And it still holds the land speed record 24 years later…
If Batman existed in real life, we think he’d own something like the Thrust SSC or Super Sonic Car. In case you don’t remember, the car that looks like some sort of mutant airplane set the land speed record back in October of 1997 in the Black Rock Desert, which is located in Nevada. Hitting 763.035 mph or Mach 1.020 for a stretch of 1 mile. A car breaking the sound barrier was unthinkable before, the feat absolutely astounding people at the time. It’s still pretty amazing 24 years later, plus that land speed record still stands, for now.
Learn how NASCAR drivers used a banned car to set land speed records here.
As you might imagine, going that fast in a car requires some crazy, specialized equipment. Onboard are two Rolls-Royce Spey 202 jet engines which help give the vehicle an airplane look. They pack a 50,000 lb. of thrust punch, but it’s not just a matter of dropping the hammer and keeping the steering yoke going straight. When a car is traveling at high speeds, it dances on the ground, so keeping it going in the right direction becomes tricky, something only the most skilled of drivers can handle.
Not only does the Thrust SSC look like some sort of strange airplane, it was piloted by Royal Air Force wing commander Andy Green. The man was definitely qualified to pilot such a vehicle, and as you’ll see in one of the included videos, he has a firm grasp on the physics which contribute to a successful or disastrous run, including slowing the car down after it tops out over 700 mph.
Just getting the Thrust SSC up to speed is quite the procedure. As Green explains, he has to start off slow and ease the throttle slowly, ensuring the intakes don’t start sucking in too much dust from the desert floor. Once the car reaches a certain speed not only does the driver have to keep the thing going straight, he has to monitor different systems to ensure the thrusters, fuel delivery, etc. are all coordinating correctly. As everything is working at peak performance, the SSC Thrust starts accelerating an additional 25 mph per second, which is just mind boggling to think about and probably fun as hell to experience.
Before 600 mph the airflow under the vehicle starts to go supersonic, which has an effect on the handling, so the driver has to be prepared for that. Then airflow goes supersonic over the top of the car, changing things further, requiring him to steer to the right at 90 degrees just to keep the thing moving straight. He then has to make several adjustments as the speed climbs further, straightening it out again. The car also starts producing what Green calls the “loudest, highest pitch scream (he’s) ever heard.” Considering the man is an air force pilot, that’s significant. All this isn’t rocket science, but it’s about as close as you can get with four wheels on the ground.
By the way, the sonic boom produced by Thrust SSC’s record-setting land speed run did some damage. About 10 miles away in the Nevada town of Gerlach, sprinkler covers were knocked off by the vibrations. It’s also worth noting the record run was done almost 50 years to the day after Chuck Yeager performed the first supersonic flight on October 14, 1947.