A rocket car travelling near the speed of sound







Sponsored by Budweiser the Budweiser rocket car was built in 1979 with the intention of being the first land vehicle to break the sound barrier in the "Project Speed of Sound".  On the 17th December 1979 the vehicle, driven by Stan Barrett, attempted to break the sound barrier and has left a legacy that has been controversial ever since as the final speed of the vehicle has always been disputed. It was believed that the car could exceed the speed of sound but when the vehicle was run no sonic boom was heard.


Generally resembling the 1970-era Blue Flame land speed record holding vehicle in appearance, powered by a hybrid liquid and solid-fuel rocket engine with an extra booster from a sidewinder missile, that has been claimed as being the first vehicle to have broken the sound barrier on land. The original forerunner to the vehicle was the "SMI Motivator" which was damaged badly enough to require a replacement, which in time was called the "Budweiser Rocket".

The vehicle, like its predecessor, was owned by film director Hal Needham, driven by Stan Barrett and designed and built by William Fredrick.





On December 17, 1979 Stan Barrett was strapped into the cockpit of the Budweiser rocket car waiting to make a final run in an attempt to be the first person to drive a land-bound vehicle faster than the speed of sound. Previous trials exposed shortcomings in the basic design of the car. The propulsion system was unable to develop enough power to accelerate the vehicle to a speed high enough to establish an official FIA or FIM sanctioned World Land Speed Record, which at that time stood at 622.


Hal Needham and the team must have reckoned that the rules for land speed racing were in fact obsolete and did not apply to their project. In the team's estimation the general public would not be able to distinguish a peak speed run from an official World Land Speed Record. If the general public accepted their logic and claim of being the first to exceed the sound barrier on land, it could be expected that corporate sponsors would pay a great deal of money for the chance to ride with history. The team in fact, claims a World Land Speed Record, while the Mach 1 event is a purely aerodynamic or atmospheric related phenomenon. Their approach has generated arguments that may rage for quite some time and it is not the author's desire to debate it here. The only issues of critical importance are: did this car reach and exceed Mach 1; and is there evidence that can support such a claim?





The speed was estimated from a radar system at 38 miles per hour - though unfortunately this had been tracking a large truck in the distance, away from the track that the rocket car had used. Some hours after the run the speed (at the vehicle's peak) was calculated at 739.666 miles per hour, ( Mach 1.01 ). This however caused wide skepticism and the speed was never officially recorded.





The first run of the car at Bonneville Salt Flats showed that the propulsion system was unable to develop enough power to sustain a speed high enough to establish a new official World Land Speed Record. The team decided then that their goal would be to exceed the speed of sound on land, if only briefly, although no official authority would recognize this achievement as a record. The speed of sound is a function of the air temperature and pressure. In other words, the sound barrier is not an absolute speed value, but dependent on air conditions. The speed of sound during Barrett's speed run was 731.9 miles per hour (1,177.9 km/h).

The claim of breaking the sound barrier on land was made on December 17, 1979 after a run on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards AFB. While it has been claimed that the Budweiser Rocket did briefly break the sound barrier, it could not gain any official titles because standard ground speed record regulations measure an average speed over a measured distance (either one kilometer or one mile (1.6 km), depending on the particular sanctioning body's rules). The measurement of the vehicle's top speed during the run has been disputed primarily because of the methods used to calculate the speed, and its extremely small margin of success.

No independent authority sanctioned the performance, although United States Air Force radar tracked the vehicle and recorded the azimuth, elevation, timing, and range data from which a top speed solution was calculated. This, along with the on-board accelerometer data was used to produce the estimated top speed of 739.666 miles per hour, or Mach 1.01. This data, however, has never been publicly released.

According to witnesses no sonic boom was heard. It is claimed that this was because of the short distance between the observers and the deafening sonic waves from the combined liquid and solid-fuel rockets used to propel the vehicle. Standing shock waves in the rocket exhaust produce continuous supersonic shock waves (a continuous "sonic boom"). The auditory dynamics of two roaring rocket exhausts, combined with the pounding physical effects of such intense sound waves over the short distance to the observers, made it questionable whether close observers could have differentiated the vehicle's sonic boom from the general cacophony of background noise. No boom was heard at greater distances either, in marked contrast to the runs of Thrust SSC, which generated extensive and well attested sonic booms over a wide area and a clearly visible shockwave.

Despite an unauthorized written speed certification by the United States Air Force, there is much debate over the validity of the claim. The Air Force states it "never intended to give official sanction to test results, nor to give the appearance of expressing an official view as to the speed attained by the test vehicle. Any such opinion was that of individual Air Force personnel, not of the Air Force". None of the land speed record sanctioning groups was present for the run, nor was the run duplicated within any particular time frame as required by most sanctioning bodies for official recognition of a new land speed record. No accurate measurement was taken of the car's speed, which was announced as having been calculated from radar tracking data along with accelerometer data which has not been made public. As a result the Budweiser Rocket Car is not officially considered as the first vehicle to have broken the sound barrier on land, and few people believe the car to have actually done so. The British Thrust SSC is officially recognized by the FIA as breaking the land speed record - and the sound barrier as well - in 1997, with an average speed of 763.035 mph (1227.99 km/h) on a measured mile in both directions. 




Blue Flame WLSR car powered by a rocket motor


The Blue Flame a the rocket-powered vehicle driven by Gary Gabelich that achieved the world land speed record on Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah on October 23, 1970. The vehicle set the FIA world record for the flying mile at 622.407 mph (1,001.667 km/h) and the flying kilometer at 630.388 mph (1,014.511 km/h).

Blue Flame was constructed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin by Reaction Dynamics, a company formed by Pete Farnsworth, Ray Dausman and Dick Keller who had developed the first hydrogen peroxide rocket dragster, called the X-1 and driven by Chuck Suba. Blue Flame used a combination of high-test peroxide and liquified natural gas (LNG), pressurized by helium gas. The effort was sponsored by The American Gas Association, with technical assistance from the Institute of Gas Technology of Des Plaines, IL.





Wikipedia Blue_Flame

Wikipedia Budweiser_Rocket

Wikipedia Budweiser_Anheuser-Busch










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