For the last two years a supersonic car has taken shape in an ordinary-looking unit on an industrial estate near Bristol, a joinery on one side, a plumbers’ merchant on the other.
On Friday, the car, Bloodhound SSC, will be unveiled for the first time in the much more glitzy surroundings of Canary Wharf in east London.
Over two days, more than 8,000 members of the public will view the car, which is designed to reach 1,000mph and help inspire a generation of youngsters to take up – or at least take an interest in – science and engineering.
“It’s a really exciting time in the project,” said chief engineer, Mark Chapman. “Many of us have lived and breathed this project for eight years now but to see the car put together like this is something else. It looks stunning. We can’t wait for people to see it and tell us what they think.”
The car will be tested on a runway in Cornwall next Easter when it is expected to reach a (relatively) modest 200mph. The team will then deploy to South Africa to begin high-speed testing with a target of reaching 800mph – thus breaking the current world land-speed record of 763mph. The plan is then to return to the UK, review the data and travel back to South Africa in 2017 with the aim of reaching 1,000 mph.
Carbon fibre panels have been partially removed on one side of Bloodhound for the next couple of days to show the technology inside the car.
Bloodhound has three power systems: a Rolls-Royce EJ200 jet from an RAF Eurofighter Typhoon, a cluster of Nammo hybrid rockets and a 550bhp supercharged Jaguar V8 engine. Between them they generate thrust equivalent to 180 Formula One cars.
When it is finally unleashed on the Hakskeen Pan, Northern Cape, South Africa, where a team of locals has shifted 15,800 tonnes of stones by hand to create the perfect test track, Bloodhound will go from zero to 1,000mph in 55 seconds and back to zero again in a further 65 seconds, covering 12 miles.
For now, visitors are being invited to look inside the finished cockpit: a huge and complex monocoque (single piece shell) crafted from multiple layers of carbon fibre to produce what the designers believe is the strongest safety cell ever fitted to a racing car.
Inside there is a sophisticated digital dashboard, designed by the driver, RAF fighter pilot Andy Green, as well as manual backups for the major controls.
The car has three separate braking systems, seven fire extinguishers and 500 sensors, twice as many as an F1 car, so engineers will know exactly how it is performing during each high-speed run.
It has been created by a team of Formula 1 and aerospace experts with assistance from the army’s Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and technicians from the RAF’s 71 Squadron who built the tailfin. In all more than 350 companies and universities have been involved.
Given the VW emissions rigging scandal this week, the Bloodhound team is quietly pleased that their power systems are not made by the German manufacturer. But Chapman said a major aim of the project was to inspire future generations to be interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics - and be able to ask the awkward questions of the likes of VW. “One of the points is to help make sure people can question manufacturers and politicians about issues like emissions and HS2.”
Before the car even turns a wheel, more than 100,000 children in the UK alone have had lessons connected to Bloodhound or attended events related to the car. Universities involved with the project have seen record numbers apply to study engineering.
Such is the level of interest that the free public appearance at Canary Wharf quickly became fully booked.
Project director, Richard Noble, said: “Public interest in the project is incredible. With the car now built and the track in South Africa prepared our focus is on racing in 2016.”
This article was written by Steven Morris, for theguardian.com on Thursday 24th September 2015 12.45 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010