Inside Bloodhound SSC, the car aiming to crack the 1,000mph mark
Hi-tech cockpit for record bid hoping to push back the laws of physics
Andy Green, RAF fighter pilot, record breaker and action hero, slipped off his shoes before clambering into the cockpit of Bloodhound, the supersonic car being handcrafted in the UK to hit the 1,000mph (1,610km/h) mark.
"I don't want to put my boot through any of the digital displays. That wouldn't be too clever," Green said.
By next summer Bloodhound SSC will be racing along a Cornish test track and a few weeks later be transported to a desert in South Africa where the plan is for it to reach 800mph and break Green's own current land-speed record of 763mph. Then next year, if all goes well, Green will return to South Africa and drive Bloodhound at 1,000mph, faster than a bullet, faster than an aircraft.
At the unveiling of the cockpit - a key stage in the development of the 10-year project - Green said the idea was not just to make history but to push back the laws of physics and inspire a new generation across the world to become scientists and engineers. "This is the greatest engineering adventure in motor sport," he said.
It is hard to grasp just how fast 1,000mph is. Green said the best way of illustrating it was to imagine it travelling the length of a soccer pitch. If a spectator blinked, he or she would not see the car driving past. "That is fast," he said.
The cockpit turns out to be a pleasing combination of the super hi-tech and the ordinary. It features, for example, state-of-the art ballistic armour to protect the driver from a shooting stone or bird strike. But the triggers on the steering wheel that control the car's rockets were taken from an ordinary hand power drill - because they are built to withstand huge vibration and dust.
There are also chunky back-up levers to activate the parachutes that help stop the car and to cut off the fuel supply to the jet engine.
The cockpit is made of five different types of carbon-fibre weave and two different resins. Sandwiched between the layers of carbon fibre are three different thicknesses of aluminium honeycomb core to provide additional strength. At its thickest point the cockpit comprises of 13 individual layers but is just 25mm in cross section.
The roof of the cockpit - and the front of the car - have been designed to create a series of shockwaves that will slow the air down and channel it into the Eurojet engine (airflow of 1,000mph would damage the engine). That process - combined with the noise of the jet plus a racing car engine and a cluster of rockets - makes the cockpit a noisy place to be, at least until it outruns its own sound waves.
Inside the central control screen shows the speed in miles per hour and Mach number. The panel has also been designed to allow Green to keep a careful eye on the wheel loads - the key safety requirement is to keep the car's wheels firmly on the ground. If they lift, Green will have a big problem. "I'll have one eye on that at all times," he said.
Naturally, huge care has been invested in the titanium steering wheel, shaped to Green's hands and finger reach. Buttons on the front control the radio (for communicating with his team rather than listening to music), air brakes and parachutes, while those power drill triggers on the rear of the handgrips prime and fire the rockets. Bloodhound has pedals like a normal car - right for the accelerator, left for the brakes, though these wheel brakes only contribute to about 1 per cent of the braking power.
For the moment the cockpit has a comfy foam seat. By next year this will be replaced by a carbon fibre one moulded to Green's body shape to mitigate the effects of the huge G-forces that will be exerted on him.
Green said it would be noisy and hot. And though he is the current land-speed record holder, having set the record in Thrust SSC in 1997, he accepts he does not know what it will be like travelling at 1,000mph along a desert trace track. "This is human adventure, it's about people doing stuff, it's climbing Everest, it's Neil Armstrong stepping on to the moon," he said. "We don't know what it will be like in this cockpit. That's part of the adventure."