Craig Breedlove is best known as the first person to set land speed records above 400 mph (643.7 kph), 500 mph (804.7 kph) and 600 mph (965.6 kph) in the mid-1960s with his turbojet-powered Spirit of America and its successor, the Spirit of America Sonic 1. He later achieved a peak speed of 675 mph (1,086.3 mph) on a one-way run in his last land speed record car, the Spirit of America Sonic Arrow, in the 1990s.
The first two LSR cars were part of an intense duel from May 1963 to November 1965, primarily between Breedlove and Art Arfons, that resulted in a rapid and exciting increase of the land speed record, from John Cobb’s long-standing 16 September 1947 record of 394.196 mph (634.4 kph) in the piston-engine Railton Mobile Special, to Craig Breedlove’s 15 November 1965 record of 600.601 mph (966.6 kph) in the Spirit of America Sonic 1. In this two-and-a-half year period, there were 10 incrementally faster unofficial (not FIA certified) and official FIA land speed records. You’ll find a complete list of land speed record holders here: https://landspeedrecord.org/speed-records/
Needless to say, this was an exciting time that commanded attention to the latest news from the Bonneville salt flats.
Breedlove’s last LSR car, the Spirit of America Sonic Arrow, made its first test run on the Black Rock Desert in Gerlach, NV, on 28 October 1996. During the run, Breedlove reached a peak speed of about 675 mph (1,086 kph), but encountered higher-than-expected crosswinds that caused a dramatic high-speed U-turn that severely damaged the vehicle, which survived but was in need of significant repairs.
In 1997, the repaired Sonic Arrow experienced a series of mechanical problems during speed runs at Black Rock and program funding issues prevented Breedlove from completing another land speed record attempt.
Later in 1997, the British LSR team, which also was at Black Rock with driver Andy Green and their Thrust SSC LSR car, had a series of successful speed runs and they beat Breedlove to the milestones of setting land speed records greater than 700 mph (1,126.5 kph) and at supersonic speed (greater than 761.2 mph / 1,225 kph / Mach 1.0 at sea level at 15ºC/59ºF).
On 25 September 1997, Andy Green set a new land speed record of 714.144 mph (1149 kph / Mach 0.94), and less than a month later, set the first ever two-way supersonic land speed record at 763.035 mph (1,228 kph / Mach 1.02) on 15 October 1997. This record still stands in 2023.
After almost a decade without making another LSR run, Breedlove sold his Sonic Arrow in 2006 to adventurer Steve Fossett in 2006. Unfortunately, Fossett was killed in a September 2007 aircraft crash before being able to mount his own LSR challenge in his improved Sonic Arrow, which was rolled out in October 2007.
Craig Breedlove passed away on 4 April 2023, at the age of 86. He was an inspiration to me, and perhaps to many in my generation who shared an interest in the enormous challenges of raising the land speed record, and surviving to tell about it.
Where are these LSR cars now?
Breedlove loaned the original Spirit of America to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago where it was on display from 1965 to 2015, when the museum returned the LSR car to Breedlove, but not before inflicting significant damage to the car. Breedlove said he intended to repair the LSR car. Howerver, its current whereabouts is not known.
The Spirit of America Sonic I vehicle currently is on display at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum.
The Steve Fossett’s updated Spirit of America Sonic Arrow LSR car currently is on display in the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum in Denver.
That FIA two-way world speed record still stands, but on 1 October 2021, the Team Vesco 444 reVolt Systems streamliner, Little Giant, set a faster US national electric vehicle Class E3 record at 353.870 mph (569.499 kph) driven by Eric Ritter. This is a US national record because the team was not able to recharge to Little Giant’s batteries fast enough to enable it to make the return runs within the 60 minute time limit set by the FIA for world records. The highest recorded speed of the Little Giant on the four runs was 357.0 mph (574.5 kph).
The Little Giant was powered by two highly modified Tesla electric motors and 1,152 prismatic (not cylindrical) lithium-ion battery cells. Engine power and battery rating were not revealed. As a point of comparison, the VBB-3’s battery was rated at 2 MW.
Little Giant is a veteran streamliner that made its debut at the 1957 Bonneville Speed Week, where it reached a speed of 169 mph and received the “Best Engineered Car of the Year” award. Over the years, it has been rebuilt several times. Through 2020, Little Giant was powered by a variety of piston engines. You’ll find more history on this car here: https://www.teamvesco.com/history.html
Well done to the Team Vesco 444 reVolt Systems efforts to raise the electric car land speed record!
I’ve reported previously on the Bloodhound LSR (land speed record) car in 2015, 2017, and lastly in 2019 when driver Andy Green made a series of high-speed test runs on the Hakskeen Pan in the Kalahari Desert in South Africa. On 17 November 2019, he achieved a top speed run at 628 mph (1,010 kph). The primary goal of the 2019 test campaign was to validate vehicle design and operation during high-speed runs up to 621 mph (1,000 kph). To that, the team responded, “Mission accomplished.” You can read my post on the Bloodhound LSR’s 2019 campaign here: https://lynceans.org/all-posts/land-speed-record-lows-and-highs-in-2019/
The 2019 test runs also were intended to provide an opportunity to fine-tune Bloodhound LSR before attempting a world land speed record run in 2020. However, lack of funds in 2020 deferred installing the Nammo rocket engine needed for the land speed record attempt. The worldwide COVID pandemic further intervened, cancelling a record attempt in 2020 and 2021.
The owner, Ian Warhurst, who had previously rescued the Bloodhound LSR from insolvency and then funded the 2019 high-speed tests, put the vehicle up for sale in January 2021. On 17 May 2021, the Bloodhound LSR team and the Coventry Transport Museum in Coventry, UK, announced the Bloodhound LSR jet car had moved into a new home in the museum where it is now on public display as part of the Biffa Award Land Speed Record Exhibition.
The Bloodhound LSR team reported, “….the sponsorship team are busy raising the funding required to attempt a new world land speed record, with a speed above 800mph. Once the required funding and investment has been raised, Bloodhound will leave the museum and be prepared for the record-breaking campaign.”
In the Biffa Award Land Speed Record Exhibition at the Coventry Transport Museum, Bloodhound LSR joins two UK world land speed record holders: Thrust2 and ThrustSSC.
