Science & Environment

Bloodhound Diary: Taking stock

A British team is developing a car that will be capable of reaching 1,000mph (1,610km/h). Powered by a rocket bolted to a Eurofighter-Typhoon jet engine, the vehicle will mount an assault on the land speed record. The vehicle will be run on Hakskeen Pan in Northern Cape, South Africa, in 2015 and 2016.

Wing Commander Andy Green, world land-speed record holder, is writing a diary for the BBC News website about his experiences working on the Bloodhound project and the team's efforts to inspire national interest in science and engineering.

In July, we had some good news and bad news, depending on how you look at it.

After a project review by leading management consultants BMT HiQ Sigma, our build plan will now deliver Bloodhound SSC ready to run in 2015.

This is bad news because we’ve now got a global audience (Bloodhound is being followed in over 200 countries) waiting to see the car run. However, that’s fairly normal with cutting-edge technology development, and a 1,000 mph car is as cutting edge as it gets.

It’s also good news, because we will have a really good car two years from now. The extra time also gives us longer to develop the Education Programme (now involving over 5,400 UK schools and colleges, and some 500 volunteer Bloodhound Ambassadors), and longer to prepare the desert surface in South Africa as the world’s best race track.

Bloodhound’s strategic aim is to make science and engineering fun for a new generation. There’s a huge need to generate more scientists and engineers in the UK, and this is something that Bloodhound is already helping to achieve. As part of this effort, we were recently invited to 10 Downing Street to support the launch of a new scheme to produce 100,000 engineering apprentices over the next five years.

Bloodhound has the effect of getting anyone excited about technology – we got nearly as many questions from the Prime Minister (apparently on behalf of his children!) as we did from the apprentices. We even took our Cisco BloodhoundTV camera into No 10 and interviewed the Prime Minister, who described the key role that Bloodhound was playing in getting young people into engineering.

Image caption We’ll do 1,000mph, Prime Minister

It’s not just engineering that Bloodhound can offer. We recently held a schools competition, covering both the UK and South Africa, to design the colour schemes for the two helmets that I will use when I am driving the car.

We had the most amazing response – around 1,000 entries, with some fantastic design ideas. My only regret is that I don’t have about 10 helmets – there are so many ideas that I would like to use. However, as we were forced to chose, we finished up with two terrific designs, both of them bold and colourful. I can’t wait to see the final versions when the helmets are painted up.

This month we had the formal opening of our new Bloodhound Technical Centre in Avonmouth, Bristol. The Right Honourable David Willets, Minister for Science and Universities, opened our new workshops and even made a guest appearance in the engineering team, helping to join the first two parts of the chassis together.

He was carefully supervised by Corporal Lisah Brooking of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, who showed the Minister how to use a torque wrench to apply exactly the right amount of torque, or turning force, to bolt the monocoque and lower chassis together.

The join was measured using our Hexagion metrology equipment, which showed that the right angle joint was actually at 90.02 degrees between the 2 parts. This is extraordinary accuracy: for the 1.5m tall monocoque section, the top of the section is aligned within 0.5mm.

Image caption The Bloodhound project has now moved into its new technical centre in Avonmouth

The minister also announced an additional £1m of funding for Bloodhound-related research and for support to our Education Programme. This is great news for us, as it gives us the chance to develop some more technology which will help both Bloodhound and the UK. It will also allow us to develop our Education Programme, and to reach a wider UK and global audience.

During the opening ceremony, we heard the story of some young people who have already changed their lives after hearing about Bloodhound. To quote Rolls-Royce apprentice Jess Herbert: “It really showed what engineering is all about: the challenge, the creativity, the teamwork and the problem solving. It helped me to realise that this is the career path I wanted to follow.” This excitement over science and engineering is the “Bloodhound Effect” – this is what Bloodhound is all about.

Image caption David Willetts joins the engineering team briefly

Our engineering team was out in South Africa recently to do some more wheel testing. Hakskeen Pan, in the Northern Cape, is now a world-class track after three years of effort by the Northern Cape Government. We chose this location after a global search of dry lake beds, because it’s the best that we could find anywhere in the world. Now that we understand the quality of this surface, we can refine the wheel design to get the best out of both car and desert.

At 1,000mph, the wheels are rotating at over 10,000 RPM (about 170 times a second) and the wheel rims experience 50,000 times the force of gravity. To keep the loads down, Bloodhound’s wheels need to be as thin as possible, but they must not dig in to the surface, so we need to know how hard the desert is. The wheels should be wide enough to avoid penetrating the surface too deeply, in case we damage the wheels on stones buried under the surface. The wheels also need to be as thin as possible to reduce the aerodynamic drag – if this is too high, we won’t get to 1,000mph. Finally (and most importantly for me as the driver), the wheels need to give the right amount of sideways grip on the surface, to give the car stability.

The wheel grip will determine how much stability the car has at low speed (“low speed” is up to around 400mph). Not enough grip and the car will be very difficult to control. Too much grip and there is a risk of an accident if the car gets out of line for any reason (have a look at "How hard can it be to drive in straight line" to see why this could be a problem). The wheel profile is critical to having the right amount of grip with the correct(minimum) width of wheel. After our first set of wheel tests, we were left with the choice between two different profiles, either V-shaped or rounded.

Image caption Winning designs - 1,000mph helmets

A V-shaped wheel tread gives a very consistent level of grip whereas a rounded profile creates a very shallow footprint that avoids the stones. After testing a combination of shapes, we chose a hybrid – a V-shaped wheel with a very rounded point. This will give us the shallow footprint that we are after, with consistent lateral grip to steer the car at slow and medium(500-600mph) speeds.

The manufacture of the car continues apace. I’ve just seen the rear diffuser, which is the panel that goes underneath the car between the rear wheels. It’s a complex shape that has to take some huge loads, which explains some of the remarkable numbers involved. Nuclear AMRC started with a 480kg piece of aluminium and machined it down to a 55kg piece of engineering artwork, a task which took over 192 hours of intensive effort. They’ve made an amazing video of the process, which shows just how good British engineering really is.

After finishing the carbon fibre monocoque (my 1,000mph office) to the most astonishing level of accuracy (6 microns – 1/12 the thickness of a human hair),URT is now busy with the rest of our composites. The jet engine intake sections are now falling off the moulds at a very satisfying rate. I can’t wait to fire up the engine for the first time and make them work for a living.

Finally, I was lucky enough to go underground recently to see the build of London’s Crossrail project. This is the largest civil engineering project in Europe, with a peak workforce of 14,000 engineers. After seeing the tunnel boring machine, which is 8m across and over 150m long, and which weighs a 1,000 tonnes, you cannot help but be impressed. This is engineering at its very best, working to make life better for all of us. The only limit to this success is the number of engineers that the UK can train. This is where Bloodhound is starting to make a real difference – and we’re going to do a lot more.

Image caption Image: Bloodhound SSC

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