Turbine-powered motorcycle aiming for 400 mph land speed record

A turbine-powered two-wheeler built to break the motorcycle land speed record made its public debut this past weekend at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the U.K.

The “52 Express” will be driven by two-time Superbike World Champion James Toseland when it goes for the mark next year.

The record currently stands at 376.363 mph, set by Rocky Robinson in 2010, but Toseland and company have their eyes on breaking 400 mph.

Instead of riding on top of it like the Honda and Ducati bikes he used to race, Toseland will be sitting inside of an enclosed cockpit in a reclined position more like an F1 driver.

The Rolls Royce Gem turbine -- originally designed for helicopters and rated at 1,000 shaft horsepower in that application -- is placed behind the driver and sends power to the rear wheel via belt drive.

A Mickey Thompson pneumatic tire rated at 500 mph is fitted there, while a roller-coaster style cast polyurethane tire is used at the front, because no traditional tire small enough to fit can handle the type of speeds the 52 Express is aiming for.

Both will be bench tested on a custom rig to determine if they are up to the rigors of the run, while the shape of the bodywork has already been evaluated at the University of Derby for stability and proper engine breathing to help keep the turbine from stalling at speed.

But even though maximum velocity is the goal, project manager Robin Richardson -- a veteran of the supersonic Thrust SSC land speed record-holding team -- says they’ve aimed to build a safe vehicle first then make it fast, rather than try to do it the other way around.

To this end, the front and rear sections of the 52 Express carrying the engine and fuel tank are designed to break off in the event of an accident, while a safety capsule surrounding the driver and fitted with a fire suppression system offers the chance of surviving a high speed crash; a very clear and present danger the speed record world was reminded of this past Sunday when Bill Warner was killed during an attempt to break 300 mph on a sit-on bike at an airstrip in Maine.

As for where the 52 Express will make its record attempt, the team is still deciding between the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah and South Africa’s Hakskeen Pan, where another team is planning to go for overall land speed record of 763.035 mph in the four-wheel, jet and rocket-powered Bloodhound SSC later this year.

Read: Motorcyclist killed in 285 mph crash in Maine