Andy Green. INTERVIEW. Lunch with the fastest man alive

Andy Green

So it was that non-nutcase Andy was invited to join the Thrust SSC (SuperSonic Car) team in 1995 for an extensive development program before performing the run itself at Black Rock Desert, Nevada, on 15 October 1997: you can read the Wing Commander’s description of the run HERE. Even then, with hundreds of days testing on the ten-ton aerodynamic piece of art, two Rolls-Royce Spey Mk202 turbojet engines producing 25,000lb ft of thrust apiece (equivalent to 145 Formula 1 cars), and the prospect of 0-1000kph in just 16 seconds rattling round his head, the life-threatening danger was just one cause for concern. With little creditability bolstering the operation, Thrust SSC had just one attempt to break the record.

“Every single run, I was acutely aware there was 100 different ways to get this wrong. Calculations beforehand said that if I got slightly out of sync, the car would be so far off-line within two seconds that it would be unrecoverable and we would have to abort the run. Suddenly we’ve wasted ten days. Or the weather breaks and the rains come early. That’s it. You’re done. We didn’t have enough money to go back the following year nor did we have the credibility.

Months of preparation for the critical run, one would think the cockpit would have been stuffed with lucky charms. But no…

“Not a single one. Other land speed record teams have. Donald Campbell’s team had Mr Whoppit, the little teddy bear, with the Bluebird. In fact one of the land speed record teams declared that all of their crew members had to wear black underwear any day that the car was running. I don’t whether they actually went and inspected that…

“If we had a superstition, it was a belief in preparation. If we didn’t know what was going to happen, we didn’t do the next run until we’d figured it out. And if we couldn’t, there wasn’t a next run. It’s like testing a new aeroplane from scratch. You get airborne, fly round the airfield a couple of times, land, and do a full inspection. Next time you go a little faster and a little further. Step by step testing, and it’s exactly the same with the car. By the time we’d been supersonic, we’d already done 12 runs at over 1100kph. There is no huge jump.”

Andy Green

Fast forward to October 1997. A record broken and the bubbly supped copiously, it was back to the RAF day job for Andy intercut with requests to max a Bentley Mulsanne at Bonneville. The Wing Commander though was far from done with life in the incredibly fast lane. Well before the official announcement was made in October 2008, planning and subsequent preparation was well underway for Bloodhound SSC, a new supersonic car project – again headed by Richard Noble – aimed at breaking the mythical 1000mph/1609kph mark and cementing yet another land speed record.

Weighing seven tonnes, measuring more than 44-feet long, and boasting a carbon fibre monocoque and metallic framework, the Bloodhound utilises an EJ200 jet engine, a hybrid rocket and an ‘auxiliary power unit’ capable of producing a combined 135,000hp: at full thrust, the Bloodhound could theoretically reach 25,000ft if fired vertically into the air. For maths nut and driver Andy, it’s a compelling – albeit monumental – undertaking.

“Technology’s come a huge way: what was a supercomputer 20 years ago is now a decent desktop. Some of the country’s biggest supercomputers are working on the Bloodhound, and they’re just light-years ahead of anything available with Thrust. So the data is so much more accurate. We can even look at unstable flow and start to solve it. That was impossible 20 years ago.

“The other thing is we have the credibility. We’ve built the only supersonic car in the word. We still hold the record. We are pushing the boundaries of human endeavour. And that’s not only a very human thing to do, it’s part of what makes life exciting and interesting. 1600kph is faster than any jet fighter has ever been in history, so we’re taking the jet engine outside its design envelope.”

Andy Green

Given the speeds at play, strong names like ‘Thrust’ have helped make both 2 and the SSC iconic machines. And while Bloodhound may seem an unusual choice, the name is actually derived from Chief of Aerodynamics Ron Ayers’ work on the Bloodhound 2 missile. A name that originally was originally just temporary.

“Before the press launch, we didn’t want anybody to know about the car. We were very cautious, so we used a codename. But when it came to announce the project we thought, ‘right, what are we actually going to call it?’ By then it had stuck in the consciousness to the extent that we just stuck with it.

“Nobody needs a supersonic car, but if you want to teach Newtonian physics, ‘here’s a 1000kph jet car, what makes that move?’ The answer is because the jet engine sucks air in, heats it up and blasts it out the back under very high pressure. There is an equal and opposite reaction with that high-pressure jet of gas, pushing the car in the opposite direction. That is Newton’s third law of physics. Why do you need a big engine to accelerate quickly? Well, for a given mass, more force is more acceleration. That’s Newton’s second law done. That’s a snapshot example of the physics behind Bloodhound. That’s our real legacy. That’s what we’re actually trying to achieve.”

One land speed record under his belt and now another as impressively complex – with full backing from Rolls-Royce for the first time in the company’s history – set to debut in the near future. But it’s all in a day’s work for RAF Wing Commander Andy Green. It is the world’s best holiday job, after all.


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