On 4 October 1983, Richard Noble drove the Thrust2 to a world land speed record two-way average speed of 633.468 mph (1,019.468 kph) in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, USA.
On 15 October 1997, Andy Green drove the ThrustSSC to a new land speed record and broke the sound barrier with a speed of 763mph (Mach 1.020, 1,228 kph) in the Black Rock Desert. This occurred 50 years after Captain “Chuck” Yeager, flying the Bell X-1 rocket-powered aircraft, made the first supersonic flight on 14 October 1947.
My 11 December 2018 post, “Lots of Land Speed Record (LSR) Action in 2018,” provides background information on land speed record governance and a look at the fastest cars competing in the 2018 LSR season. 2018 highlights included:
The North American Eagle team, with driver Jessi Combs, continued to extend the performance of their jet-powered LSR car on a track in the Alvord Desert in Oregon.
The Bloodhound team in the UK was saved from insolvency, literally at the last moment, when the business and assets were bought by Yorkshire-based entrepreneur Ian Warhurst.
Salt conditions at the Bonneville salt flats in Utah were very good and many speed records were broken.
The North American Eagle LSR car crashed during a high-speed run in the Alvord Desert in August, killing driver Jessi Combs.
The salt conditions at the Bonneville salt flats were poor, resulting in rough driving conditions and generally lower speeds during Bonneville Speed Week (August) and the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association (USFRA) World of Speed (September). The Bonneville World Finals (October) were cancelled because of wet conditions.
The Carbinite LSR car, the Carbiliner, crashed during a high-speed run at the World of Speed 2019 in September, severely injuring driver Rob Freyvogel.
The 29th Annual Speed Week at Lake Gairdner, Australia in March had only one run over 300 mph (483 kph) in hot, dry conditions.
Now with proper financing, the Bloodhound LSR team transitioned to the next phase of the project, arriving at the Hakskeen Pan track in South Africa in October and conducting high-speed testing, which concluded successfully in November.
Let’s take a look at the 2019 LSR season in more detail.
1. North American Eagle
In August 2019, the North American Eagle team, with driver Jessi Combs, returned to the Alvord Desert in Oregon to attempt to break the official Women’s Land Speed Record set by Kitty O’Neil in 1976 with a two-way average speed of 512.710 mph (825.127 kph) in the rocket-powered SMI Motivator at the same venue. The North American Eagle team website is here: https://www.landspeed.com
An investigation into the cause of the crash revealed that the front wheel assembly of the car collapsed, possibly due to collision damage from hitting something on the track at high speed.
North American Eagle Crew Chief Les Holm reported Jessi Combs’ second run was measured at a speed of 548.342 mph (882.471 kph), yielding a two-way average speed of 531.889 mph (855.992 kph). Hemmings news reported that the North American Eagle team has submitted Jessi Combs’s two-way average speed results to the Guinness Book of World Records to claim the title of fastest woman on the planet.
It is not yet known if Jessi Combs’ two-way average speed will qualify as an official FIA world land speed record.
The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles held an exhibition entitled “Jessi Combs: Life at Full Speed” to commemorate the life and accomplishments of this extraordinary person.
In June 2020, the Guinness World Record was posthumously awarded to Jessi Combs, declaring: “The fastest land speed record (female) is 841.338 kph (522.783 mph), and was achieved by Jessi Combs (USA) in the Alvord Desert, Oregon, USA, on 27 August 2019. Jessi is the first person to break this record in more than 40 years.” This record is posted on the Guinness World Records website here: https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/fastest-land-speed-record-(female)
2. Bonneville Speed Week 2019: 13 – 15 August 2019
Now let’s look at a few of the top challengers at Speed Week 2019.
At the Bonneville World Finals in 2018, Team Vesco’s gas turbine powered Turbinator II, with Dave Spangler driving, made a one-way run through the measured mile of 493.996 mph (795.009 kph), with an exit speed of 503.332 mph (810.034 kph). Turbinator II became the world’s first wheel-driven vehicle to exceed 500 mph and 800 kph.
In 2019, Dave Spangler was unable to complete a single run with Turbinator II during Bonneville Speed Week 2019. Three runs on the 2-mile “short” course were attempted on 14 – 15 August, but none were completed, for a variety of issues. You can watch a short video about Team Vesco at Speed Week 2019 here:
After Speed Week 2019, Team Vesco reported, “In the interest of safety and to correct our course while navigating toward our goal to become the first wheel driven car to set an official National or World record over 500 MPH, we must discontinue racing for the remainder of 2019. To improve our team, we have already begun a search for a company with turbine control engineering capabilities to partner with us.” You’ll find more information on the Team Vesco website here: https://www.teamvesco.com
George Poteet’s Speed Demon is a blown (supercharged or turbocharged) fuel (not gasoline) streamliner (BFS) that currently holds two-way land-speed records in five out of seven of Bonneville’s BFS classes: A, B, C, D and F. The two remaining classes are AA/BFS and E/BFS. The team’s goals for 2019 were to achieve records in these remaining classes and to raise its fastest two-way speed record to over 480 mph (772 kph). The teams current record, set in 2013, stands 437.183 mph (703.578). You can read more about these plans in the following Motor Tend article: https://www.hotrod.com/articles/pottet-speed-demon-aims-480-mph-bonneville/
To compete in several different classes, Speed Demon is designed to accommodate several different displacement engines that have been configured to fit inside the car’s svelte fuselage. At Speed Week 2019, the team had four different Duttweiler engines to challenge BFS records in Classes A, AA, C and E.
A “big block” 555 cubic inch Chevy engine for class AA/BFS, rated at around 3,200 hp at 8,000 rpm and 34 pounds of boost.
An intermediate size 368 cubic inch Chevy engine for class C/BFS.
A “small block,” 256 cubic inch Chevy engine for class E/BFS: dyno tested to 2,632 hp at 9,640 rpm and 51 pounds of boost.
Here’s a photo of the Class A Duttweiler 443 CID LS Bonneville engine configured for Speed Demon.
