Crashing through the sound barrier

A 600mph pile-up has given Britain's Thrust the chance to be the world's first supersonic car, reports Andrew Baker

Craig Breedlove may not have regained the world land speed record, but last week he set a record of sorts. When he lost control of his jet- powered car Spirit of America at more than 600mph in the Black Rock desert in Nevada, he executed what must be both the fastest and longest U-turn in automotive history.

Moments after feeling the nose of the car lift, he came to rest three miles further on, facing the way he had come. Breedlove leapt out and immediately set about assessing the damage. Questions about his condition got the cool reply: "I'm standing here.

It's no big deal."

Breedlove's mishap means that the British Thrust SSC (Super Sonic Car) team have a clear run at breaking the record. The Britons, led by the current record holder, Richard Noble, will begin test runs on a 10-mile track at Al-Jafr in the Jordanian desert this week, and are confident that by mid-November they will be faster than the 630mph mark set by Noble in 1983.

The Thrust team were quick to send their condolences to Breedlove. "Although we are competitors we are also very good friends," said the project manager, Richard Noble's brother Andrew. "The first thing we did when we heard about his crash was to send a fax saying how sorry we were to hear the news, and how glad we were that Craig was okay."

Speaking from the Thrust base at al-Jafr, Noble denied that Breedlove's accident had worrying implications for the British team. "Our car is totally different," he said. "We are not worried about what happened to Craig happening to us - but we may have one or two worries of our own, who knows?"

The two team leaders have contrasting approaches. Breedlove, who in the 1960s was the first man to beat 400, 500 and 600mph, is a craggy, no-nonsense car nut with the looks and manner of the maturer-years Clark Gable. Awesomely laid-back, he is no stranger to high-speed accidents. At the Bonneville Salt Flats in the 1960s, he crashed at more than 400mph. His car cut down a telegraph pole, flew up a bank and came to rest, mangled, in a ditch. When rescuers reached the wreck, Breedlove was sitting on it. "For my next trick," he laconically announced, "I will set myself on fire."

The American now faces months of work to repair his car, but is determined to return in 1997 in pursuit of the record he last held 31 years ago. "It's not where we wanted to go," he said. "I guess I'll be busy this winter. But I'll be back."

Breedlove's feeling for what makes a car go faster is largely intuitive. Richard Noble is happy to defer to the experts, even to the extent of handing over driving duties to a younger man, 34-year-old RAF squadron leader Andy Green. "Richard is methodical," his brother said. "His great skill lies in keeping the ideas coming and in keeping the team together."

The first target for the Thrust team this month is Noble's existing record of 630mph. But the ultimate target, the Holy Grail to which both Noble and Breedlove aspire, is the sound barrier, 750mph at ground level, the justification for the SSC suffix to Thrust's name. The target is tantalising, not least because nobody really knows what will happen as a vehicle moves from subsonic, through trans-sonic, to supersonic speed. What is certain is that there will be instability, buffeting and high- frequency vibrations. What is less certain is what effect these forces will have on vehicle and driver.

But Andrew Noble is convinced that the Thrust team have done all the necessary research. "We have been calculating on our computers all the conditions we are going to get, and that way we have minimalised all the grey areas enormously. Our aim is to make a safe car go fast, not the other way round."

A reassuring thought for Andy Green, who has been whiling away the time before Tuesday's first test run by helping the rest of the team to clear the 17 ten-mile tracks in the desert of pebbles and any debris that might be sucked into the car's two Rolls-Royce Spey jet engines, or that might damage the vehicle's tyreless aluminium wheels. Cynics on the team suggest that Green's fondness for pebble-picking duties is based mainly on a desire to avoid journalists' questions. The answer to the commonest question is: "I can't wait to get into the car and get going."

Clearing the tracks is a boring task, walking 170 miles in 30-degree heat, but there is not much else to do at al-Jafr. "There are one or two Bedouins here," Andrew Noble reported, "and a shop that I think sells tomatoes and apples, and that's it. The nearest entertainment is in Petra, an hour-and-a-half's drive away, and let me tell you, that is not a journey you make at night. So we just work and sleep. We're very confident that we will be up to record speeds - around 650mph - pretty soon. But there is a word that is used a lot in Jordan - Inshallah - God willing."

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?