Jetblack out to inspire Kiwis with record bid

17:33, Jan 27 2013

When New Zealand's Jetblack team challenge the world land speed record in 2016, they want the country to help drive them.

Set by Britain's Thrust SSC in October 1997 at Black Rock Desert in Nevada, the supersonic record stands at 1227kmh (763mph), but the Jetblack team plan to smash that mark, or any record that comes in their way, by pushing a car faster than a fighter jet and beyond the speed of sound.

"The Jetblack story will have a profound effect on New Zealand. Our story will play out in real time for the entire country and world to see," says Richard Nowland, Jetblack's managing director and founder.

The Wellington entrepreneur and former Scots College pupil said the genesis of the multimillion-dollar project came when he bought a pair of Rolls-Royce jet engines on the internet from Britain.

"From that point on the team and the concepts for the design of the vehicle evolved into what we have today; a world-class team and vehicle design."

The global challenge team, based in Wellington, hope their efforts will inspire the next generation of Kiwi scientists, technology innovators, engineers and mathematicians.


"Great feats of engineering and technology have the potential to inspire entire generations; the Apollo project in the USA and Concorde in the UK are two great examples. The country needs young New Zealanders to want to move into careers in engineering science and technology and Jetblack aims to provide the inspiration for them to do so," Mr Nowland says.

One of his biggest inspirations is Kiwi John Britten, who designed and built the coveted Britten V1000 race motorcycle in his Christchurch garage in the 1990s.

"That he then went on to not only be more than competitive against the world's major bike brands but to be revolutionary in so many areas is truly remarkable. It is a reminder of where innovation actually comes from. This story should be told regularly to every young New Zealander, and a lot of older ones too."

In October Jetblack announced a re-design of their 1600kmh challenger vehicle featuring a new aerodynamic design and propulsion system thrust by twin hybrid rocket motors, doing away with the earlier design's jet engine and rocket combination.

But the path to Mach 1 on land is littered with hurdles - Jetblack will have to deal with aerodynamic forces capable of liquidising desert sands. The car must be as strong as a submarine and man oeuvrable to the millimetre.

For four years the team have been tinkering with these issues and are near certain the design will work.

The move to solely hybrid rocket motor propulsion is the project's last major decision and is under development with California's Space Propulsion Group.

Space Propulsion Group co-founder and president Dr Arif Karabeyoglu said the hybrid system delivered a high performance while retaining the safety, simplicity and precision handling of classical hybrids.

"The inherent safety, throttling and shut down are the key virtues of SPG's rocket technology which makes it ideal for this particular application," he says.

The system being developed can be throttle-controlled, which means the thrust of the rocket can be varied.

Mr Nowland says the work-in-progress will represent a significant breakthrough and will provide Jetblack with a competitive advantage.

The hybrid rockets are the same that will power Virgin Galactic's passenger spacecraft.

Unlike jet engines that require an air intake, the rocket-propelled system means fuel and oxidiser can be carried on board the vehicle.

"The new challenger's design minimises drag. It produces approximately one-third less drag than the earlier versions, enabling the car to accelerate to the required speed faster. The new design is also shorter by almost three metres so it has less surface area, which has contributed to its lower aerodynamic resistance, and weighs around two tonnes less," Richard Roake, Jetblack's lead aerodynamicist says.

Relying solely on rocket power means the team have been able to shed the complexity of having control systems for each engine type.

During a high-speed run, the new Jetblack will drop about 3100 kilograms, about 40 per cent of its total weight.

The team plan to build the challenger and pick a testing venue this year. Initial low-speed testing is pencilled in for 2014, with high-speed testing in 2015 and the challenge in 2016. The choice between salt and dirt surfaces will also be finalised during this time.

Low-speed testing will be done in New Zealand, most likely on runways, Mr Nowland says. "Each high-speed run will be incremental and run much like a science experiment, making sure we understand how the car is behaving at every step."

Contact Matt Stewart
Weather, science and environment reporter
Twitter: @smatape

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