Speed Demonwas the only car that made runs over 300 mph (483 kph) during Speed Week 2019. On the “long” course, which was shortened to two miles because of poor salt conditions, Speed Demon achieved the following speeds:
13 Aug 2019: 300.648 mph (483.846 kph) and 332.815 mph (535.614 kph) with the E “small block” engine
15 Aug 2019: 369.533 mph (594.706 kph) with the AA “big block” engine
None of these runs broke an existing class speed record. However, Speed Demon and George Poteet were honored with the Hot Rod Magazine trophy for fastest run during Speed Week 2019.
Tom Flattery’s Salt Shark, a Class B blown gas (gasoline) streamliner (B/BGS), made its first appearance at Bonneville Speed Week 2019. The Salt Shark is powered by a twin-turbo, 427 cubic inch, fuel injected LSX engine from Golen Engine Service in New Hampshire. Salt Shark reached a maximum speed of 290.568 mph (467.624 kph) on 15 August 2019, making it the second fastest car at Speed Week 2019 after Speed Demon. You’ll find more information on the Salt Shark Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/Bonneville-Salt-Shark-226594851348688/
The Treit and Davenport Target 550 is a Class AA blown fuel streamliner (AA/BFS). At Bonneville Speed Week 2019, new driver Valerie Thompson took the car to a maximum speed of 270.762 mph (435.749 kph) on 15 August 2019. Rough salt conditions prevented a return run.
At the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association’s (USFRA) World of Speed event in October 2019, rough salt conditions persisted. The team reported, “On its first run, the car was bouncing up and down and bottoming almost from the start line. Valerie clocked at 291 mph (468 kph), but the car went airborne due to the rough course. Parts broke, damaging both engines. The drag chutes deployed properly and the car came to a safe stop. Thankfully no one was hurt.”
In January 2020, the Treit and Davenport team plans to ship Target 550 to Australia. With Valerie Thompson driving, the team will challenge the world speed record for its class in March 2020 during Speed Week at Australia’s Lake Gairdner.
3. Utah Salt Flats Racing Association (USFRA) World of Speed 2019: 16 – 16 September 2019
Like Bonneville Speed Week 2019, the USFRA World of Speed 2019 was affected by wet salt conditions. Results are posted on the USFRA website here: https://saltflats.com
Only three cars reached speeds greater than 300 mph (483 kph) on runs during World of Speed 2019. One of them, the Carbinite LSR car, the Carbiliner, was destroyed in a high-speed crash and the driver was seriously injured.
Let’s take a look at the three fastest LSR cars at this meet.
Carbinite LSR – Carbiliner
The Carbiliner is a Class AA blown fuel streamliner (AA/BFS). In 2018, it was one of five LSR vehicles to exceed 400 mph (644 kph) during Bonneville Speed Week, making runs of 406.750 mph (654.601 kph) and 413.542 mph (665.531 kph).
At World of Speed 2019, the Carbiliner, driven by Rob Freyvogel, crashed during a high-speed run on 15 September 2019. The car had been measured at an average speed of 392 mph (631 kph) and was still accelerating heading into the final mile of the long course when the crash occurred. While the rugged structure of the cockpit provided some protection, Rob Freyvogel was seriously injured.
The Strasburg family’s LSR car is a Class C blown fuel lakester (C/BFL). With almost perfect salt conditions at Bonneville in 2018, the Strasburg family set a new world land speed record for a lakester (an open-wheeled car) with an average speed of 373 mph (600 kph).
At World of Speed 2019, this lakester, driven by Anita Strasburg, exceeded 300 mph (483 kph) on several runs. On the best run, Anita Strasburg recorded 347.484 mph (559.221 kph) in the last (3rd) mile with an exit speed of 350.493 mph (564.064 kph).
The Beamco is a Class D unblown gas streamliner (D/GS) owned by Team Vesco and driven by Bob Blakely.
In the following video, you can take a ride aboard the Beamco streamliner as Bob Blakely raised the D/GS 2-way average speed record to 312.664 mph (503.184 kph) during the World of Speed 2019 in rough course conditions.
Blakely also became a new 300 mph Club member.
4. Bonneville World Finals 2019
On 28 September 2019, Bill Lattin, SCTA President, reported: “Unfortunately Mother Nature is at again. We were able to drag a good course and now there is standing water on it. Due to the weather forecast coming we have decided to cancel World Finals.”
5. Bloodhound LSR
After being rescued from insolvency in December 2018 by Ian Warhurst, a new company called Grafton LSR Ltd. was formed in March 2019 to be the car’s legal owner. The team was renamed “Bloodhound LSR” and the team headquarters were moved to the UK Land Speed Record Center in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, UK. The Bloodhound LSR website is here: https://www.bloodhoundlsr.com
The configuration of the jet + rocket-propelled Bloodhound LSR is shown in the following diagram.
The team’s goal for 2019 was to conduct high-speed testing of the Bloodhound LSR at the intended land speed record venue, the Hakskeen Pan in South Africa. The Bloodhound LSR team states that high-speed testing is “needed to allow the team to test many aspects of the car and all operational procedures in advance of the world land speed record runs, currently planned for late 2020.”Hakskeen Pan is a very flat dry lake bed with the world’s largest “unworked” saltpan. A test track measuring 20 km (12.4 miles) long and 1,100 meters (0.68 mile) wide has been established on the saltpan for use by Bloodhound LSR. The layout of the test track on Hakskeen Pan is show in the following diagram. For more information on this test track, see my 8 September 2015 post, “Just How Flat is Hakskeen Pan?” here: https://lynceans.org/all-posts/just-how-flat-is-hakskeen-pan/
For the high-speed test phase, the Bloodhound LSR was propelled only by its EJ200 jet engine, which is rated at 90 kN (20,230 pounds) of thrust. This engine is based on Rolls-Royce gas turbine engine technology and is built by the EuroJet Turbo GmbH consortium. The Nammo hybrid rocket engine was not installed for the 2019 high-speed tests.
High-speed testing was completed on 17 November 2019 with a 628 mph (1,010 kph) run. The team was pleased to report, “Mission accomplished.” You can watch a short video of this final high-speed test run here.
