Cape Town - The Bloodhound is long and sleek. It’s body, low to the ground, tapers to a point that looks dangerously sharp. Along the top, a bright orange fin makes the vehicle appear more like a plane than a land-bound car. The Bloodhound Supersonic Car does, in fact, incorporate a blend of automobile and aircraft technology.
For the crowd of children in the Cape Town Science Centre, the appeal of a rocket-powered car is magnetic – particularly as it reaches supersonic speeds.
The driving experience simulator at the centre consists of a red-and-black seat, a steering wheel and pedals in front of a large television screen, but a line is already forming by the time I sit down to experience the ride.
Dave Rowley, director of the Bloodhound Education Programme, guides me through the process. Press the brake to the floor to calibrate, then foot on the accelerator. Launch the rocket engine with the left lever, the jet engine with the right, as the speedometer passes the marks of 200 and 400 miles per hour (320-640km/h). The simulation of the Northern Cape’s Hakskeen Pan is cartoonish, but not so fake that I don’t try my best to steer straight on the blue line.
And I can feel the pressure as I attempt to stay on course in front of several six-year-olds.
I may not be feeling the G-forces that Andy Green – that is Wing Commander Andy Green OBE BA RAF, British Royal Air Force fighter pilot and world land speed record holder – will experience when he takes the wheel for real in late 2015. Still, Rowley assures me everything is much the same as it is in reality.
Part of the Bloodhound project’s mission is to reach the mystical speed of 1 000 miles per hour, faster than the average passenger jet. This target not only beats Green’s previous record-breaking run, set in 1997, but shatters it by more than 30 percent.
A bigger part of the mission is to win popular interest. Rowley and his team are seeking to fuel young people’s interest in science, technology, engineering and maths.
Julie Cleverdon, director of the Science Centre, pointed out what teachers and parents well know: “When you have an excited child it’s much easier to educate them.”
THE POWER OF 180 F1 CARS
The Bloodhound exhibition draws visitors into complex technology and engineering rather painlessly. It’s easy to become entranced by the figures – the car travels one mile in 3.6 seconds; the rocket noise reaches 180 decibels, louder than a 747 jet; the engines have the power output of 180 Formula One cars – and wonder at the physics behind them. Children who are not trying the driving experience simulator can build their own model Bloodhounds and send them speeding down a track with the propulsion of air from a balloon.
And while they’re at the centre, visitors have more than 200 other interactive exhibits to explore.
The Bloodhound project offers a chance to attract interest not only in engineering fields, but in physics, environmental studies, energy efficiency and many other scientific and mathematical areas.
Rowley explained why the team chose Hakskeen Pan instead of Black Rock Desert in the US, where Green set his original record. “Black Rock has not seen any significant rain for over a decade.” Hakskeen Pan flooded every year, “and when it dries out it leaves a lovely hard, flat surface”.
He said more than 400 schools had already become involved with the Bloodhound programme.
STEERING TOWARDS 1.4 MACH
Sixteen years have passed since British fighter pilot Andy Green broke the speed of sound in a car.
He set the world’s first supersonic land speed record at 763 miles per hour (1 227.93km/h), and will next year attempt to break that record by 33 percent.
The Cape Town Science Centre is giving visitors the opportunity to simulate that experience.
A reproduction of the Bloodhound supersonic car offers a chance to go through all the processes that Green will complete in order to reach a speed of 1.4 Mach. That’s one mile every 3.6 seconds – literally as fast as a bullet.
After an extensive survey of the world’s deserts, the Bloodhound team finally chose the Hakskeen Pan in the Northern Cape where the hard surface, easy access and ideal weather had major appeal. Preparing the race track, 19km long by 500m wide, was done by hand – a major feat in itself.