Go real fast.
June 4, 2008 5:52 PM   Subscribe

Since 1997 ThrustSSC holds the World Record for land speed, going as far as to officially break the sound barrier - something that the Budweiser Rocket claimed doing much earlier, but under unoffical circumstances - or outright suspicion and disbelief. With Thrust SSC looking like something out of a Podracer lineup, the inboard and outboard video is something to behold. While workman-like and almost boring in calculated precision, it can get hairy.

For the hairy bit in the last video pay attention to how far the pilot drifts off course and struggles with the line of the run, just after the brief blackout in the (sorry, inherently low quality) video. "Starting to yaw, bringing it back... Bringing it back!!" It's easy to miss, but he drifts entirely off the dragged/smoothed strip just about as he's approaching the sound barrier while already hurtling along at over 500-600 miles per hour.

Be sure to read the brief pilot's account about what steering that beast is like. (Same link as "sound barrier", above.)

More video: -1- -2- -3- -4-

This isn't the Thrust team's first jetcar, with Thrust2 previously holding the record for some time. Thrust SSC's (vintage) main site is here.

Here are some links to other rocket cars and information about land speed record cars, and land speed records in general.

Bonus: Video of the current un-manned rocket-sled World land speed record, and the current land speed record holder for wheel-driven speed.

Yeah, I know Freud would have something to say, but sometimes a car is just a car.
posted by loquacious (25 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'd rather drive this, personally.
posted by zippy at 6:06 PM on June 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm still waiting for the Jetson's car.
posted by Mblue at 6:37 PM on June 4, 2008

I'm curious to know what kind of wheels and bearings this thing uses. The Wikipedia article on it doesn't say, but I'm guessing some kind of metal wheel? Ceramic bearings? The driver's account says that the wheels can be under ten tons of downforce, which is just insane. What's the gas mileage like?
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:40 PM on June 4, 2008

Wheels and bearings?

At its maximum speed of 650.88mph (1047.46lkmh), achieved during its record run of 633.468 (1019.440) across the Black Rock Desert in 1983, the 30 inch (76.2 centimetre) solid aluminium alloy wheels on Castrol-sponsored Thrust 2 rotated at almost 8000rpm. That's faster than engines rev in most road cars, so it's easy to appreciate just how crucial good lubrication is. Failure of the lubricant, which in turn would destroy the wheel bearings, must be avoided at all costs.

Thrust 2 used compact taper roller bearings capable of withstanding high loads, but the very high speed at which they turned presented a problem because traditional grease would be thrown away from the bearing faces by centrifugal force, the force which tries to tear apart objects rotating quickly. Oil would churn round and become frothy. Either way, the lubricant's efficiency and performance would be dangerously compromised. A new synthetic grease developed from the Concorde supersonic airliner technology was employed, and surprising though it may seem, just a smear proved sufficient. Throughout its life, Thrust 2's wheel hubs and bearings never gave cause for a moment's concern. Test showed that they could be run at 7000rpm for 15 minutes without their temperature ever exceeding 122 degrees F (60 degrees C).

posted by racingjs at 6:47 PM on June 4, 2008

The sense of speed in the "from the air" clip is amazing.
posted by vronsky at 7:48 PM on June 4, 2008

"I came up with the conviction that I was simply going to have to bully the car into being stable, go very high frequency with my steering movements to keep it under control, coupled with lower frequency inputs to steer it. I'd have to steer it at two separate frequencies, simultaneously. So that's what I did, and it worked. I'd found a way to drive the thing. The downside was that I was never going to enjoy it. Imagine taking all the hairiest bits out of a three-hour sortie in a Tornado, and doing them all in two minutes. It was the hardest thing I've ever done: like trying to balance the point of a pencil on the end of your finger." Wow.
posted by vronsky at 7:57 PM on June 4, 2008

OK, I've only watched one, but do any of these have Danger Zone as the soundtrack, and if not, WTF???
posted by dirigibleman at 8:09 PM on June 4, 2008

Yow: We were generating some very powerful shock waves in front of the car. We found the wheels were actually going round less fast than the ground speed: we were ploughing the surface in front of the car. The shock wave was digging up the desert, so the four individual wheel tracks disappeared, and we started to get a single ploughed trace 12 feet wide.
posted by zippy at 8:16 PM on June 4, 2008

Where did they mount the oscillation overthruster?
posted by hattifattener at 8:17 PM on June 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

I was reading that part, zippy, and wondering if that kind of thing disqualifies it from being a "rolling" vehicle. At some point it becomes a sled, and if you just changed the downforce wing out for some ground-effect lifting wings or venturi capture wings, it becomes a ground-effect aircraft or ekranoplan instead.

Granted, you could put those after-burning turbofans in almost anything with wings and a sufficient lift/thrust/weight ratio and it could be, well, a combat jet like the Phantom II, where the engines for the ThrustSSC are normally used.

Then I started reading about rocket sleds. Rocket sleds don't roll on wheels on rails, they have these "slippers" that hug the profile of the rail simply to keep the sled locked to the rails, so your rocket sled doesn't become a rocket, without the sled part.