BBC reported, “The car’s costs are currently being underwritten by wealthy Yorkshire businessman Ian Warhurst. He says the next phase of the project will have to be funded by others, most likely corporate sponsors….. ‘With the high-speed testing phase concluded, we will now move our focus to identifying new sponsors and the investment needed to bring Bloodhound back out to Hakskeen Pan in the next 12 to 18 months’ time.’”
Development continues on the hybrid rocket engine that will be added to the Bloodhound LSR for the next set of high-speed runs at Hakskeen Pan.
You’ll find my previous posts on the Bloodhound LSR team and car here:
6. 29th Annual Speed Week at Lake Gairdner, Australia
Speed Week at Lake Gairdner was held from 4 to 8 March 2019 in hot, dry weather with fair salt conditions. There was only one run over 300 mph (483 kph) at this meet. Jim Knapp’s #1584, the Knappsters Streamliner, which is a Class AA blown fuel streamliner (AA/BFS), made the top speed run of the meet at 309.438 mph (497.994 kph).
The record for the top speed run at the Annual Speed Week at Lake Gairdner was set in 2018 by Les Davenport driving the Treit and Davenport Target 550, another AA/BFS, at 345.125 mph (555.425 kph). Track conditions and weather were excellent in 2018. The Treit and Davenport team is planning to be back in 2020.
7. The world’s fastest piston-powered car, Challenger 2, is for sale
Challenger 2 is a Class AA unblown fuel streamliner (AA/FS). Danny Thompson’s record-setting 448.757 mph (722.204 kph) average runs in Challenger 2 during Bonneville Speed Week 2018 set a new official world land speed record for piston-powered cars.
8. 1959 Mooneyes Moonliner on display at Speed Week 2019
At Bonneville Speed Week 2019, the beautiful 1959 Mooneyes Moonliner, built by Jocko Johnson for Dean Moon, was on display. This streamliner originally was powered by an Allison V-12 aircraft engine; later replaced by a fuel-injected, big-block Chevrolet engine. You can follow the Moonliner on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/Mooneyes/
The Moonliner was only run for exhibitions and car shows, and never competed at any speed trials. Nonetheless, the Moonliner is an exotic piece of rolling automotive art that could have been an exciting Class AA unblown gas streamliner (AA/GS).
In 1974, the Moonliner, powered by the big-block Chevrolet engine, driven by Gary Gabelich, and painted red and black (Budweiser colors) was at the Bonneville salt flats for a publicity run for Budweiser. The Moonliner is reported to have reached 285 mph (458 kph) during this event.
You’ll find many historic photos of the Moonliner at Bonneville in 1974 on the Getty Images website at the following link. Be sure to check out the photos of the unusual exhaust system.
The first land speed record (LSR) at greater than 400 mph (643.7 kph) was set on 17 July 1964 by UK driver Donald Campbell in the wheel-driven, gas turbine-powered streamliner named Bluebird CN7. Regarding his new official land speed record of 403.10 mph (648.73 kph) in the measured mile, a disappointed Campbell is reported to have said, “We’ve made it – we got the bastard at last.” Campbell thought the Bluebird CN7 was capable of much higher speeds, but did not mount another LSR challenger with that car.
This year, 54 years after Campbell’s record run, Team Vesco’s Turbinator II became the first wheel-driven vehicle to exceed 500 mph (804.7 kph). In addition, there are several LSR contenders in diverse vehicle designs that regularly are making runs in the 400 – 500 mph range. Donald Campbell might be impressed with the current state of the “sport.” Let’s take a look at what’s happened in 2018.
1. Governing land speed records
The FIA (Fédération Internationale de L’Automobile) establishes the process for making world land speed record (LSR) attempts and certifying the resulting speeds. FIA record attempts are standardized over a fixed length course (mile and kilometer) and averaged over two runs in opposite directions that must be completed within one hour. The FIA’s home page for land speed records is at the following link:
The FIA defines four basic categories of LSR vehicles:
Category A LSR vehicles are purpose-built, wheel-driven automobiles that may be powered by any of a variety of engines, including Otto cycle (4-cycle), Diesel cycle (2-cycle), rotary, electrical, gas turbine, or steam, or any hybrid combination of these engines.
Category B LSR vehicles are derived from series production automobiles, with the same basic engine options as Category A (as long as you can stuff it into a series production automobile).
Category C applies to “special automobiles,” including LSR vehicles that are not wheel-driven, but instead are powered by the thrust of jet and/or rocket engines.
Category D LSR vehicles are drag racing automobiles.
Within Categories A and B, the FIA defines Groups based on fuel type and Classes based on engine displacement and vehicle weight. In Category C, Groups may be defined based on engine type.
World motorcycle LSR records are managed separately by the FIM (Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme).
In contrast to FIA LSR rules, US National land speed records are the average of two runs going in the same direction over a two-day period. The rationale is that national events such as Bonneville Speed Week involve too many vehicles to swap directions on the course in less than 60 minutes. The basic processes defined by the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) and used during Speed Week are as follows:
For each run on the Bonneville five-mile long course, five different speeds are determined:
The first speed reported is referred to as the “quarter” and is the average speed over a 1,320-foot (quarter mile) timing trap that starts at the 2-mile marker.
Next, times are recorded and average speeds are determined over three flying mile intervals: from mile 2 to mile 3, from mile 3 to mile 4 (the “middle mile”), and from mile 4 to mile 5. Official time slips refer to these as Mile 3, Mile 4, and Mile 5.
The final timing number is called “exit speed”, or terminal speed, which is an average speed measured over a 132-foot trap at the end of Mile 5.
When a car makes a first run at a speed greater than an existing record, it goes into “impound,” where the following process applies:
After being impounded, the team has four hours to work on the car.
The team must be back at the track by 6 AM the next day, when it has another hour of prepare the car for the second run (i.e., add fuel, ice coolant, etc.).
The car must be at the start line by 7 AM, ready to make its second run.
If the average between the two runs is greater than the existing record, a new National record is awarded.
The SCTA defines several vehicle categories, with their Category A (special construction vehicles) being comparable to FIA Category A.
