Monday, September 26, 2005

Go faaaaaaaast

As part of a never ending quest for article ideas I'm currently looking at salt flat racing as something crazy and fun.

The traditional home of Salt Racing is the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA.

OK, it's just drag racing without the race. Or the 1/4 mile. Essentially it's a speed trial. Get a run up for 3 miles (4.8 Km's) be timed for 3 miles and slow down for 3 miles.

In Oz, the event takes place on Lake Gairdner. Chosen over Lake Eyre, Lake Gairdner is also a salt lake, but is not fed by any rivers or creeks (No, i don't really understand that either) and is therefore drier, flatter and harder than almost any other salt pan in the world. It's said that the ground there is so hard, seasoned campaigners take a cordless drill to help get the tent pegs in. Like, whoa.

Anyway I scoured the world and local records to find one to have a crack at (or at least report and follow a crew attempting). I'm thinking that a 125cc record would be the easiest to beat and cheapest. We'll see!

With all the great mountains climbed, sports record tainted by performance enhancing drugs and blood sports all but gone, the world land speed record is but 8 years old, scarier than hell and stands as one of the few "pushing the envelope" records left. Many have died trying. And the physics/engineering behind an attempt is in a grey area in that the variation in the behaviour of a craft as it approaches the speed of sound varies wildly from Mach .90, .91, .92 etc. It's really crazy stuff. It's aircraft fast- and perhaps that's why the record is held by a British pilot fer chrissakes! In a giant twin jet engined bohemoth called Thrust SSC:

The shockwave generated by the car passing through the sound barrier extended out 150 foot wide on each side, turning the desert into dust

Yes, that's right- the freaking SOUND BARRIER! *cue Dr Evil type voice

Some details on the car:
The car is 54ft long, 12ft wide, weighing 10.5 tons. This is serious motoring. It is powered by two Rolls-Royce Spey 202 engines, taken from a Phantom jet fighter. Power is 100,000hp.

The chief engineer, Ron Ayers had this to say about it:
Firstly, performance is not a problem with a jet-powered car. By putting a big enough engine in a small enough chassis you can go as fast as you like and God help you.

God help anyone within 10 miles of it:
...we heard the warning that engines were starting and breathed a sigh of relief. The tracks were so long that we saw the rooster tail from over the horizon before we saw the car. It entered the measured mile and came streaking towards us - by the time it was level with the spectator area it was already braking, trailing the brake-chute behind it. But we still hadn't heard a thing - just silence. Then it came, first the sound of the engines then BOOM, BOOM - two huge sonic booms which seconds later echoed off the surrounding mountains. It was reported that the booms upset pictures on the wall of the saloon in Gerlach, ten miles away but I suspect they were already crooked!

And boy was this thing smoking along:
Flying mile 763.035 mph (1227.985 kph)
Flying kilometre 1223.657 kph (760.343 mph)

That's a KILOMETRE every 2.9 seconds! The three miles to get the record took 15 seconds. And for the "pilot" that would feel like an hour. Take another look at that bloody picture above. And then this one:

Note how the shockwaves are bending the light. It's not a camera/photoshop thing, it's what happens when 100,000 horsepower* pushes a wall of air in front of it.

* about 120 F1 cars worth of power. Or 1,000 Corollas if you prefer. Or 50,000 Citroen 2CV's. Or 100,000 Phar Laps.

World Speed records
Guiness listing for Thrust
Andrew Graves was there
posted by thr at 4:45 pm


Anonymous Andrew Graves said...

Hey - thanks for linking to my site - but couldn't you just copy & paste the pics instead of linking directly? It's eating my bandwidth. Please remedy.
Andrew Graves

1/25/2006 4:29 pm  
Blogger thr said...


apologies for the bandwidth theft + the delay- only just saw this comment...

Thast was my bnad.

Thanks for use of pics.


3/27/2006 7:45 pm  

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