15 October 1997: Britain’s Thrust supersonic car breaks the sound barrier

On this day in 1997, the Thrust supersonic car propelled RAF pilot Andy Green through the sound barrier to set a new World Land Speed Record.

If you're after a car with environmental credentials, the Thrust supersonic car (SSC) isn't for you. Burning around 18 litres of fuel a second, it makes a Volkswagen look like a Prius. What it is, though, is fast. So fast in fact, that it's even faster than sound.

On 15 October 1997, in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, the British-designed and built Thrust SSC smashed through the sound barrier, reaching a top speed of 763mph to set a new (and as yet unbroken) World Land Speed Record. The record-breaking attempt came 50 years and a day since Chuck Yeager became the first person to break the sound barrier in his Bell X-1 rocket plane in 1947.

But of course, unlike the Bell X-1, the Thrust SCC kept its wheels on the 14-mile track. Two hulking great Rolls Royce Spey turbofan engines straight off a Phantom jet fighter shouldered a slender 16.5-metre long dart-like body, producing over 110,000 BHP of power. That, for those who have ever wondered, is the equivalent of a thousand Ford Escorts, the team's website tells us.

Who'd be mad enough to put himself at the epicentre of all this brute power? Well, a surprising number of people, actually. Thirty-two applications to drive the supersonic car were received, but only one man emerged from the gruelling six-month selection process: RAF wing commander Andy Green.

In true British fashion, the project headed by Richard Noble had an extremely modest budget, compared to the £25m the McLaren F1 team was prepared to chuck at its supersonic attempt. The Thrust SSC programme got underway with just £40,000 from sponsor Castrol.

Convincing big-name sponsors to take part proved to be a headache, while the insurance companies only gave the Thrust SSC the same rates as for a domestic car. However, in the end, over £500,000 was raised from sponsors and donations, and the Thrust SSC was able to make its record-breaking run.

Yet the engines from the Phantom were already pretty obsolete by the time they propelled Andy Green through the sound barrier. What would happen if you used the modern engines from a Eurofighter Typhoon and a next generation space rocket? Andy Green is hoping to find out.

 

Recommended

Just how powerful is artificial intelligence becoming?
Tech stocks

Just how powerful is artificial intelligence becoming?

An uncannily human response from an artificial intelligence program sparked a minor panic last month. But just how powerful are machines getting – and…
2 Jul 2022
Persimmon yields 12.3%, but can you trust the company to deliver?
Share tips

Persimmon yields 12.3%, but can you trust the company to deliver?

With a dividend yield of 12.3%, Persimmon looks like a highly attractive prospect for income investors. But that sort of yield can also indicate compa…
1 Jul 2022
The MoneyWeek Podcast: nuggets of positivity in an extended bear market
Investment strategy

The MoneyWeek Podcast: nuggets of positivity in an extended bear market

Merryn and John talk about he need for higher wages and lower house prices, and why the fact that this is the least dramatic bear market they’ve ever …
1 Jul 2022
Here are the best savings accounts on the market now
Savings

Here are the best savings accounts on the market now

With inflation at more than 9%, your savings are not going to keep pace with the rising cost of living. But you can at least slow the rate at which yo…
1 Jul 2022

Most Popular

UK house prices are definitely cooling off – but are they heading for a fall?
House prices

UK house prices are definitely cooling off – but are they heading for a fall?

UK house prices hit a fresh high in June, but as interest rates start to rise, the market is cooling John Stepek assesses just how much of an effect h…
30 Jun 2022
The ten highest dividend yields in the FTSE 100
Income investing

The ten highest dividend yields in the FTSE 100

Rupert Hargreaves looks at the FTSE 100’s top yielding stocks for income investors to consider.
22 Jun 2022
Five dividend stocks to beat inflation
Share tips

Five dividend stocks to beat inflation

During periods of high inflation, dividend stocks tend to do better than the wider market. Here, Rupert Hargreaves pick five dividend stocks for incom…
30 Jun 2022