2. Category C LSR contenders in 2018
Category C LSR contenders, with jet or rocket propulsion, have been the fastest LSR vehicles in the world since Craig Breedlove set the absolute land speed record at 407.447 mph (655.722 kph) in the measured mile at Bonneville on 5 August 1963 in the turbojet-powered, three-wheeled Spirit of America. The FIA considered this to be an unofficial record because Spirit of America only had three wheels. This record later was ratified by the FIM. Since 1963, six other Category C LSR vehicles have held the absolute land speed record: Wingfoot Express, Green Monster, Spirit of America Sonic 1, Blue Flame, Thrust2 and ThrustSSC (supersonic car).
The current FIA absolute land speed records are:
763.035 mph (1,227.986 kph) for the measured mile, and
760.343 mph (1,223.657 kph) for the measured kilometer
These records were set on 15 October 1997 by the UK LSR vehicle Thrust SSC, which completed the required two runs in opposite directions within one hour on a track in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. Thrust SSC was driven by Andy Green when it became the first supersonic LSR vehicle, achieving an average speed through the measured gates of Mach 1.016.
In 2018, the two primary Category C LSR contenders were the UK Bloodhound SSC, which is under development and successfully completed low speed trials (> 200 mph, 322 kph), and the US North American Eagle, which has been running for many years and has reached a maximum speed of > 500 mph (805 kph). Following is a brief review of these Category C LSR programs.
Bloodhound SSC – Did it die in 2018, or is there still hope?
In posts in March 2015, September 2015 and January 2017, I reported on the ambitious UK project to create a 1,000 mph land speed record car known as the Bloodhound SSC.
In 2006, Lord Drayson, the UK Minister of Science, proposed developing a new UK LSR vehicle to LSR holders Richard Noble (Thrust 2) and Andy Green (Thrust SSC). This led to the formation of the Bloodhound SSC project, which was announced on 23 October 2008, along with an associated education component designed to inspire future generations to take up careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The Bloodhound SSC project website is here:
Original plans were for the Bloodhound SSC to make its LSR runs on the Hakskeen Pan in South Africa (see my March 2015 post), with initial trial runs starting in 2016. As development of Bloodhound SSC continued, the dates for the initial LSR runs slipped gradually to 2017, 2018 and most recently to the end of 2019.
In 2017, Bloodhound SSC conducted five weeks of testing, including its first successful public “shakedown” run on 26 October 2017, on the 9,000 foot (1.67 mile, 2.7 km) runway at the Cornwall Airport in Newquay, UK. Powered by its Rolls-Royce EJ200 jet engine and driven by Andy Green, Bloodhound SSC reached a modest top speed of 210 mph (378 kph) on this short runway.
You’ll find a YouTube video of the Newquay trial runs here:
The trials at Newquay demonstrated the satisfactory performance of vehicle systems and provided confidence for further development and testing. In 2018, Bloodhound SSC remained in the UK, but no further trial runs were made.
In 15 October 2018, Bloodhound Programme Ltd., the UK company behind the Bloodhound SSC, entered into “administration,” which is comparable to a Chapter 11 filing in the US and is intended to give a company in financial difficulties protection from creditors for a limited period while it attempts to reorganize and seek new financing. Bloodhound Programme Ltd. was seeking about $33 million (about £25 million) to fund the program through the actual land speed record attempts in South Africa in 2020 – 2021.
On 7 December 2018, BBC News reported that the attempts to reorganize had failed. Joint administrator Andrew Sheridan reported, “Despite overwhelming public support, and engagement with a wide range of potential and credible investors, it has not been possible to secure a purchaser for the business and assets.” You can read the BBC report here:
Plans are being implemented to return or sell assets. Driver Andy Green said the Bloodhound SSC vehicle was now available for sale at a price of about £250,000 ($318,275).
Let’s hope that the Bloodhound SSC project can find a last minute investor and a route to recovery.
North American Eagle – Continuing to make progress in 2018
Ed Shadle and Keith Zanghi started the North American Eagle LSR project 20 years ago, in 1998. Their idea was to take a surplus Lockheed F-104 jet fighter fuselage with a General Electric J-79 jet engine and afterburner and create a viable absolute LSR challenger. The result of their efforts, with assistance from a team of volunteers and support from many sponsors, is the North American Eagle LSR vehicle shown below.
You can view a YouTube video on the North American Eagle LSR program here:
Here’s a shorter video of the September 2016 speed run in the Alvord Desert in Oregon. During this run, driver Jessi Combs achieved a maximum speed of 477.59 mph (768.60 kph):
The North American Eagle team website reports: “To date, we have made over 57 test runs, already attaining a top speed of 515 mph. This is only the beginning though. In September 2018, with Jessi Combs at the helm, she made a 483.227 mph (run). In 2019 she will attempt (to exceed) the 512 mph Fastest Woman record, as well as the single engine speed record. Both of these are major milestones on the road to 800 mph.”
Founder Ed Shadle died on 7 September 2018. Jessi Combs is now the primary driver and the team is expecting to continue its LSR program in 2019.
3. Category A LSR contenders in 2018
At the beginning of 2018, the FIA land speed record for wheel-driven, piston-powered vehicles was held by Speed Demon, which set the record on 17 September 2012:
439.024 mph (706.540 kph) for the measured mile, and
439.562 mph (707.408) kph for the measured kilometer
The FIA record for wheel-driven, turbine-powered vehicles was held by Turbinator, which set the record on 18 October 2001:
458.444 mph (737.794 kph) for the measured mile, and
458.196 mph (737.395 kph) for the measured kilometer
2018 was an exciting year in Category A, with the two primary Category A LSR contenders, Challenger 2 and Turbinator II, raising their respective speed records for wheel-driven vehicles and Turbinator II making the first unofficial Category A one-way run at > 500 mph (805 kph). Five different LSR vehicles made runs at > 400 mph (644 kph) during the SCTA Bonneville Speed Week, which was held from 11 – 17 August 2018:
At the rain foreshortened Bonneville World Finals held on 2 October 2018, the following three LSR vehicles made runs at > 400 mph (644 kph):
Eddie’s Chop Shop streamliner
Following is a brief review of these Category A LSR programs.