At the start of the launch, the slippers slide on the rail, but at a sufficient speed the slippers become a sort of air bearing. The sled is going so fast that the air forced between the small gaps in the slipper and the rail causes a laminar flow between the slipper and the rail. In essence, it is flying. Kind of.
posted by loquacious at 8:29 PM on June 4, 2008

Still reading... my 6th grade "make a car" project was the Budweiser rocket car with model rocket engines... skateboard wheels and one from those "put the plastic thing in and pull and let it go toys". Even had a parachute. Set it off in the parking lot, it was *awesome*, and it worked. So much better than the 2L bottle cars, or the ones where dad helped a lot.
(we duct taped rocket engines to anything that could move..) Launched aluminum rockets from under water in a trash can. Whether they actually made it or not, they spurred me on.
posted by zengargoyle at 8:30 PM on June 4, 2008

The "unmanned rocket sled" video made me involuntarily exclaim "HOLY CRAP." It may be dark, but you can intuitively grasp the acceleration. And it is insane.

Hey, Discovery Channel guys: take out some insurance and put a RED ONE on board one of these cars. I wanna see this stuff in HD.
posted by sdodd at 8:34 PM on June 4, 2008

(we duct taped rocket engines to anything that could move..)

I did that with a friend in high school. LEGO cars, mostly, fired off at a local abandoned military airstrip popular with RC airplane flyers. D-class engines, oh yeah.

It wasn't a very brilliant idea. I think the closest thing to "rolling travel" we achieved out of a dozen launches was the one that actually managed to stay horizontal for about 10 feet before becoming an airborne missile and smashing itself to bits on the tarmac, like the rest of them, and scattering pieces for a good third or half of a mile along the long runway. There's probably still pieces of LEGO out there, long grown over by the grass. After the first launch or two we started gluing the LEGO parts together, but then the LEGO pieces would just shatter and break rather than pop apart.

The RC flyers at this park - old cranky duffers, all of them - were less than amused by our unguided missles, one of which narrowly missed taking out an RC prop-driven plane circling overhead. They thought we were actually trying to shoot down their planes, and every time we'd launch every RC plane in the sky would do a wing-waggle as the guy at the controls flinched a little.

Looking back I sometimes think that trying to shoot down those RC planes with model rockets might have been more fun and challenging.
posted by loquacious at 8:42 PM on June 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Was that a staged rocket in the sled video? I was wondering how the vehicle would have enough track to decelerate. The solution applied to that aspect of the experimental design hadn't occurred to me.... Made me jump both times I watched the clip!
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 8:55 PM on June 4, 2008

So much fun shit happens on the black rock desert...
posted by flaterik at 9:36 PM on June 4, 2008

Was that a staged rocket in the sled video?

Yeah. 4? 5 stage? Can't remember where I saw the article about it, but multistaged for sure.

They "decelerated" the rocket sled by slamming the payload into a target, which at that speed the entire sled assembly probably vaporized into a hot metal mist. On the video, the payload appears to be some kind of penetrating warhead, perhaps a kinetic (non-explosive) impact test or something.

Most rocket sleds are missle tests - either engine tests, payload test or impact/penetration tests. I don't know if they still launch people in rocket sleds, but they used to use them extensively for testing ejection seats.

See also: John P. Stapp, extreme rocket-sled pilot, record holder for most G-forces survived by a human, automotivie seat-belt activist and inventor.

High speed photographic still of some kind of rocket sled here.
posted by loquacious at 10:25 PM on June 4, 2008

Yes, 4 stage.
posted by Freaky at 10:30 PM on June 4, 2008

hattifattener, as impressive as that is, there's no way it can travel through solid rock.

Seriously though, that's fucking awesome.
posted by lekvar at 12:05 AM on June 5, 2008

Yeah, well, I ride a fixie and let me tell you...
posted by From Bklyn at 1:28 AM on June 5, 2008

Yeah, well, I ride a fixie and let me tell you...

You attached an Oscillation Overthruster to a fixie? Are your legs in orbit or did they just vaporize when they hit a nice brisk cadence of twenty gajillion PPM?

It's well known that the best bicycle to mount an OO on is a nice, sturdy Schwinn coaster break cruiser with a big springy seat and a heavy, rusty metal basket on the front. You only need to pedal it up to the launch ramp, and you'll be sitting there for ages waiting for preflight, and if it doesn't achieve phase lock before impact (again) the metal basket deforms nicely and helps push a little of that solid wall out of the way as you punch through it at MACH speeds, only to wake up moments later in the clone vats to try again.
posted by loquacious at 2:11 AM on June 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

Is that a Post-It note stuck to the dashboard in the third video?

Wait, wait, I can make it out!


posted by unSane at 5:01 AM on June 5, 2008

It's well known that the best bicycle to mount an OO on is a nice, sturdy Schwinn coaster break cruiser with a big springy seat and a heavy, rusty metal basket on the front.

Only if you don't have a vintage 1978 Green Machine available. The petrochemical content of the plastics used to make it has particular quantum-resonant qualities that make it well-suited to interdimensional travel, and the steering by lever makes you look absolutely bad-ass.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:21 AM on June 5, 2008

The "unmanned rocket sled" video made me involuntarily exclaim "HOLY CRAP." It may be dark, but you can intuitively grasp the acceleration.

See also the Sprint missile, which can reportedly do zero to Mach 10 in 5 seconds at 100g. Video here of Sprint and its companion Spartan.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:32 AM on June 5, 2008

Well, that's it. I'm inspired! I'm going to strap some rockets on my old Sentra and see how close I can come to beating this.

Of course, I doubt I can afford aluminum wheels, but I bet if I filled up my tires with Great Stuff foam, I'd get the exact same effect, and I don't have access to salt flats, so I guess I'm going to have to use I-94, but that should be fine.

This is going to be so cool.
posted by quin at 10:12 AM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

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