British Rocket Car Could Reach 1,000 MPH

It will be faster than a speeding bullet: a pencil-shaped car powered by a jet engine and a rocket, roaring across a desert at 1,000 mph.

If all goes to plan, the Bloodhound SSC will break the land speed record by the largest-ever margin, and, in 40 seconds of breathtaking thrust, inspire thousands of British schoolchildren to take their science college-entrance exams.

On Thursday, at the Science Museum in London, the project to build this car will be announced by Minister of Science Paul Drayson, who in 2006 first proposed the project to the two men who between them have held the land speed record for 25 years.

[The Bloodhound SSC project is a private-public partnership between various British goverment agencies, including the Ministry of Defense, and various universities and corporations.]

Richard Noble, engineer, adventurer, and former wallpaper salesman, reached 633 mph as he drove a turbojet-powered car named Thrust 2 across the Nevada desert. In 1997, he headed the project to build the Thrust SSC, driven by Andy Green, an RAF pilot, at 766 mph.

Drayson could understand the desire to drive fast. In his spare time, he raced his Aston Martin DBRS9 around the Silverstone Circuit racetrack in central England at up to 160 mph.

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"Andy Green was one of my personal heroes," he said. "I wanted to meet him. At the time there was a rumor that Steve Fossett [the late American businessman and aviator] was building a car that would do 800 mph. They said they could do 1,000 mph."

"I thought, wow. What's it like to drive 1,000 mph? How cool is that?"

[On this side of the Atlantic, a different team hopes to wrest the land speed record from the British. The North American Eagle marries the fuselage from an Lockheed F-104 jet fighter and a Canadian-built turbojet engine for what its backers hope will be a top speed of 800 mph.

All four aforementioned cars use jets, rockets or both to reach incredible speeds. The wheels are essentially "dead."

The record for a wheel-powered car was 458 mph, set in 2001 by brother Don and Rick Vesco in their Turbinator car at the Bonneville Salt Flats in the western Utah desert. Rick Vesco hopes to break the 500-mph barrier in the same car in 2009.

Still, the fastest land speed has to be the one set by an unmanned rocket sled on rails at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. On April 30, 2003, it reached 6,453 mph, or Mach 8.5 — something no manned vehicle is likely to break anytime soon.]

• Click here to more on this story from the Times of London.

• Click here to see video of the North American Eagle in a test run.

• Click here to see the Thrust SSC set the manned land speed world record.

• Click here to see the Turbinator take the record for wheel-powered cars.

• Click here to see the rocket sled blow them all away.