You’ll find the complete results from Speed Week 2018, World Finals 2018 and other SCTA events on their website:
Challenger 2 – Raised the wheel-driven, piston engine LSR in 2018
On 9 September 1960, Mickey Thompson, driving the four-engine, wheel-driven Challenger 1 streamliner, achieved a one-way speed of 406.60 mph (654.36 kph) in the flying mile on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Unfortunately, Challenger 1 was was unable to make the second run required by the FIA for an official land speed record. Thus, the existing absolute and Category A LSRs set on 16 September 1947 by John Cobb driving the Railton Mobile Express continued to stand at 394.19 mph (634.39 kph) for the measured mile and 394.196 mph (643.196 kph) for the measured kilometer.
Cobb’s absolute LSR was eclipsed on 5 August 1963 by Craig Breedlove, driving the turbojet-powered (Category C, not wheel-driven) Spirit of America to a speed of 407.447 mph (655.722 kph) in the measured mile on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
The following year, Cobb’s wheel-driven LSR was further eroded on 17 July 1964 when Donald Campbell set a Category A record of 403.10 mph (648.73 km/h) in the measured mile in the wheel-driven, Proteus gas turbine-powered Bluebird CN7 on the dry salt bed at Lake Eyre, Australia.
Cobb’s wheel-driven, piston engine LSR record and Campbell’s wheel-driven LSR both fell on 12 November 1965 when Bob Summers drove the four-engine Goldenrod LSR car to 409.277 mph (658.526 kph) in the measured mile on the Bonneville Salt Flats. By then, several turbojet-powered Category C LSR vehicles and had raised the absolute LSR to more than 555 mph (893 kph).
In an effort to regain the Category A LSR crown, Mickey Thompson built the greatly improved Challenger 2 for a planned LSR challenge in 1968. The unblown (not supercharged), two-engine Challenger 2 ran at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1968 with trial speeds approaching 400 mph (644 kph), but rain prevented an LSR run that year. Following the loss of key LSR sponsors in 1969, Mickey Thompson mothballed the Challenger 2 for almost two decades.
Mickey Thompson and son Danny removed Challenger 2 from storage in January 1988 and developed plans for a 1989 LSR challenge. These plans were cancelled following the tragic murder of Mickey Thompson and his wife in March 1988. Once again, Challenger 2 was placed in long-term storage. In 2010, Danny Thompson began efforts to prepare Challenger 2 for an LSR run intended to “vindicate his father’s faith in the streamliner.” The modernized Challenger 2 retained the original chassis and hand-formed aluminum skin, resulting in an almost unchanged external appearance. The original engines and drive trains were removed and replaced by more powerful dry block, nitromethane-fueled, unblown Hemi V8 engines in an all-wheel drive configuration. Other modifications were made to comply with current FIA and SCTA regulations for LSR attempts. You’ll find details on the updated Challenger 2 on the Thompson LSR website here:
Challenger 2 test runs started in June 2014 and speed runs on Bonneville’s full-length course began in September 2014.
On 12 August 2018, during Bonneville Speed Week and 50 years after its original runs at Bonneville, Challenger 2 driven by Danny Thompson set a new class record of 448.757 mph (772.204 kph) for the measured mile, breaking the record held by Speed Demon since September 2012. This record currently stands as the fastest overall wheel-driven, piston-powered land speed record. You can view a YouTube video on the Challenger racing team and the 2018 LSR run here:
The Challenger 2 is now retired. Thank you Danny Thompson for resurrecting this amazing car and mounting a successful LSR challenge. Your Dad, Mickey Thompson, would be very proud of you and your team.
Turbinator II – Raised the wheel-driven vehicle LSR record in 2018
Team Vesco has been a long-time contender in land speed record racing. You’ll find a history of and their many projects and LSR challenges on the team website here:
Team Vesco introduced the original Turbinator to the public in 1996 with the goals of setting a new wheel-driven LSR and becoming the first wheel-driven vehicle to exceed 500 mph. Turbinator was powered by a single, stock 3,750 hp Lycoming T55 gas turbine engine (a former turboshaft helicopter engine) delivering power to a four-wheel drive system. On 18 October 2001, the Turbinator, driven by Don Vesco, eclipsed Donald Campbell’s 37-year old land speed record, raising the FIA Category A LSR to 458.440 mph (737.788 kph).
A 2011 paper in the University of Leicester (UK) Journal of Physics Special Topics, by Back, Brown, Hall and Turner, estimated the top speeds of the Turbinator to be 486 mph (782 kph) and its follow-on, the Turbinator II with a 4,400 hp engine, to be 509 mph (819 kph). You can read this paper here:
Turbinator II is an update of the original Turbinator, using an uprated Lycoming gas turbine delivering somewhere between 4,300 – 5,000 hp power to all four wheels. You can see what a high speed run in Turbinator II looks like in the following video made on 13 August 2018 when driver Dave Spangler raised the fastest mile speed to 463.038 mph (745.187 kph) during Bonneville Speed Week.
Just six weeks after Danny Thompson raised the LSR for wheel-driven, piston-engine vehicles to 448.757 mph (772.204 kph) with Challenger 2, Team Vesco raised the wheel-driven vehicle National class record to 482.646 mph (776.743 kph) on 15 September 2018 with Dave Spangler driving Turbinator II at the Bonneville World of Speed time trials hosted by the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association (USFRA).
Read more about this Turbinator II LSR record for wheel-driven vehicles at:
At the Bonneville World Finals on 2 October 2018, Turbinator II made a one-way run through the measured mile of 493.996 mph (795.009 kph), with an exit speed of 503.332 mph (810.034 kph). Turbinator II became the world’s first wheel-driven vehicle to exceed 500 mph and 800 kph. Weather precluded making the second run needed for an official record. You can view this speed run here:
With continuing improvements being made to the vehicle, Turbinator II appears to be a good candidate for being the first LSR vehicle to set an FIA land speed record at > 500 mph.
On 17 September 2012, Speed Demon, driven by George Poteet at Bonneville, established an FIA Category A land speed record of 439.024 mph (706.540 kph) for the measured mile and 439.562 mph (707.408 kph) for the measured kilometer. For this record run, Speed Demon was powered by a turbocharged, 2,200 hp, 368 cubic inch small block Chevy engine driving the rear wheels. This record stood until 12 August 2018 when it was eclipsed by Danny Thompson in the Challenger 2.
