With the Bloodhound SSC team flat broke, and the North American Eagle destroyed in a tragic fireball in Oregon, Perth’s Aussie Invader 5R is planning to take a run at the very elusive 1,000 mph (1,609.3 km/h) mark. In doing so, the team will need to smash the outright land speed record, which has stood firm since October 1997, when the ThrustSSC broke the sound barrier for the first time and recorded an official 763.035 mph (1227.985 km/h).
Rarely does a record last so long in this age of rapid technical advancement, but the insane resources you need to get past the sound barrier with even the slightest pretense of safety haven’t changed at all. And it’s not like a Formula One situation, where the team can perhaps spin out ideas it’s developed on the racetrack for the good of future street cars; supersonic cars don’t even put their power down through the wheels. The physics gets very different as you start approaching the speed of sound.
Still, there remains some people with the appetite and the means to attack a problem like this, and Australia’s fastest man Rosco McGlashan is one of them. Operating out of Perth, Western Australia, McGlashan has been working on an outright land speed record attempt for several decades now.
In 1994, he set his current Australian land speed record at 500 mph (802.6 km/h). In 1995, he ran off course at South Australia’s Lake Gairdner salt flats and hit some metal timing equipment at about 600 mph (960 km/h), just 30 mph (48 km/h) off the outright record at the time. The car was wrecked, but he walked away. In 1997, poor salt conditions prevented him from taking another stab with his third car, and he lost the race to the sound barrier to Andy Green in the ThrustSSC.
Now, he’s back, and with some niggling tax issues apparently dealt with, he’s got a ridiculous new powertrain he believes gives him a genuine shot at passing 1,000 mph.
The Aussie Invader 5R is powered by an “ablative B3 bi-propellant rocket engine” generating 62,000 lbf of thrust, or the rough equivalent of 200,000 horsepower. It’s not an ex-fighter jet engine this time; McGlashan worked with famed rocket designer Bob Truax and Peter Beck of New Zealand’s Rocket Lab to design something bespoke, fed by an orbital propellant charging module that’ll stop the fuel from sloshing around and throwing the car off course.
If it makes it all the way to 1,000 mph, the process should take just 22 seconds. We imagine that’ll be quite a 22 seconds from the cockpit, especially since the driver’s turning 71 this year.
Since G-forces would tear any normal wheel apart, and the wheels don’t have to deliver power to the ground, it runs four solid aluminum wheels with no tires, each weighing 140 kg (309 lb) and rated for rotational speeds up to 10,200 rpm, which would produce forces around 50G. Canard winglets on the front can adjust the weight on the front wheels as the car’s center of gravity shifts.
Slowing the thing down will be a team effort; pure wind resistance will handle the first part as the rocket is gradually tapered off (cutting the throttle outright would cause the pilot to experience a rather bracing 16G of deceleration). Then a pair of strong metal air brakes will extend out from the back of the vehicle at around 800 mph (1,287 km/h), taking about 7 tonnes of force. A high speed parachute will deploy at 600 mph (966 km/h), followed by a “low speed” chute as things get down to a much more sensible 450 mph (724 km/h). And finally, yes, there seem to be hydraulic disc brakes on all four corners as well.
Basically, though, you’re looking at a 40-foot steel pipe, 10 mm (0.4 inches) thick and weighing 2.5 tonnes all by itself, the vast majority of which is stuffed with 800 litres (211 gallons) of turpentine, 2 tonnes of white fuming nitric acid oxidiser, four big 4,000-psi gaseous nitrogen blowdown tanks and a dirty big rocket. A comically small section of the car is dedicated to human meat, canned up in a roll cage.
In an interview with CarAdvice, the Aussie Invader team has announced it’s gearing up for a shot at immortality in 2022, with 1,000 mph being the ultimate target. We can’t help but admire a life spent on such a singular and wildly difficult task – although as the years tick on, these land speed efforts are starting to look more and more indulgent.
Incredible minds, extreme courage and huge sums of money are being mustered to this cause, at the end of which a man will kiss his wife, strap himself into a rocket on wheels and proceed to risk his life to try to pass an arbitrary number larger than the last fellow’s number, with his eyes firmly set on a nice round number. The payoff, in the best case scenario, will be personal glory and a helluva story to tell.
Given the very real challenges the world now faces, it’s hard not to wonder how much else could’ve been achieved with that obvious talent and drive. But we don’t choose our muses, they choose us, and Rosco McGlashan has been driven to chase this demon of velocity for most of his life. We can only wish this inspired madman good luck and godspeed on his journey.