“For most of its runs, the SMI Motivator/Budweiser Rocket car ran on a hydrogen peroxide monopropellant motor developing 5,000 to 6,000 pounds thrust. At Edwards, this motor was replaced with a peroxide/polybutydiene (synthetic rubber) hybrid motor developing roughly 9,000 pounds of thrust (maybe at the most 11,000 pounds). The best electric eye clock speed run using only the hybrid motor was 677 mph. When the hybrid motor proved insufficient, it was supplemented with a sparrow air-to-air solid fuel missile motor developing an average thrust of about 5,000 pounds for 5 seconds. The best electric eye clock speed ran using the hybrid motor/sparrow combination was 692 mph.” – Franklin Ratliff, previously unpublished.
The most abject comment and manipulation on the American Dream of going Mach 1 comes not from the military-industrial complex, but from Hollywood… One of Tinseltown’s movers and shakers, Hal Needham, a stuntman-cum-producer/director (and whose greatest claim to fame was gracing the world with Burt Reynold’s cornpone movies), purchases the SMI Motivator rocket dragster, retrofits ‘er with a hybrid liquid/solid-fuel rocket engine, hires Courage of Australia mastermind Bill Fredrick to turn the wrenches, re-badges the machine Speed of Sound (nee Budweiser Rocket) and hauls the operation out to Edwards AFB…
“The thing about the car you have to realize is that it did not have enough fuel on board to make a full land speed record run,” Breedlove states. “They applied to have the rules changed so they could make one run (timed) over 1/100th of mile – instead of a mile.” With clocks installed by a drag racing organization over a timing trap of 52 feet – instead of the traditional measured mile – Needham points driver (and fellow stuntman) Stan Barrett at the timing cones and lights the fuse.
Needham proffers as evidence of a Mach 1 clocking the data from a handheld radar gun. Why radar instead of the drag strip clocks? The rocket car ran out of fuel before it reached the timing traps!
The whole misadventure is documented by CBS Sports Spectacular and is passed off as authentic, with additional corroboration by Chuck Yeager who writes in a letter that, “Having been involved in supersonic research since the days of the XS -1 rocket plane, which I flew on the first supersonic flight on October 14, 1947, there is no doubt in my mind that the rocket car exceeded the speed of sound on its run on December 17, 1979.”
The jet set sees this as poppycock – Chuck Yeager or no Chuck Yeager. “It degraded the whole Land Speed Record business. It took a wrong turn,” says Richard Noble. “The most outrageous thing about that whole project was that they wasted the time giving Chuck Yeager a ride in it the next day when they could have done it again (properly).”
Breedlove debunks the Needham claim this way: “There was a water truck that was driving in the background,” he said in reference to the corruption in the radar gun’s data. “On this specific run, when the operator was hand-tracking the car, the range finder targeted the water truck because it was a bigger target. They had no actual third data point,” Breedlove postulates in reference to co-ordinates of speed, range and angle needed to gather data via radar. “The following day, they had the car drive down the course and then took the data from the range of the other vehicle and substituted that into the calculations and then extrapolated data in that manner. It is just so unbelievably flawed; the manufacturer of the radar says it’s not even calibrated to do that. You’ve got an uncalibrated radar – hand operated – with the third leg of the data being substituted. Can you imagine a guy trying to claim a drag racing record that way?”
Indeed, this, umm, whole stunt attempt is fraught with arrogance, ambiguity and unresolved issues. Hooray for Hollywood.