhound test programme

  • October 25 Run 1 Static engine test, followed by a slow (100mph) speed run to check steering and brakes
  • October 28 Run 2 Maximum dry power (using the jet without afterburner) to reach 200mph, then a coast-down
  • October 28 Run 3 Full afterburner to reach 334mph, with stability tests, then a coast-down. Parachute data collected
  • October 30 Run 4 Engine shutdown after 1.5km after a suspected vibration on an uneven surface
  • October 31 Run 5 Top speed of 380mph. Right parachute deployed for the first time at 340mph
  • November 1 Run 6 Maximum afterburner start takes the car to 461mph. Left parachute deployed for the first time. Bodywork damage from high-speed air.
  • November 5 Run 7 491mph top speed is reached as team continues work on studying data and effects of drag on the car under deceleration. Further damage recorded.
  • November 6 Run 8 Bloodhound LSR records target speed of 501mph
  • November 8 Run 9 Team aborts 550mph attempt after engine temperature warning

The current programme gradually built the speed of the car to 500mph to gather vast amounts of data on how the car behaves as it accelerates and slows down from these speeds.

The wheel brakes, airbrakes and drag parachutes are being deployed to slow the car to assess their effectiveness and their impact on stability. Across the car, there are 192 pressure sensors to measure airflow and to ensure that it matches up with CFD modelling. 

Once complete, the team will return to Britain to analyse the data and make any necessary adjustments ahead of a bid to Thrust SSC's 763.035mph benchmark.

The car will also be fitted with its monopropellant rocket for the full record attempt, again in the Hakskeenpan desert, which is planned for 12 to 18 months' time.

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Bloodhound LSR in South Africa

Bloodhound Land Speed Record vehicle in South Africa

Bloodhound arrives at Hakskeenpan Photo: Bloodhound LSR

The 6.4-tonne Bloodhound LSR was transported to South Africa via air freight in order to protect it against any uncontrolled shocks in transit, and then rebuilt in the desert, which included fitting its bespoke aluminium wheels.

These weigh 95kg each and are capable of spinning at 10,200rpm: up to four times faster than those of a Formula 1 car at top speed.

The speed that Bloodhound is capable of reaching will mean the wheels will rise to such an extent that they will act more similarly to the rudders of a speedboat as it nears top speed.

Bloodhound LSR engineering director Mark Chapman said the process of converting the car to be able to run in a desert has required an incredible amount of work.

“Transforming Bloodhound from a runway spec car to one capable of reaching speeds in the transonic range on the desert racetrack has been no small task. The team of engineers, craftsmen, fabricators and technicians have pulled out all the stops to upgrade the car in just a few months since the rescue from administration last December."

Preparation of the desert was no small task either: testing requires a 250 metre-wide, 10 mile-long section of the dry lake bed, cleared entirely of debris. A total of 16,500 tonnes of rock were cleared from 22 million square metres of ground by the local Mier community.

The area allows the car to run up to 25 times, on parallel tracks. It can't run over the same piece of ground twice, as the mud surface breaks up as the car rolls over it.

Side view of the Bloodhound Land Speed Record car ahead of speed trials in the South African desert in 2019

Photo: Elliot Davies

Although Bloodhound LSR is expected to be capable of breaking the current land speed record, the team is not planning to aim for the original goal — of a 1,000mph speed — during the car's initial record attempt in 12 to 18 months' time.

If it does succeed in setting a new land speed record, the data from those runs will be reviewed before a further attempt is made to hit 1,000mph.

This article is being updated as testing progresses so some comments below refer to earlier versions.


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