Thrust SSC - Supersonic Race Update

Spirit of America

Information last updated: 27th November 1997

(Five times record holder Craig Breedlove with his team and Spirit of America car. Photo: Robin Richardson)

Driven by five-times record holder Craig Breedlove, his third Spirit of America car was ThrustSSC's challenger to be the first to set a supersonic World Land Speed Record. Although intended for the same purpose, the design of the 'Sonic Arrow' is a stark contrast to that of ThrustSSC. The long, slim body features the driver right up front, the engine immediately behind, and outrigged rear wheels in fairings.

Powered by a GE J-79 Series 8 engine from the US version of the F4 Phantom aircraft, initial running was undertaken at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, a place often referred to as the spiritual home of record breaking. After a number of difficulties with the salt, Breedlove achieved 338mph on his third test run before deciding that Bonneville was unsuitable.

(Spirit of America on the Bonneville Salt Flats in September 1996. Photo: Robin Richardson)

The Spirit of America team moved to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada where Britain's Richard Noble set his current record of 633.468mph and there they increased their speeds in large increments. By the end of October 1996 they were ready, and with the weather closing in Breedlove made his record attempt.

Spirit of America was accelerating towards the measured mile on the first run when the right side of the car lifted, lowered, then lifted again, throwing the car onto its side. At a reported speed of 675mph the car described a huge arc on the desert, passing outside the timing traps which would have measured the speed, before Breedlove was able to right it and bring it to rest. Fortunately Craig was unhurt - although he was somewhat shaken.

(Spirit of America on the Bonneville Salt Flats in September 1996. Photo: Robin Richardson)

The months since the accident were spent rebuilding the car back at base in Rio Vista, California. A larger fin was fitted to the rear, while the parachute bins were moved from underneath the car to the top. In September 1997 Spirit of America was joined by ThrustSSC on the Black Rock Desert for the long-awaited head-to-head race to the Sound Barrier.

Although initial progress was good, the car hit serious problems when a foreign object was ingested into the J-79, necessitating an engine change back at base in Rio Vista, California. On his return to the playa, Breedlove found that ThrustSSC had made excellent progress towards supersonic speeds, while he struggled with problems with wheel balance, engine power and afterburner ignition.

Spirit of America continued on Black Rock Desert in 1997 after the ThrustSSC Team had left, having completed their objective of setting the first ever Supersonic World Land Speed Record. The onset of winter forced the America team off the playa as well in November.

Craig Breedlove plans to return to the Black Rock Desert in 1998 to take the World Land Speed Record from the ThrustSSC Team.

Craig Breedlove and the Spirit of America team have no less than three Web Sites about them!

About this site

Supersonic Race Update Mach 1 Club ThrustSSC Shop
Sponsored by This site best viewed with Microsoft Internet Explorer 3
Digital msie artewisdom

© SSC Programme Ltd, 1997