Posts Tagged ‘andy green’


November 3, 2008

“When I drove Thrust 2 to the record in 1983,” recalls Richard Noble of his 633 mph jet car ride that reclaimed the Land Speed Record for Great Britain, “frankly, as a team we were damned lucky to get away with it. The car was within 7 mph of takeoff and with the huge dynamic pressures involved it would have gone upwards at 40G.”

Noble and his Thrust 2 machine were encroaching on the physical barrier of supersonic travel – and its incumbent aerodynamic disturbances. That would be the last campaign for a record in the subsonic speed range. From here on out, it would be a thrust-unlimited duel to Mach 1 between Richard Noble’s Thrust SuperSonicCar (driven by Royal Air Force prodigy Andy Green) and Craig Breedlove’s sleek new Spirit of America streamliner. The target speed is now the Speed of Sound – a velocity whose consequences could be fatal as supersonic shock waves would almost certainly send the vehicle careening out of control at between 740 and 765 mph. No more pussyfooting.

Suffice it to say, when the price of glory is quite possibly death you gotta’ really want to go Mach 1. It has to be in your blood. It has to be innate. For, in the same way that the laws of quantum mechanics tell us that the cosmos exploded and are in fact expanding, and the essence of this expansion is the behavior of subatomic particles, well, this same molecular information is at the root of a land speed throttle monkey’s genetic code and drives its host harder and faster, ultimately creating speed demons infected with a primeval “sickness” of “Go! Fever,” a fever that is a twisted, atavistic permutation of manifest destiny and good ol’ honky imperialism. i.e., it is what makes people try to “discover” continents, climb Mount Everest in a blizzard, run four-minute miles, design spaceships, or travel at the Speed of Sound on land. I mean, if the universe is infinite, Mach 1 is not a physical barrier after all, it is just an illusory line, right?

It was no cosmic coincidence that the Mach 1 attempts would transpire in Black Rock, Nevada, an 80 mile chunk of parched alkali as expansive as the human imagination when it knows no boundaries. Breedlove and Green would attempt to travel at Mach 1 because that is what they were born to do – it is what we were all born to do, really.



November 3, 2008


“Everything was going well and the record appeared to be in the bag, when, suddenly, at a speed of more than 200 m.p.h., the weakened rear tire blew out… the Black Hawk swerved to the left, skidded for several hundred feet, then jumped into the air in three great leaps. (Frank) Lockhart was not strapped in, and he was catapulted out of the car. The unconscious driver was dead when he reached Halifax County Hospital. The record set by Ray Keech still stood.” – Paul Clifton, THE FASTEST MEN ON EARTH.

By the end of the 20s the back-to-back-turnaround, two-way-average-within-an-hour system is established as the criteria for holding the record. The LSR wars crank up throughout the remainder of the 20th Century with Brits Henry Segrave, Sir Malcolm Campbell, George Eyston, Richard Noble and Andy Green as well as Yanks like Craig Breedlove, Art Arfons (Walt’s half-brother) and Gary Gabelich; on flat tableaus such as the beaches of Wales, Denmark, and Daytona and fossilized badlands such as Verneuk Pan, South Africa; Bonneville, Utah; Lake Gairdner, Australia and Black Rock, Nevada.

Art Arfons, a guy who crashed at 600 mph and lived, told me over the phone that “the real trailblazers were the ones at Daytona; Eyston and Cobb and them guys.” Art Arfons also had this to say about the rich, gallant British aristocrats who broached the 200 mph benchmark, “Those men really had to be something else.”

Arfons litanized the British Land Speed Heroes, the men who had dominated the Salt as America attempted to dig itself out of its economic Depression and as it slugged it out in World War II. American involvement in the Land Speed Record had ended before the Stock Market Crash of 1929… After that, the daredevils and speed maniacs seemed more content with drag racing than the massive and expensive undertaking of an ultimate Land Speed Record…

March 1927. It is a battle of the Bluebloods. Great Brit Henry Segrave punctures the 200 mph benchmark for automobiles, clocking 203 mph on the “treacherous sands” of Daytona Beach in his Sunbeam. His source of motivation was a pair of 12-cylinder Sunbeam Matabele aircraft engines. A year later Segrave’s mark is raised by Malcolm Campbell – a rigid, regal man with an angular mug and a buzzard’s beak of a nose who claims to be a pirate in a past life but looks more like the Human Fly with his bug-eyed goggles – who clocks 206 on a pass that nearly had Ol’ Malcolm singing “Nearer My God to Thee”; while blazing across the beach at 200 mph, Campbell’s Bluebird encounters a sand ridge which serves as a catapult and launches the hapless, passive car and driver 100 feet into the air. Cowabunga! Campbell lives and splits the beach scene in search of some Salt Flats – preferably in the colonies of the British Empire – that could safely accommodate his target speed of 250 mph.


November 3, 2008

From the ridge, Cuz’n Roy and I watch what is the fastest U-turn in history. Breedlove catches a crosswind at 675 mph as his Spirit of America streamliner “Wrong Way” Corrigans itself, assuming the attitude of a rather elliptical traffic circle. Breedlove bicycles – and nearly destroys – his cherished, cherry jet car while traveling at a speed of over three football fields a second (!). While up on two of five wheels, the machine begins making a hard right towards some nearby hot springs and foothills, buzzing and nearly t-boning a motorhome parked not too far from the photoelectric timing traps, missing it by less than a “Hail Mary!” pass into the end zone.

“It looks like the Tazmanian Devil out there,” Cuz’n Roy says as Breedlove attempts to correct the precarious trajectory of his race car.

