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fixed thing. It depends primarily on absolute temperature. In dry air at 20degC (68degF) it is 767.8mph, but at lower temperatures it is less. It can be calculated approximately according to the relationship: speed of sound (mph) = 44.841 x √T


Where T is the absolute temperature in degrees Kelvin (20degC = 293K). The Thrust SSC (TSSC) team was understandably keen that going supersonic should be accurately and faithfully recorded, so great trouble was taken to ensure the necessary data and facts were obtained. Ron Ayers: ‘TSSC exceeded M = 1.0 on both runs, and we have the FIA certificate to prove it. The FIA representatives at Black Rock Desert were extremely thorough and, quite correctly, gave us no latitude. ‘In order to record Mach

number, the speed of sound had to be established for each run. A precise recording thermometer was mounted at the centre of the measured mile. Other thermometers around the track confirmed that there were no significant temperature gradients that may mislead the scrutineers. The temperature was then recorded as the car traversed the measured mile for each run. The Mach number was computed for each run, and the average taken. Both runs were supersonic, and the average was Mach 1.02. The peak velocity recorded on either run was 771mph which, at the prevailing temperature,

he speed of sound in air, Mach 1 or M = 1.0, is not a

corresponded to a Mach number of 1.03. The record was set early in the day and the temperature was less than 15degC, so the speed of sound was lower than the figure computed for 20degC. ‘As we, and the FIA, were

in totally uncharted territory I felt it necessary to ensure that we agree a definition of the word ‘supersonic’. We badly wanted that word on the final record certificate and did not want it omitted because of inadequate definition. I pointed out that a new FIA World Land Speed Record is set when the previous record is exceeded by not less than one per cent. By extension, it seemed reasonable that we could claim to have gone supersonic if the car exceeded M = 1.00 by not less than one per cent. As such, the region between M = 1. 00 and M = 1.01 should perhaps be called ‘sonic’, but above 1.01 we could claim was ‘supersonic’. The FIA agreed to this definition.

‘The FIA team also had to

ensure the car was in contact with the ground throughout the measured mile. As shock waves had trashed the desert surface for the full 3.6m width of the vehicle, the wheel tracks were completely invisible. However, if we dipped our hands into the fluidised bed, we could tell where the wheels had been as they fluidised the surface about 15cm more. The [FIA] team went on hands and knees down the length of both tracks to feel for this evidence of contact and to satisfy themselves we had not done any ‘low flying’.’

including engine and aerodynamic upgrades, could, he says, have seen the car pushed as far as 1050mph, in theory. And with all of the initial

updates on the car largely complete, the plan was to run for the record in 2008 at a central Nevada dry lake bed known as Diamond Valley. Surveys, permits and other paperwork were all in process. But, on September 3, 2007, Steve Fossett took off in a borrowed Bellanca Super Decathlon light aircraft to fly over

Today it sits in a hangar in Reno, Nevada, exactly as you see it in these photographs, with all of its essential support equipment included in the sale. With the outright World Land Speed Record having risen from double figures to the cusp of 800mph in its first 100 years, it might be hard to see how much higher it can go. But remember, the first aircraft to exceed Mach 1 was in 1947 and Mach 2 (around 1300mph) was realised only

“on September 3, 2007, Fossett took off over the Sierra Navada mountains. He never returned”

the Sierra Nevada mountains on a pleasure flight. He never returned. The entire Target 800 project

was kept active for several months but, in early 2008, it was mothballed and later placed up for sale for $3m, an incredibly low price when you look at the budget of Bloodhound SSC. ‘We are all aviation professionals and we essentially pickled everything when the project stopped,’ explains Ahlstrom. ‘Everything was packed up very carefully and left in a perfect condition. We stored it in such a way that we could re-start the project in a very short space of time.’ Long-time Fossett record

collaborators Project 100 Communications (project100. com) are responsible for finding the car a new home.

six years later, and Mach 3 just three years after that. With the inspiration of ram-jet engined experimental aircraft such as the Lockheed Aurora and NASA’s X43A UAV already capable of hypersonic speeds, could the new breed of supersonic cars go even faster still? Most of the current challengers are already targeting the ‘marquee number’ of 1000mph. Some even higher. Of course, to get to 1000mph you first have to get to 800mph, and then 900mph. The key issue for going even

faster may not be the cars at all, but the course upon which they run. The question is, is there anywhere big and flat enough on the surface of the earth to go a lot faster? Well, if development of wheel technology eventuallu permits running on hard salt, there is this desert in Bolivia…

Thrust SSC’s metal wheels dug into the Black Rock desert at high speed causing Andy Green to lose control at one point

14 • January 2012

Steve Fossett’s work ethic and goal focus were an inspiration to everyone who worked with him

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