Published January 12, 2012
The Concorde jet airliner had a top speed of 1,350 mph. It was decommissioned in 2003 after being deemed to dangerous and expensive to continue to operate. There are no plans to replace it.
So why not build a car that can go 2,000 mph, instead?
That’s what one California man is trying to do in a garage located on the edge of the Mojave desert. Think of it as the hottest hot rod in history.
Waldo Stakes has been chasing land speed records for three decades, and now he wants the big one: World’s Fastest Car.
A general contractor by trade, Stakes has spent his free time over the past couple of years working on a 50-foot long wheeled missile called the Sonic Wind LSRV (Land Speed Record Vehicle.) His efforts, to date, have been chronicled in a number of technical publications, including Aerospace Testing magazine and Popular Mechanics.
The vehicle uses parts taken from an $8 million rocket engine that once powered the famous X-15 to a top speed of 4,519 mph in 1967, still the fastest manned aircraft that doesn’t go into orbit, as far as the public knows. He says it was purchased as surplus for $1,500 in the mid-1980s.
Stakes has designed his engine to run on a mix of methanol and liquid oxygen stored in tanks scrounged from Redstone and Corporal nuclear missiles, and claims that it will produce 60,000 pounds of thrust. That’s several thousand more than the one in the X-15 did.
With it, Stakes estimates the Sonic Wind will be able to accelerate at a rate of more than 100 mph per second and easily break the current land speed record of 763 mph set by British fighter pilot Andy Green in 1997 at the controls of the jet-powered ThrustSSC. But he has his sights set higher than that. He says his car could theoretically hit Mach 3, more than 2,200 mph.
Crazy talk? Not according to Stakes. The key is harnessing the shockwave created when a vehicle is traveling at supersonic speeds to stabilize the car, and minimizing the gyroscopic forces produced by its wheels.
With the help of a friend’s computational fluid dynamics modeling program, Stakes has come up with a unique design that features seven small, lightweight titanium wheels at the front of the car and a pair of large fixed triangular hubs at the rear with thin rims that rotate around them. A moveable airfoil and an undercar tunnel creates low pressure area beneath the car, while its bodywork and canted wings force the atmospheric shockwave to radiate out, creating virtual pontoons that work like the ones on an outrigger canoe.
Stakes says the danger zone lies in the 560-760 mph range as you approach the sound barrier, but beyond that things smooth out, which should allow even a ground vehicle to achieve much higher speeds. He points to near Mach 9 rocket sled runs carried out by the government at the Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico as proof.
A rendering of what the finished product will look like appears sleek and delicate compared to some other land speed efforts, like the multimillion-dollar British Bloodhound SSC team that is hoping to break the 1,000 mph barrier with Andy Green once again in the cockpit.
While Stakes plans to shake down the car himself, he hasn’t yet said who the driver for the record runs will be, but it definitely will not be Green. He tells FoxNews.com that he wants the Sonic Wind to set an all-American record and that there will be a woman on board when it does. He’s currently deciding which of two female F-18 pilots from the Navy has the right stuff for the job. If she or she is successful, it will mark the first time that the land speed record is held by a woman.
Stakes figures it’ll still be a couple of years before he’ll be ready to roll his underfunded project onto the Bonneville Salt Flats and light it up, but he’s confident that he will make it there. In fact, he expects to go even further than that.
While he says the 10 to 12 mile-long Bonneville Speedway is long enough to break the current record, he has his eyes on a stretch of salt on the other side of the mountains that border the track for a shot at 1,000 mph. After that, he wants to head south. Not of the border, but the equator.
Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is the largest salt flat in the world, and the only place on the planet Stakes thinks is big enough for a Mach 3 run. It’s never been used for a land speed record attempt before, but no one has ever tried to go that fast before.