Watch the Budweiser Rocket Car blast off to supersonic speed
Lots of conjecture surrounds whether this was the first car to go supersonic. See for yourself in the video at the end of this article.
One of the most overused and exaggerative metaphors you hear in life is “they were off like a rocket”. While the rocket people are referring to may be of the space-venturing kind, it’s the type that thunders across a dry lake bed that gives you the most palpable understanding of what a rocket actually looks like when it blasts off.
Credit: Nation Motor Museum
The Budweiser Rocket Car is such a vehicle. While it may strictly be classified as a car, it has in fact got more in common with a missile on wheels. After the pursuit of the land speed record had left piston-power behind in favour of jets, in 1970, rocket-propulsion was used for the first time to send a car faster than any had been before.
Due to the brutal power of rockets, it was expected that LSR-cars at the time would use them instead of jets. The Budweiser utilised the potential of a rocket in order to chase down the land speed record, which at the time of its 1979 completion, stood at 622mph. Rather than merely aiming to eek their way passed this however, the team behind the car wanted to push on all the way to the speed of sound.
On the 17th of December 1979, the Budweiser Rocket Car shot across the dry lake bed of Edwards Airforce Base. Using a 48,000 horsepower rocket engine, along with a sidewinder missile for an extra boost of 12,000 horsepower, the Budweiser fired across the ground in a manner that makes your eyes question what they’ve seen - which you’ll witness in the video at the end of this article.
Due to the fact that the speed of sound is entirely dependent on the air conditions prevailing at the time, in order to go supersonic, the car needed to go faster than 731.9mph. And so, after a nerve-wrecking countdown, off it went in search of a place in history. Relentless in its acceleration, it kept getting faster and faster, until a second flame shot out of the back of the car signalling the ignition of the sidewinder - and the sudden unleashing of 12,000 additional horsepower!
Credit: National Motor Museum
Eventually, the flames from the engine subsided as the fuel was entirely consumed, and the car came to a stop. The driver, Stan Barrett, disembarked to be informed that he’d just travelled at 734mph according to the GPS, and 739mph according to the air-speed indicator - resulting in his team cheering at how they’d “probably” broke the speed of sound. Unfortunately for them however, saying the word “probably” doesn’t constitute verified evidence for the people at Guinness - regardless of how much Guinness they’ve consumed.
You would think that the sure sign of their supersonic claim would be the one provided by nature - that of a sonic boom. But there wasn’t one. Some say this is because the immense noise of the rocket overpowered the sound of the boom - but if that were true, it would only count for people who were observing in a very close proximity. More distant onlookers would’ve heard the sonic boom over the dull hum of the rocket - and nobody reported hearing one. In 1997 however, when Andy Green broke the sound barrier in Thrust SSC, a sonic boom could be heard for miles around.
Not only that, but the Budweiser only did the one run - unlike the two runs stipulated in order to verify a record. Not to mention that the data the team recorded was never released into the public domain. If you ask me however, while I doubt it reached a supersonic speed, I think it’s more probable that it was the first car to reach over 700mph. Had it completed two verified runs, it is possible that Richard Noble would never have held the record in Thrust 2 at 633mph. Now there’s a thought for the day.
Please amaze yourself by watching the video below. And be sure to let me know in the comments if you think they can accurately claim to have created the world’s first supersonic car.
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