Thrust SSC

Rockets Rule

Another contender during the jet-car battle between Breedlove and Arfons in 1965 was the innovative Wingfoot Express II, the new creation of Art Arfons' brother Walt. It was powered by 25 JATO (jet-assisted take-off) solid fuel rockets and driver Bobby Tatroe reached a peak of 580 mph, but ultimately the car just did not have enough thrust to maintain acceleration through the timing traps at world record speed.

Three other men were already planning another rocket-powered car, and they formed Reaction Dynamics Inc. to pursue their goal. With support from the Institute of Gas Technology, they built the slim liquid fuel rocket powered projectile Blue Flame. Unlike solid fuel rockets, liquid fuel rockets have the advantage that they can be actively throttled by the driver to control the amount of thrust produced. The rocket engine, designed specifically for the car, was capable of producing a staggering 58,000 hp for a period of 20 seconds, but for the record attempt it was restricted to 35,000 hp. Dragster ace Gary Gabelich was selected as the driver, and Blue Flame arrived at Bonneville in September 1970. Five weeks later, after a number of problems had been overcome, Gabelich set a new record on 23rd October of 622.407 mph for the mile, and 630.388 mph for the kilometre.

In 1976 Californian designer Bill Fredrick completed his rocket car SMI Motivator. Although sharing obvious design similarities to Blue Flame, this car employed a number of innovative features, the most striking being the first ever use of solid aluminium wheels, a concept subsequently adopted for Thrust 2, Aussie Invader and ThrustSSC jet cars. Hollywood stuntman Hal Needham and stuntwoman Kitty O'Neil were chosen to drive the car, and O'Neil set an unofficial "women's Land Speed Record" with a two-way run of 512.710 mph through the kilometre at Alvord Desert in Oregon, a venue subsequently considered by the Thrust 2 team. Needham exceeded 600 mph, but then various wrangles eventually killed the project.

Fredricks' new rocket car was of even slimmer dimensions and was driven by another Hollywood stuntman, Stan Barrett. Controversially, the team chose to ignore all of the established Land Speed Record regulations by timing the peak speed of the Budweiser Rocket through a 52 ft timing trap, in one direction only. The probable reason for this approach was that the car's fuel load was insufficient to enable it to complete a measured mile at record speed, and the rocket engines could not be readied for a return run within the 1 hour period stipulated by the regulations. On 10th September 1979 Barrett achieved a one-way peak speed of 638.637 mph, then the team moved to Edwards' Air Force Base for a series of progressively faster runs, culminating in a claimed one-way peak speed of 739.666 mph - Mach 1.0106 - recorded by radar on 17th December 1979, assisted by a Sidewinder missile fired during the run. No sonic boom was witnessed, but it was certainly a dramatic run as photographs show both rear wheels off the ground at one stage. Ultimately the Budweiser Rocket set no official records, but is certainly the most controversial car in Land Speed Record history.

About this site

Supersonic Race Update Mach 1 Club ThrustSSC Shop
Sponsored by This site best viewed with Microsoft Internet Explorer 3
Digital msie artewisdom

© SSC Programme Ltd, 1997