The land speed record is fairly self explanatory; it’s the highest recorded speed that has been achieved by somebody using a vehicle on land. The record attempts are officiated by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile or FIA for short. The FIA is the governing body for many racing events all over the world, along with the licensing and sanctioning of the World Rally Championship, the World Endurance Championship and Formula One to name a few. The land speed record is measured as the speed over the course of a certain length which is averaged over two separate runs. For a new record to be validated it must exceed the previous at least one percent. The last record set was in 1997 and it was the first land vehicle to officially break the sound barrier. That vehicle was the Thrust SSC.
The Thrust SSC (which stands for supersonic car) is a jet propelled automobile built by a British team, lead by Richard Noble. It was powered by a pair of afterburning Rolls-Royce Spey turbofan engines, these are the same engines used in the British F-4 Phantom II fighter jets which was the United Kingdom’s principal combat aircraft from the 1960s until the early 90s. Subsequently it was driven by Wing Commander Andy Green of the Royal Air Force. In fact this was the same team that had built and piloted the car that had set the previous record in the Thrust2.
Before the record was set extensive tests were run by the crew. Often tests are run in the salt deserts of Utah; however the Thrust SSC team decided instead to use the Al-Jafr Desert in Jordan, a place that had never previously been used for this kind of vehicle testing. The Al-Jafr Desert may have a limited length and bumpy surface, both of which limit speeds, but it has the huge advantage of being dry for the vast majority of the year, this makes it excellent for testing. The official record attempts were run on the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. It’s longer, softer and smoother however is only dry for just over one month a year.
The attempt was a success and the car reached speeds of up to a whopping 763.035 mph which broke the sound barrier, creating an impressive sonic boom in the process. The record has not been beaten since; however the team is working on a new vehicle named the Bloodhound SSC and hopes to do so with attempts set to take place in 2020. Andy Green will once again return to beat his previous record. The goal of the vehicle is to exceed or match 1000 mph which would beat the land speed record by its largest ever margin of 33%.
Though for now the Thrust SSC still holds the record and even if beaten it will always be the first car to reach supersonic speeds. You can see the car itself along with its predecessor the Thrust2 at the Coventry Transport Museum where you can also take a ride in a motion simulator that lets you relive that record breaking run of 1997 yourself.