The original Speed Demon was destroyed on 12 September 2014 after a crash at 375 mph (606 kph) during a speed run at Bonneville, possibly due to a temporary loss of traction on the salt track. You can read a synopsis of George Poteet’s recollection of this crash here:
In an all-new Speed Demon II, George Poteet returned to land speed racing in 2016. The new Speed Demon is powered by a single, twin-turbocharged, small-block V8 engine delivering over 2,600 hp to the rear wheels. You’ll find details on Speed Demon’s V8 piston engine here:
Flashpoint streamliner made its debut on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2013. It is powered by a 482 cubic inch, nitromethane burning blown Hemi V8. In its 2013 debut, the streamliner achieved a top speed of 395 mph (636 kph). The team has announced a goal of exceeding 500 mph (805 kph).
The Flashpoint team homepage is at the following Facebook site:
On 16 September 2018, during the USFRA World of Speed at Bonneville, the Flashpoint Streamliner achieved a speed of 436.308 mph (702.170 kph) on its first run of the five-mile long course, with an exit speed of 451.197 mph (726.131 kph). On the second run, a tire failed at 427 mph (687 kph), causing a spectacular rollover crash. Fortunately (and incredibly), driver Robert Dalton was uninjured.
You can read more about the crash at the following link:
Hopefully, the Flashpoint team will rebuild and we’ll see the next iteration of the potent Flashpoint Streamliner back in action in the future.
Carbinite LSR streamliner (Carbiliner)
The Carbiliner was designed and built over a seven-year period and made its first appearance at the Bonneville Speed Week in 2016. It is a radically designed Category A streamliner, similar in design to successful Category C jet- and rocket-powered LSR vehicles from the early 1970s. The Carbininte LSR team notes:
“Past efforts and current mindset in building Streamliners has focused on keeping the car aerodynamically neutral (no lift or downforce). This necessitates the addition of significant amounts of ballast to obtain enough traction for acceleration, resulting in two problems:
The racing surface at Bonneville is not as flat as it once was due to deterioration of the salt. This causes the car to skip across the salt at higher speeds, breaking traction.
The increased weight of the cars leads to slower acceleration. Cars may run out of track prior to reaching maximum speed.
The Carbinite LSR Streamliner design has addressed these problems.”
On means is through the use of active aerodynamic control surfaces on the rear wings (NACA 66-018 profile) that support the rear wheels and house the drive shafts. The control surfaces are designed to generate over 3,000 pounds (1,361 kg) of downforce with minimum drag. At low speed, the aerodynamic control surfaces are “full-up” at the start of acceleration. As speed increases, the flaps are lowered to maintain the same amount of downforce. The flaps, speed-based boost control and fuel injection are managed by a Holley engine control unit (ECU).
The Carbiliner is powered by a single, twin-turbocharged, 540 cubic inch Chevy V8 burning methanol (starting in 2017) and delivering 2,400 – 2,800 hp to the the unsprung (no suspension) rear wheels. You’ll find a good technical description of the vehicle here:
The team’s primary goal is “to break the 500 mph barrier at the next Bonneville Speed Week and become the fastest wheel driven car on the planet”. In 2018, it was one of five LSR vehicles to exceed 400 mph during Speed Week, making runs of 406.750 mph (654.601 kph) and 413.542 mph (665.531 kph). The team has work to do, but this radical LSR may have the potential to achieve their primary goal.
You’ll find more information on the Carbinite LSR team home page is here:
Like the Bloodhound SSC project, the Carbinite LSR team has established an education program “to excite the next generation of students about careers in STEM, and to inspire students to think big! Our program is geared for high school physics and shop students, as well as college engineering students.” You’ll find a good video describing the Carbiliner’s aerodynamics and the STEM education program here:
Eddie’s Chop Shop streamliner
Ed Umland, of Orangevale, CA, reportedly built his 29-foot blown gas, aluminum bodied streamliner in 18 months with the goal of being able to exceed 400 mph at Bonneville. The streamliner is powered by a single, twin-turbo, 439 cubic inch V8 engine driving the rear wheels.
On 2 October 2018, during the foreshortened Bonneville World Finals, this streamliner achieved a speed of 403.996 mph (650.169 kph) in the measured mile, with an exit speed of 411.209 mph (661.777 kph). Ed Umland has achieved his original goal, and his streamliner appears to have the potential to achieve higher speeds in the future.
You can view a short YouTube video of the Eddie’s Chop Shop streamliner running at Bonneville here.
More information is available on the Eddie’s Chop Shop Facebook page here:
The upper echelon of land speed racing is alive and well, in spite of the likely demise of the Category C Bloodhound SSC program. There is great competition among the Category A wheel-driven LSR contenders in the 400 – 500 mph range, with records being raised in 2018 and the 500 mph and 800 kph “barriers” being broken for the first time. Next year should be pretty interesting, especially if the salt flats are in good condition.
I hope the Bloodhound SSC program will get a last-minute (last second) reprieve and, as in the 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, be able to say, “I’m not dead yet.”
25 December 2018 Christmas Day Update: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
On Monday 17th December, the Bloodhound Project announced that its business and assets were bought by Yorkshire-based entrepreneur Ian Warhurst, who stated: “I am delighted to have been able to safeguard the business and assets, preventing the project breakup. I know how important it is to inspire young people about science, technology, engineering and math, and I want to ensure BLOODHOUND can continue doing that into the future.”
Thank you Ian Warhurst for your Christmas gift to the Bloodhound Team and the land speed racing community.
Venturi Buckeye Bullet-3 (VBB-3) is an all-electric, four wheel drive, land speed record (LSR) car that has been designed to exceed 400 mph (643.7 km/h). The organizations involved in this project are:
This Monaco-based company is a leader in the field of high performance electric vehicles. Read more at the Venturi website at the following link:
Ohio State University (OSU) Center for Automotive Research (CAR):
OSU’s CAR has been engaged in all-electric LSR development and testing since 2000. On 3 October 2004 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, the original nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery-powered Buckeye Bullet reached a top speed of 321.834 mph (517.942 km/h).