A retired couple stand on the roof of the motorhome with binoculars out and watch the streamliner kicking up dust lickety-split, the smoke of cherry-colored coals from a portable barbecue wafting past their eyes and nostrils, the acrid haze adding to the disorientation they experienced when they notice that the Spirit of America – and by extension – themselves are in serious trouble.

“Christ, Martha, look at this,” the snowbird mouths to his mate. “He’s got ‘er on two wheels and he’s heading right toward…”

He never gets the rest of the sentence out as Breedlove boogies by the startled occupants of the motorhome like a transonic rodeo rider, as Craig hangs on by a proverbial leather strap… Miraculously, nobody is hurt as the race car somehow avoids contact with the motorhome. After a banzai blast across miles of gypsum dust, Craig gets the chutes out and calms ‘er down, but the streamliner is bongoed like a skateboarder’s knee, sustaining structural damage to a right wheel fairing and the chassis.

“Hesitation kills,” Cuz’n Roy said, and laughed.

That afternoon the mood at the post-record attempt press conference is dusty and grim. I stick a micro-cassette recorder in Craig Breedlove’s gypsum-caked kisser and ask him to summarize his approach for recapturing the LSR and for going Mach 1 vis-à-vis an aerodynamic approach that seems to hasten instability at transonic speeds, Breedlove is uncharacteristically terse: “We don’t want a lot of downforce because it creates drag,” he says.

“But could your low weight, low drag, and low downforce approach, a combination rather vulnerable to powerful crosswinds, a phenomenon that is rampant in the desert outback of Nevada, is that the right way to go?”

“Anytime you walk away from a 675 mph crash, you have to say, ‘Well, you did most of the things right,'” Breedlove maintains.

“So what happened exactly?”

“In my mind, I had no thought that there was any crosswind condition whatsoever,” he says. “We had called down for wind condition earlier and it was at 1.5. The timing wasn’t ready and we already had the engine fired but they said, ‘Shut down,’ so I was all ready to go. I actually sat in the car for forty minutes waiting for the timing to get back on. We re-fired the engine and had a compressor shake, so we had to shut down and check for that – then re-lit again. In the meantime, the weather conditions had changed: It had gone from a nice, bright sunny morning to big, dark clouds and I was having trouble even seeing the course.”

I hear what Breedlove is saying, but my mind ramps up into extrapolation mode as he continues to describe that moment when a bad case of “Go! Fever” short-circuits logic… the story is as follows: with the permit to run dwindling and bad weather encroaching, Craig knew his window for making history was finite… When the SOA crew fired the J79, it developed a fluid leak and was shut down. As the crew tightened some fittings with their wrenches, a cloud cover blew in over the playa, obscuring Breedlove’s vision. He continued to wait, and kept his game face on still strapped into the cockpit. Finally, the clouds lifted and Craig could see the 13-mile black stripe, his empirical guidance system down the course… Four hours after the original time of departure, all systems were go and Craig requested another wind profile…

“There were some decisions made because of the weather closing in that were just not prudent decisions; I kind of caught up in the ‘I’ve-got-one-chance-to-do-it’ mode,” he rationalizes. “When I called Chuck just before leaving the starting line, I asked was the course clear because we had a problem with policing the course, when Charlie came on and said the wind was at one-five, I thought, ‘One-five, okay… one-point-five.'”

In his zeal to go 700 mph Craig inserted a decimal point in the wind profile… He interpreted the transmission as “1.5” not “15” mph. The profile of Breedlove’s latest speed machine could withstand a crosswind of one-point-five mph. But a gust of 15 miles an hour blew his precious rig around like a corrugated styrofoam cup tossed out of a passenger-side window. “The omission of the decimal point didn’t click,” Craig concludes. “I didn’t know that I had the sidewind. I was confused. I wouldn’t have run had I known what the wind was.

“The other problem, of course, was that the car was much faster than we had anticipated. (I was) trying to watch where my mile-marker was, trying to look at a digital speedometer the size of a postage stamp and back off the afterburners while trying to figure how long I need to stay out of the engine and when I could go back in.”

When the car tipped up on its side and went into a skid, “I had dirt in the windshield, and I really couldn’t see what was happening… I thought I’d probably had it, that this was going to be it.”

I click off the recorder, shake my head and thank Craig for his time.

One observer – a desert rat who watched the entire spectacle through a telescope and was eavesdropping on the interview – says to me after I shut down off the micro-cassette that, “Craig’s lucky he wasn’t smashed into quantum foam” and then drifted off into the eye of an oncoming sand storm.

Meanwhile: Richard Noble, Andy Green and SSC were frantically evacuating the flooded desert in Jordan, as a monsoon nearly wiped out their entire operation.

The next available permit for speed trials in the Black Rock Desert would be in September, 1997.

Cuz’n Roy and I drove back to Los Angeles.


November 2, 2008


Pick Your Part

Pick Your Part


November 2, 2008

The only thing as intimidating as the speed of sound is the sound of speed.

One feature incorporated into the design of the SSC was something that Andy Green referred to as his “bravery switch.” When Mach’s Demon, the howling banshee of the supersonic winds, begins to gather as compressed molecules of air pummel the race car, Andy hits a switch that samples the sound of the dark wind and processes it, creating and pumping out a mirrored tone exactly 180 degrees out of phase from the original howl.

Due to the cancellation from the dueling sound waves, the sound level in the cockpit drops to a very takable whine from the spinning turbines on either side of the cockpit. This is like Ernst Mach’s experiments in sensory terror (the whizzing of the bullets was what damaged and terrorized battalions as much as the bloodshed and the bullet wounds), or the Ancient Chinese who tried to psych out the spirit world with their rocket displays.

Andy Green’s battle is with a demon. Now the demon is an adversary who is at least muzzled.