Alex Fright is an aerospace engineer working as a solution designer for Rolls Royce. He is an ambassador for the Bloodhound SuperSonic Car Project, an engineering project with the aim of building a jet and rocket powered car capable of breaking the world land speed record.
We’ve got an F1 engine, an aircraft typhoon engine and a rocket.
On getting interested in science
Well, I’ve always been interested in the way in which things work and ‘Why does that do that?’ and ‘How does it do that?’ and so the thing that got me into, well, science and engineering specifically is aircraft. They’re amazing. You can make a thing, a great hunk of metal, fly, so that as itself, as a concept, is fantastic. So that got me down the route of ‘How does this thing work and why does it work?’ and then once you get deeper into it, it gets so much more interesting, so the more you know, the more interesting it becomes. And that’s what made me drive down the engineering route in the first place.
I’ve always liked the idea of, well, sort of robot design and, from that, control engineering and general aerodynamics as well because the thing about aircraft specifically is it’s the fusion of many different disciplines. So you’ve got new materials science, aerodynamics and your control services, all those coming together to make the thing work and without everything it’s not going to function as it should, do what it’s designed to do, so it’s a combination of those things really [that got me hooked].
On working with Bloodhound SSC
One of the primary design intents is we get to 1,000 [mph] and then don’t go beyond, so it’s designed so that the rocket will fire off at this point and when it gets to 1,000 it will have burnt out – or just above a thousand to make sure we get the record – and from that you’ve then got the deceleration, but the question is how do you make sure it is on the one hand safe and the other hand, it doesn’t take off! Well you’ve got wings on the car itself which will keep it on the ground, so that’s the downforce to keep it down, and in terms of safety, well, one of the design purposes is the wheels, which will control where the car goes, the direction of the car, it actually has a notch coming out of it which will dig into the sand at Hakskeen Pan which is…there’s Hakskeen Pan in South Africa which is a great plain which will, well, it’s the best place in the world essentially to do this thing. It’s a twelve mile track in which they can…it’s very flat and so they can use this to attempt the record because they need about five miles to accelerate to 1,000 mph and then again the same to decelerate to zero then turn back and do the thing again so of course they need that kind of space and they need it to be completely clear. So, what they do is, they have a notch that comes out of the wheels and keeps it stable along the track because if Andy Green tried to turn the wheel at 1,000 mph it’s just gonna keep going!
So the thing keeps up to speed via an EJ200 which is the Typhoon engine, a fighter engine. What the F1 engine does is power the pump which drives the rocket fuel, essentially. So you get up to a certain speed using the aircraft engine and then when, at the correct point, you fire off the rocket, that gets you up to 1,000 mph and then it burns out at the appropriate speed and what happens then is to decelerate; first of all, the rockets switches off and the force of the air alone – the drag force – will pull the car down, right down to about 700 mph. You then release the air brakes. So there’s a couple of…doors if you like, that come out and allow you to increase the surface area which will increase the drag force, decrease the speed further and then you kick out a couple of parachutes, again decreasing the speed. When you get to about 250 mph you can press the normal disc brakes, which are of course multiple disc high performance F1 brakes, and then come to a stop.
On driving a rocket car
It’s actually a pilot, a fighter pilot, [Andy Green] who drives the car and it has to be because, as you say, the G-forces are quite high [up to 3G]. The acceleration is one thing and the deceleration is an even greater force on the body when you’re decelerating at these rates. So the one thing is, he’s got to have that kind of training and the right suits and equipment to be able to handle those G-forces and also fighter pilot reactions because when it comes to controls you’ve got to be able to react and not think because, as you know, it could easily, at 1,000 mph, go catastrophically wrong.
On the technological benefits from Bloodhound
It uses lots of different technologies, this is a thing that brings together, well, for example, you’ve got an F1 engine, an aircraft Typhoon engine and a rocket, you know, bringing those technologies together driven primarily by the aircraft industry, that kind of level technology, or F1 performance technology, will have a knock on effect downstream when it comes to mass producing kinds of normal roadworthy cars, so that’s one thing. But primarily it’s a challenge in itself and out of every kind of engineering challenge more development will come.
On using Bloodhound to inspire
Well, my involvement here is I’m representing Rolls Royce to really educate, and that’s the primary purpose of Bloodhound. One, it’s great to have the land speed record, you know, that’s a good feat of engineering, but the primary purpose is to bring about another generation of engineers and scientists and to really inspire them to take that path. Because there is a lack of engineers in Britain and Europe right now and we need to address that, and Bloodhound is a fantastic way of inspiring the kids and bring them into that kind of field.
Kids love this because it really gets across the concept of ‘This is a fast thing’. When you say, well, it goes faster than the speed of sound, for example, kids know that sound has got to be pretty fast. Or it’s faster than a speeding bullet out of a gun, that really gets the message across, and then, once they’re inspired, they can go away with their teachers and build, for example, model cars or balloon air powered cars and race those, so you can really get some interaction, they can interact and have their own races. And that will inspire them to look into it further and maybe go down a science and engineering route in their education.
On future engineering challenges
Well, what I think would be nice to see, and I don’t know how far fetched it is, there are plans for it, but it would be nice to have some kind of real relationship with Mars. For example, I know there’s definitely plans to colonise it but I don’t know if we’ll make that in the next…however many, 70 years, but, yeah, that kind of research and progress is really interesting. That’s the next step, isn’t it?