How do you prepare yourself for such a task?
Before the run, I’ll need a very high level of heat tolerance over short periods. We don’t know exactly how hot it will get, but air temperatures in the desert will be around 35-40°C. The cockpit will be much hotter than that. We recorded temperatures in the closed spaces of Thrust SSC [the vehicle that set the current record] of up to 100°C. But you get used to it. As well as training in the desert, simple things help like having a really hot bath twice a day, every day, for two weeks before I go out there. That gives you an enormous amount of heat tolerance.
Is there a physical limit to how fast we can go on land? Would the person inside eventually turn to mush?
I’m going to experience a maximum of about 3G in the car. The real issue is stopping – more acceleration is always optional. Once you come out of the measured mile at 1000mph, slowing down is now compulsory. And when you’ve designed a very low-drag, heavy, high-speed car, you’ve got a lot of energy to get rid of.
When I shut off the rocket, and throttle the jet back, I’ll experience 3G of deceleration. To feel that in a normal road car you’d need to go from 60mph to stationary in one second. For most people that would qualify as some sort of violent crash. So it’s going to be quite unpleasant.
Is there an ejector seat in case of catastrophic failure?
No, first of all, we are designing a car that will be sufficiently overdesigned so that we can guarantee that there won’t be a catastrophic failure of its structure. As long as we can keep all four wheels on the ground all the time then nothing dangerous will happen to it. If we can’t guarantee that, then we shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.
If you take the ‘just-in-case’ logic, an ejector seat would have to protect me at 1000mph and there’s no seat in the world that will do that. Also, what happens if it goes off accidently? It could throw me out of a perfectly serviceable car into a 1000mph airstream. We’re actually safer without it.
If the car begins to weave, how will you counteract it?
It depends entirely on when and why. As the vehicle goes from very low speed to very, very high speed it will behave at first like a car, then like a subsonic aeroplane and then like a supersonic aeroplane with some wheel inputs as well. So, if it’s a tiny little bit of speed-related instability I can control it. But if it’s unexpected or sudden, or it becomes very strong, then throttling back and slowing the car down would stabilise the car. It’s always more stable under deceleration.
Do you get bored of driving normal cars?
Day to day I drive a fairly mundane Volkswagen. I now drive a lot slower than I used to before I got into land speed record breaking because road cars just don’t feel that fast anymore.
Have you ever been caught for speeding?
I actually hold the world record for the largest speeding ticket in history. The Black Rock Desert, where we did the Thrust record, is actually Government land. So the rangers who look after it are entitled to issue speeding tickets. It’s $10 for every mph over the 55mph limit you are, so I think the fine was about $6100. But I was let off for good behaviour.
Do you ever feel nervous or afraid like the rest of us?
Absolutely. You probably don’t entirely understand the problem if you’re not scared of it. I admire people that say they’re not afraid for their composure, but you have to have very little imagination to have nothing to be scared about.
How would you feel if you only reached 999mph?
The main aim of the BLOODHOUND project is actually to create a national surge of interest in science and engineering. We want to get every school kid in the country interested in science and maths. If we achieve that, I don’t mind if we make 800, 900 or 1000mph. If we get to 1050mph – the maximum design speed of the car – with our 1000mph average and nobody could care less, then we’ve failed, and I’ll be hugely disappointed.