Salt Addiction Mike Charlton Jet Bike

June 25, 2009
Rocky Robinson
Rocky Robinson
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Having raced everything from Flat Track to Trials, Rocky Robinson now pilots streamliners at the Bonneville Salt Flats and currently holds the ultimate land speed record at 376 mph aboard the Ack Attack streamliner.

The Gillette Mach 3 Challenger team.  Richard Rocket Man Brown is in the white shirt.
The Gillette Mach 3 Challenger team. (Richard “Rocket Man” Brown is in the white shirt.)

In 1999 Richard “Rocket Man” Brown and his team crossed the pond from the UK to compete on American soil. What was unique to their effort was the use of three hydrogen peroxide hybrid rockets which powered their motorcycle streamliner, the Gillette Mach 3 Challenger.

Denis Manning put on the all-motorcycle private meet which was unofficially the first Bub Motorcycle Speed Trials. Richard’s propulsion-powered vehicle shot across the desert floor like the rocket it was. I remember the ground trembling beneath our feet and this thunderous roar echoing off the mountains. It reminded me of a jet fighter making a low pass just off the deck – the sound or real horsepower.

At the time Dave Campos was king. His 322 mph FIM record would remain on top for another seven years. Unofficially, Richard Brown beat the king by over 10 mph with a one-way average through the mile of 332.887 mph. He was unable to record a return run which nullified his record attempt.

The Gillette Mach 3 Challenger undergoes wind tunnel testing to insure stability and aerodynamic efficiency.
The Gillette Mach 3 Challenger undergoes wind tunnel testing to insure stability and aerodynamic efficiency.

It could be said that Richard’s machine technically wasn’t a motorcycle. A motorcycle by definition – pertaining to land speed racing, must have only two wheels which lay down a single track, and utilize a motorcycle engine. The latter, a hydrogen peroxide hybrid rocket hardly fits the bill as a motorcycle engine.

Richard wouldn’t be the first to run an unorthodox powerplant. Jim Feuling’s three-wheeled motorcycle streamliner attempt also netted a single run average over 332 mph, but he was powered by an automotive engine. Art Arfons, creator of the Green Monster jet powered cars which competed head to head against Craig Breedlove in the ’60s, also built a two-wheeled jet powered streamliner. He later redesigned it into a four-wheel configuration after suffering severe handling problems.

The Bub Seven streamliner utilizes a unique engine configuration; a one-off V4 powerplant that many argue is not a motorcycle engine. You’d be hard pressed to find one at your local motorcycle dealer or any dealership on the planet.

Mikes fire breathing big rig is a definite show stopper.Mikes blown V8 drag bike lights the tire from one end of the strip to the other!
Mike’s fire breathing big rig is a definite show stopper.

Regardless of engine classification, bragging rights for the fastest two-wheeled machine is the common goal. With that in mind, there’s a new kid on the block eager to throw his hat in the ring. Mike Charlton is in the process of building his own jet-powered motorcycle streamliner. He already campaigns a jet-powered big rig at select drag meets along with a blown V8 powered drag bike that burns rubber the entire length of the strip!

Mike’s dad was a big influence, taking him to the drag strip at an early age. While most kids were reading comic books, Mike had his head buried in Hot Rod magazines. “I remember the first time I saw the jet cars run I knew what I wanted to do.”

I asked if there were many roadblocks to running his machine at Bonneville. He’s been told by some that he couldn’t run a thrust-powered motorcycle. Also, his specially prepared billet (tireless) wheels have taken issue with others. And, he’s been denied entry into the Bub Motorcycle Speed Trials. None of this seems to dampen Mike’s enthusiasm. “Right now I’m talking to someone else. Make no mistake, we will run at Bonneville.”

I wouldn’t bet against him…

Mike and close friend Roger Kilian pose next to their creation.
Mike and close friend Roger Kilian pose next to their creation.

“We plan on attempting to set the unlimited motorcycle land speed record, the emphasis being unlimited. I don’t understand an unlimited class set at 3000cc. I have the utmost respect for all the guys going after the wheel driven record: Denis and Chris, Mike and Rocky, Sam Wheeler and for sure Max Lambky. The four-wheel record has not been held by a car engine since the thirties or forties when they started installing aircraft engines. Sooner or later the motorcycle two-wheel record will be held by a thrust-powered vehicle. I believe Richard “Rocket Man” Brown and Art Arfons gave us a glimpse of that.”

I guess you could say Mike’s knowledge of jet engines and how they work comes from the school of hard knocks. “I bought the engine for the truck from a construction company. It had a burned “hot section”. I purchased a book from Tim Arfons and read it and went to work—a lot of trial and error. I became friends with Tim who is probably the most knowledgeable man on land speed jet engines around.” He also gives credit to Art Arfons and learned a lot from his two-wheeled attempt.

Important reading material for any serious land speed racer!
Important reading material for any serious land speed racer!

For all you “gearheads” wanting the lowdown on Mike’s machine, take a deep breath and let out slowly. This is not your everyday sportbike or bar hopper on steroids.

Weight is 2,100 pounds with fuel and rider on board. Total length is 24 feet. Width is a narrow 24 inches, with a total height of only 38 inches. The engine, a General Electric J85 turbojet, is capable of 4500 lbs of thrust with afterburner, which is the equivalent of 8000 horsepower. Military jet fighters and civilian passenger jets share the same engine.

On a lighter note, Mike asked Tim Arfons how big he should build the fuel tank for his two-wheeled jet powered racer. “One gallon,” was his reply. He said that’s all you need before it falls over on its side. The voice of experience also has a sense of humor.

Rear view of jet bike. Notice the huge exhaust tube and the twin parachutes mounted side by side drag car style.
Rear view of jet bike. Notice the huge exhaust tube and the twin parachutes mounted side-by-side drag car style.

Mike likes to tell the story about the air speed indicator in his jet bike. “It came out of Art Arfons’ Green Monster jet car…the one he crashed at over 600 mph in 1966. It was the only part that wasn’t broken.” Tim said he could borrow it and hopefully it would bring him luck. Like Art Arfons, Mike is working with limited funds out of his private workshop. His right-hand man is Roger Kilian. “I know there are more talented builders and drivers out there but you will be hard pressed to find two more determined people than myself and Roger.”

Look for Mike and his jet bike to run at Bonneville this summer.

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