I get an audience with Breedlove in his trailer at Black Rock. I ask a couple of simple questions. He responds with some most elaborate and thorough answers.
Why a jet instead of a rocket?
CRAIG BREEDLOVE: The primary reason is because of the unavailability of fuel at the present time. Along about 1974 the government restricted the availability of certain fuels based on their toxicity and – in their judgment – hazardous materials. So we built the English Leather Rocket car as a prototype for a hypergolic rocket system for a land speed car. That engine was designed by Jerry Elverum at TRW and Jerry did the Apollo lunar descent engine among other things. That’s probably the most remarkable thing he’s done because that was the first throttleable rocket engine that the astronauts could fly to the surface of the moon – it was like a jet engine with a throttle. And that’s what allowed America to make a soft landing on the moon.
We ran that engine on unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetraoxide as an oxidizer. It was a hypergolic engine which means that as soon as the two chemicals come together in the chamber they ignite instantly.
It is a very reliable system. It is also a very powerful system. Those chemicals… we bought the nitrogen tetraoxide oxidizer from Hercules, a powder corporation. We bought the unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine from FMC, Food Machinery Corporation. The oxidizers came from Northern California and the hydrazine came from Wilmington, Delaware. We were able to formerly order it at will. The companies did request that they be apprised on how we were using it and that we were not just a bunch of dingbats out there. TRW did that for us; they were able to vouch for us. They did their own policing and then they just sold it to us because there were no restrictions against selling it to us. In 1974 basically that was outlawed. Now there were restrictions. Also TRW is a US fuel depot; we had hoped we could get the fuel shipped to TRW and have it stored there. But the problem was we can’t transport it by rail; they even had a difficult time getting it into Vandenburg AFB to make launches.
Then we changed the design of the car to four peroxide thrusters because they had not yet restricted hydrogen peroxide in any way. It was shortly after we got the car changed over to peroxide that they restricted peroxide.
You could not manufacture or distribute peroxide in higher concentrations than 70 percent. 70 percent is a lousy rocket fuel. You need 98 percent. At that point in time the entire Land Speed vehicle was trashed at great personal financial cost to myself. Frankly, I just completely backed off.
The jet idea came back… of course Richard Noble had run the jet engine. The J79s are not easy to get and they are not necessarily cheap, either.
I took a sabbatical and we took the rocket car mock up to a car show in the San Francisco Bay area and some guys approached me – they were from a surplus aircraft and electric parts company called Radcom – and they had a particular deal going with a French company where they had purchased the F-104 contingency from the NATO Belgian Air Force. They had forty-three 104s and spare engines and wings. They offered to give me two F-104s to do an air speed record with and also to supply me with engines for both Land Speed and Water Speed Records. That deal fell apart because the French company cut them out of their stock and they actually ended up with nothing. They ended up not getting the engines and got cut out of the deal completely.
During that period of time I re-designed the car around the engine. The only problem was I had a car design, but not an engine. We began looking for an engine and Mike McCluskey called me up and said, “Hey, have you seen the new Trade-A-Plane? There is an ad where the government is selling sixty-seven J79s out of North Island Naval Station.” Ed Ballinger went in, inspected those engines and we put a bid on three lots of three. We were unsuccessful. The entire sale was sold to International Engine Parts in Chatsworth. I called them right afterwards and much to my surprise International Engine Parts was owned and operated by Elmo Idavia who supplied me with my afterburner in 1965. El said, “Sure Craig, we’ll sell you a couple of engines and you can have the pick of the lot.”
Later El gave me another engine.