Bloodhound SSC fires up Rolls-Royce jet engine for land speed record

British team's ultimate goal for Bloodhound is 1,000 mph

RAF ST MAWGAN, England — Fizz, whirr, shriek, pop and silence ... It took several attempts to get the Bloodhound land speed record contender started for the first time on Sept. 28. On a bright and blustery day at RAF St Mawgan in Cornwall, in southwest England, the sense of occasion was palpable, if only the damn jet engine's blades would fire up.

But the Rolls-Royce 20,232-pound-thrust turbofan wasn't going to give up its virgin status as a car engine easily. As driver, RAF pilot and current land speed record-holder Andy Green explained, the Rolls EJ200 is one of the most reliable military jet engines ever, but it's never been used before in a car.

"I can show you figures of its incredible reliability," he said, "but every bit of its control software expects it to be in a Typhoon [fighter aircraft], and we have to keep telling it that it is in an aircraft, which needs some quick-footed work on the software."

Quick-footed indeed, as right there on the RAF St Mawgan runway, without a pizza or a Coca-Cola in sight, software engineer Joe Holdsworth performed a virtuoso piece of recoding on the engine's software to persuade it not to shut down in alarm at some low-level electrical interference it simply doesn't see in its normal aeronautical environment.

Then, with just 20 minutes left of the team's running permission window, the remote jet starter cart shrieked, its air-delivery pipe bulged like an elephant's trunk blocked with a coconut and the massive turbofan spun, popped, emitted a polite ball of flame and smoked into life.

No cheers or high-fives here; this is after all a British team. But there was clear delight from the 20 engineers attendant on Bloodhound. After three successful starts, Wing Commander Green leapt from the cockpit and Mark Chapman, chief engineer, pronounced that he was well satisfied and that the sight of a jet car surging gently against its arrestor cable and wheel chocks was awesome.

"We knew it was going to take a couple of starts to get it running," said Chapman, who explained why the engine appeared so smoky at first. "This is an inhibited engine, so it was tested a couple of months ago at Rolls-Royce and basically filled with corrosion inhibitor, and you've got to blow that all through at the start. So by the second and third starts, it lit up perfectly, and Andy said it had perfect throttle control."
The scale of the achievement has to be seen against the nature of the Bloodhound, which uses the jet engine as the primary motivator, with a Nammo triple rocket motor underneath to boost the car on to an eventual target of 1,000 mph.

"This is a prototype vehicle," said Chapman, "it isn't a car you get out of a dealer, plug it in and off you go. The first time we've powered up some of these systems was today, which is just amazing."

It's a big step for the small team, which has since run the engine up to full reheat and started dynamic tests prior to Oct. 26, when it plans to run the car at speeds up to 200 mph on the 9,000-foot runway. In front of invited guests, sponsors, supporters and the media, Bloodhound will have to be on its best behavior.

Perhaps more significantly, however, the engine start is a crucial step on the road to the 11.8-mile Hakskeen Pan in South Africa next October for an attempt on the current land speed record of 763.035 mph set by Green in the Thrust SSC jet car at the Black Rock desert in 1997. If all goes to plan and the funds are in place, the team will then return to Hakskeen the following year to light up the rocket motor and take Bloodhound on to 1,000 mph.

For more information and details on how to help sponsor and have your name on the side of Bloodhound, or to attend the St Mawgan 200-mph run in October, go to

Thanks to the staff at Cafe 1 at the Cornish Aviation Heritage Centre at St Mawgan - 01637 861962.

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