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If you were travelling in a car powered by three rockets and a jet engine, capable of reaching over 1000mph, while still on the ground, I’m pretty sure you’d want something substantial to hold on to?!

I’m speaking, of course, about the Bloodhound Project; a supersonic car which, in 2016, will attempt to obliterate the current land speed record of 763mph by attaining a speed of over 1000mph. That’s fast enough to overtake a bullet fired from a Magnum .357.

Cambridge Design Partnership has played its part in this exciting journey by contributing a functional, robust, and ergonomic design for the steering wheel which Wing Commander Andy Green will tightly grip as he drives the car across the desert and into the record books.

We recently went to the Bloodhound Technical Centre in Bristol for the official unveiling of the supersonic car’s cockpit, where they showcased the first titanium version of the wheel. The titanium wheel was produced using an additive manufacturing method very similar to the 3D printers we have at Cambridge Design Partnership. In this case the technology is called Direct Metal Laser Sintering (or DMLS); it uses a powerful laser to sinter powdered metal, fusing the material together to gradually build a part up in tiny layers. This game-changing technology allows engineers to completely optimise their designs for functionality and performance; we are now able to realise shapes and forms that simply could not be made until now and as a result achieve levels performance previously thought to be impossible.

As you look at the wheel, from left to right, the buttons give Green control over the back-up brake chute, the main brake chute, the air brakes, and radio and abort mission commands. There are also two triggers on the reverse side of the wheel which will be used to control the two stages of firing the rockets.

As if that wasn’t enough to keep on top of, Green also has to keep the vehicle travelling in a straight line over the 12 mile stretch; pointing the car just one degree in the wrong direction for the run would mean the crew at the finish are standing almost 350m away from the car as it comes to a halt. Since the car will be travelling so fast, a typical steering ratio for a conventional car of 15:1 (15 degrees of turn on the steering wheel to 1 degree actual turn of the wheels) will be far too sensitive. Instead Bloodhound SSC will start with a ratio of 30:1 (90 degrees will give Green just 3 degrees at the wheels) and the engineers will tweak it to optimise the level of control needed after extensive testing at high speeds and on the terrain of the Hakskeen Pan in South Africa.

As for the rest of the cockpit, the canopy really stood out for me. This is the ‘lid’ that will seal Green into the cockpit; it’s made from a combination of carbon fibre and a 25mm thick curved, clear acrylic panel. The oblique aerodynamic shape has been specifically designed to generate a series of shockwaves (just above Green’s head!) which will slow down the supersonic airflow before it enters the EJ200 jet engine – to stop it from causing potentially catastrophic damage. You might think that this doesn’t actually give Green much of a windscreen, and you’d be right! From the driver’s perspective the window is about 5cm from top to bottom.

Bloodhound cockpit canopy

As well as attending the launch event, we personally delivered two newly finished, 3D printed replica steering wheels which we produced at Cambridge Design Partnership to fit into the Bloodhound Driving Experience (BDE) simulators. These tour the country to allow people the virtual experience, thrill (and panic) of racing through the desert at 1000mph.

At the event, we worked with the Bloodhound team – working alongside Toby Cabaret of the Bloodhound communications team, and Sgts Rick Constable and Joshua Thompson of the British Army (R.E.M.E) Bloodhound team - to quickly install one of the wheels into the simulator so that attendees could try out the new and improved driving experience. It’s an understatement to say that these guys like what they do, and do it well; the success of the entire project thus far is a testament to the resourcefulness, experience, enthusiasm and sheer effort contributed by the entire team of people (certainly if the example shown by these engineers is anything to go by).

Model wheel designed by CDP

Surrounded by the incredible technology on display and the vast group of dedicated people working on the Bloodhound Project (not forgetting the fantastic educational initiatives in place to encourage the next generation of engineers and scientists), it’s hard not to feel inspired! We’re currently planning our next project that we can work on for Bloodhound, to be on board and support the initiative for another exciting year, as the adventure continues to take shape.

Read more about the steering wheel design finalised by Cambridge Design Partnership.

By Matthew Fordham

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