In an on-going program known as Mission 01, started in 2009, OSU partnered with Venturi to develop, test, and conduct the land speed record runs of the hydrogen fuel cell-powered VBB-2, the battery-powered VBB-2.5, and the more powerful battery-powered VBB-3. Read more at the OSU / CAR website at following link:
The Venturi – OSU team’s accomplishments to date are:
2009: The team’s first world land speed record was achieved on the Bonneville Salt Flats with hydrogen fuel cell-powered VBB-2 at 303 mph (487 km/h).
2010: The team returned to the salt flats with the 700 hp lithium-ion battery powered VBB-2.5 which set another world record at 307 mph (495 km/h); with a top speed at 320 mph (515 km/h).
2013: The 3,000 hp lithium iron phosphate battery-powered VBB-3 was unveiled. Due to the flooding of the Bonneville Salt Flats, the FIA and the organizers of the world speed records program cancelled the 2013 competition.
2014: Poor track conditions at Bonneville persisted after flooding from a summer storm. Abbreviated test runs by VBB-3 yielded a world record in its category (electric vehicle over 3.5 metric tons) with an average speed of 212 mph (341 km/h) and a top speed of 270 mph (435 km/h).
2015: Poor track conditions at Bonneville persisted after flooding from a summer storm. Abbreviated test runs by VBB-3 yielded a world record in its category (electric vehicle over 3.5 metric tons) with an average speed of 212 mph (341 km/h) and a top speed of 270 mph (435 km/h).
You will find a comparison of the VBB-2, VBB-2.5 and VBB-3 vehicles at the following link:
VBB-3 has a 37.2 ft. (11.35 meter) long, slender, space frame chassis that houses eight battery packs with a total of 2,000 cells, two 1,500 hp AC induction motors developed by Venturi for driving the front and rear wheels, a coolant system for the power electronics, disc brakes and a braking parachute, and a small cockpit for the driver. The basic internal arrangement of these components in the VBB-3 chassis is shown in the following diagram.
You can see a short video of a test drive of VBB-3 without its external skin at the following link:
VBB-3 currently is being prepared in the OSU / CAR workshop in Columbus, Ohio, for another attempt at the land speed record in summer 2016. A team of about 25 engineers and students are planning to be at the Bonneville Salt Flats in summer 2016 with the goal of surpassing 372 mph (600 km/h).
You can subscribe to Venturi new releases on VBB-3 at the following link:
Update 2 January 2017: VBB-3 sets new EV land speed record
On 19 September 2016, VBB-3 set an electric vehicle (Category A Group VIII Class 8) land-speed record of 341.4 mph (549 kph), during a two-way run within one hour on the Bonneville salt flats in Utah. You can read the OSU announcement at the following link:
If you will be driving the UK’s Bloodhound supersonic car (SSC) in 2019, you really care about the answer to that question.
Hakskeen Pan is a very flat region in the Northwestern corner of South Africa, and it is the site selected by the Bloodhound Project team for a 16 km (9.94 mile) track that will be used for their world land speed record attempt.
Source: adapted from http://southafricamap.facts.co/
My 2 March 2015 post introduced you to the Bloodhound Project and gave you the link to their website where you can get a complete update on the project and sign up for their blog. Here again is the link to the Bloodhound Project home page:
So, how flat is Hakskeen Pan and how much does it matter to a land speed record car traveling at 1,000 mph (1,609 kph)? The Cape Town, South Africa, survey company Lloyd & Hill surveyed the entire 16 km by 500 meter wide track surface (an area of about 8 million square meters) measuring the elevation in each square meter to an accuracy of 10 mm (0.39 in) or less. Using laser-scanning technology to collect data, and some considerable computing resources, Lloyd & Hill reduced four billion laser measurements into a 3-dimensional surface map of Hakskeen Pan. Key findings were:
Hakskeen Pan has a very gentle slope from north to south: dropping 300 mm in 16 km (about one foot in 10 miles)
Across the whole surface, the biggest ‘bumps’ and ‘dips’ are less than 50 mm (2 inches) from the average elevation
There’s an 80 mm (3.12 in) ‘step’ that occurs in a distance of 180 m (590 ft) running across the Pan, just over 9 km from the northern end of the track, and just where the car will be travelling at 1,000 mph.
Source: The Bloodhound Project
The Bloodhound SSC has independent double-wishbone suspension on all four wheels. Preliminary dynamic analysis of the Bloodhound SSC’s suspension response to the measured surface irregularities shows that the vehicle should not be subject to loads of more than 1.0 – 1.5 g during it’s world land speed record attempt. The suspension is designed to cope with up to 4 g.
Check out the details of the Hakskeen Pan site survey and the vehicle dynamic analysis at the following link:
Also check out the Education tab on the Bloodhound Project website. I think you will be pleased to see how this exciting engineering project is working to engage with and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.
23 January 2017 Update – Hakskeen Pan floods
Source: The Bloodhound Project
The Bloodhound team reported:
“This particular flood was caused mainly by the rain in Namibia and flooding from the rivers, rather than actual rainfall on the Pan and surrounding catchment area, as there are many rivers that flow into the Pan.
Having the desert flood like this is very good news for us, as flooding helps to repair the surface from any damage that may have been caused in the final preparation and clearance of the desert, and it helps to create the best possible surface for land speed record racing.”
This land speed record project has gained national attention in the UK, not only for it’s ambitious goal of setting a 1,000 mph speed record on land, but also as a source of inspiration for a new generation of engineers. The “car” is propelled by a Rolls-Royce jet engine + a rocket engine.
I think you’ll find the main website for the Bloodhound Project to be well-designed and very engaging, Check it out at:
On the BLOODHOUND website, click on the “Education” tab to see how the project team is working to engage young engineers.
4 July 2016 Update: BLOODHOUND announces date for world record attempt in October 2017
On 3 July 2016, the BLOODHOUND team announced:
“We’re delighted to announce that the target date for BLOODHOUND’s 800mph world land speed record attempt in October 2017, 20 years after Thrust SSC set the existing record. Funding has been secured, with major deals recently signed, and race preparation is underway for high speed runs at the Hakskeen Pan, Northern Cape, South Africa, in Autumn next year.
BLOODHOUND SSC will travel under its own power for the first time at Newquay in June 2017, in a slow speed shakedown test at around 220mph (354km/h). This will also be an opportunity for the team to practice live-streaming data and imagery from the car.”
You can read their complete announcement at the following link: