What It's Like to Drive at 1000 Km/H

Be honest now. We all know the very real dangers of speeding but chances are at some stage in your life you've found yourself on a quiet, desolate country road and planted the accelerator to the floor.

As the speedo crept up and the wind whistled past, it felt just for a second like you were riding a rocket, right? Well, imagine how it feels to be Andy Green.

The Briton is the current land speed record holder, a title he earned by steering a jet-powered lump of metal through the Nevada desert at speeds 10 times the freeway average. His 1997 achievement was to hit just under 1228km/h, so becoming the first person to break the sound barrier on land.

As if breaking the record once in his life was not enough, Green now hopes to top that achievement by going not one hundred, not two hundred but 382km/h faster. In an effort scheduled for 2011, he aims to break the 1000mph mark, achieving a speed of 1609km/h.

"There's no point in us going slightly faster than last time," he says. "We hold the record and it's arguably still the most impressive ever because it was the one that proved you could go supersonic.

"What we're trying to do is push the boundaries of technology to explore what's possible."

So how does one become the fastest man on the planet? For Green, it helped having a background as a pilot.

He graduated from Worcester College, Oxford, with first-class honours in mathematics in 1983 and then began full-time flight training with the RAF. He qualified as a fighter pilot on F-4 Phantoms and F3 Tornadoes.

He applied for a role with the Thrust SSC team - who were chasing the land-speed record - after reading a newspaper article in 1994.

"These guys were looking to recruit somebody to drive a twin-jet, supersonic, 10-tonne vehicle, which is outside anybody's normal experience. Where are you going to find somebody qualified to do that? And I'm actually sitting there, on a fast-jet base, with twin-jet supersonic fighters sitting outside. I thought: 'Actually, if I'm not qualified to do that, who would be?' I got picked as the driver in '95 and it's been life-changing since."

Despite the risks, Green says breaking the land-speed record was probably more fraught for his crew than himself.

"Doing anything for the first time ever has to have a certain area of uncertainty," he says. "And when it's going supersonic on land, a lot of world experts said: 'No one will ever survive, someone's going to get killed but you can try.'

"There was a degree of psychological challenge in overcoming that. But as curious as it might sound, if it all goes horribly wrong the driver actually doesn't have to live with the consequences. Real long-term courage has to come from the team."

Green says he recalls the record-breaking ride vividly. "Being strapped in a small cockpit, you sort of have a sense that the car is an extension of yourself," he says.

"There's an awful lot of noise but curiously not from the jets in Thrust SSC. Most of the noise came out of the front at slow speed and at the back at high speed. Then, of course, as we started to go supersonic, as the shock wave formed over the cockpit, it transmitted the sound into the cockpit and the noise levels were very, very high.

"You really do have the impression you're going at an unimaginable speed. Until you've seen it, you cannot imagine how fast the land is going past."

For Green to crack the 1000mph mark, he is pinning his hopes on the Bloodhound SSC - a new 12.8-metre-long, pencil-shaped, rocket- and jet-powered vehicle.

He hopes the endeavour will inspire future mathematicians and physicists. "[The idea is] to get kids all over this country and indeed all over the world - because that's what the internet offers now - involved in the science and the technology," he says. "It's difficult to make science and technology sexy in schools nowadays and we're trying to produce a project that will do that."

So given his experience of high speed, is Green more or less likely to put his foot down on the road? He says he drives slower these days.

"It doesn't matter whether you drive at 50km/h or 100km/h - when you've done 1200km/h it still feels slow," he says. "In the real world there's a whole bunch of hazards you have to deal with, so it would be stupid to get killed in a 50km/h accident because I was going too fast, or indeed get stopped by the police. And I've met a whole bunch of police [since the record] who have said: 'It'd be great to stop you and give you a ticket."'

Race is on to starting line

Andy Green will have to beat an Aussie challenge if he wants to take the 1000mph record. Perth man Rosco McGlashan (below) is also preparing a vehicle to break the record, a seven-metre steel missile on wheels called the Aussie Invader 5R, which is powered by four rocket thrusters.

He hopes it can accelerate from a standing start to 1000mph (1609km/h) in just 20 seconds.

The race is now on to see which car will be ready to roll first and break the record. "Our car is beautifully simple," McGlashan says. "Theirs is obviously a nightmare, with three different engines on it."