Salt Addiction: Richard Brown’s Jet Reaction

January 26, 2012
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.

Richard Brown and his Gillette Mach 3 rocket powered streamliner.
In 1999 Richard Brown claimed he reached a peak speed of 365 mph at Bonneville. Now, the Rocket Man returns in hopes of taking the title of World’s Fastest 2 Wheeler.

“Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seatbelts and prepare for takeoff.”

The steady whine of the spooling jet engine increases in volume and intensity until the wheels begin to roll. Your cell phone must be turned off and your seat in its upright position. There are 200 passengers, maybe more. The in-flight movie fittingly is The World’s Fastest Indian. You bury your head in a magazine, pretending to be interested in whatever it is Sky Mall is pedaling.

The truth of the matter is, hurling down a concrete runway in a sheet metal tube while traveling a couple hundred miles per hour compressed against a fire retardant seat tends to make one a little uneasy. While an alcoholic beverage or a stewardess in a short skirt might be a nice distraction, the fact is, once you’re in motion your very being relies on thrust, aerodynamic drag and lift. Sure, there are many other factors at work, but each time you blast down that flat, narrow course at breakneck speed as the pilot does his best to keep the powerful beast between the markers – you’re getting a small taste of what Craig Breedlove, Art Arfons and even Andy Green experienced in their jet-powered land speed racing machines.

Remove the other passengers; shorten the length, narrow the fuselage and clip the wings. Your Hawaiian shirt and Dockers are replaced with a Nomex firesuit, gloves and a helmet with piped in air. Your 5-point harness, complete with arm and leg restraints, won’t allow you to reach for your drink, let alone scratch that annoying itch. The playa is natural terrain, unlike leveled concrete. Oh yeah, let’s also take some wheels away – leaving only two. Now, you have to balance this jet-powered monstrosity as if it weren’t already difficult enough. Breedlove and Green are no longer in the picture.

Richards hydrogen peroxide hybrid rocket powered streamliner is now on display at the National Motorcycle Museum in Solihull  Birmingham.
Richard’s hydrogen peroxide hybrid rocket powered streamliner is now on display at the National Motorcycle Museum in Solihull, Birmingham.

Art Arfons built a two-wheeled jet-powered streamliner, but he was unable to obtain the proverbial ‘happy ending’ after crashing the mutant machine and immediately abandoning the project.

Richard Brown is familiar with propulsion powered vehicles, having designed and built the Gillette Mach 3 Challenger, a hydrogen peroxide hybrid rocket motorcycle streamliner. In 1999 Richard ran an impressive 332.887 mph one way average through the timed mile on the famed Bonneville Salt Flats, exceeding Dave Campos’ then current FIM record of 322.

I caught up with Richard recently and asked why they were unable to complete the return run to officially claim the title of world’s fastest two-wheeler: “I actually did this speed twice. However, on the first run the timekeeper gave us a faulty time, and on the next record run, which is the one quoted, centrifugal force caused the rear tire to grow off the rim, causing total deflation. We planned to run on solid wheels, but were forced to run on 300 mph rated Goodyear rubber due to poor surface conditions.”

Following his 332.887 mph run with the Gillette Mach 3 Challenger  Richard put his talents to use on the Jet Pack project.
Following his 332.887 mph run
with the Mach 3 Challenger,
Richard put his talents to use on
the Jet Pack project.

Richard claims he reached a peak speed of 365 mph.

I asked why he never returned, and where the bike is now: “I returned from Bonneville 95% satisfied with what we achieved and keen to do other projects, one of which being the Jet Pack, which is still ongoing.” Insert image of James Bond, or Buzz Lightyear here. “However, when the two-wheel LSR got exciting in 2006 with Bub and Ack Attack running faster, I started to consider making a return to the salt with a new machine. The Gillette Mach 3 Challenger was taken for display at the National Motorcycle Museum in Solihull, Birmingham, where it remains today.”

So why the change from rocket power to the jet engine you are currently using?

“As an engineer you can always improve on a previous design. At the time we wanted to set the world record on Pendine Sands in the UK which, at only 4.5 miles long, dictated using rocket power to provide the necessary acceleration. Unfortunately, Pendine proved unsuitable. One negative of the rocket bike was the very high cost and logistics of running it. During the Jet Pack project I have almost scratch-built my own fanjet turbine, so my knowledge of gas turbines/jet engines has vastly increased. For the new bike propulsion I have substantially modified a turboshaft helicopter engine to convert it into a turbojet and then added my own afterburner.” Sir Malcolm Cambell was the first to set a land speed record at Pendine Sands in 1924, running 146.16 mph in a 350 horsepower V12 Sunbeam he named Blue Bird.

Do you feel you will have better control using the jet engine over rocket power?

All dressed up and ready to go. Richard plans on going after the British motorcycle speed record in 2012  and return to Bonneville in 2013.
All dressed up and ready to go. Richard plans on going after the British motorcycle speed record in 2012, and return to Bonneville in 2013.
Based on a 1250 horsepower helicopter engine  the massive turbine is about to be lowered into the tubular chassis.
Based on a 1250 horsepower helicopter engine, the massive turbine is placed inside a frame not unlike a traditional streamliner frame.

“If it handles as well as the rocket bike I will be very happy. It won’t need the tow start and it’s possible to make very slow passes to get the feel for it. Last time I had to build a crude but functional piston powered ‘trainer bike’ so I could first learn how to ride before attempting to do it with a lit rocket up my a$s! As soon as I am stable at about 50 mph I will engage the afterburner, a 400 mph pass will need about 7.5 miles total, including stopping.”

While piston-powered wheel driven motorcycles are an existing market, electric powered motorcycles are now competing in various disciplines of competition and their market to the general public is expanding at a huge rate. I don’t know if the same can be said about propulsion-powered motorcycles. Is there a growing market for this technology, or is this fed by passion to design, build and compete on a unique platform where unlimited power is king?

“I won’t claim that anyone will eventually be riding to the supermarket in a jet or rocket powered streamliner, but in the arena of land speed record breaking, good design, innovation and quality workmanship is key. The world needs engineers driven by the desire to do something better than before. I hope I am one of them.”

What is your timeline and goals for the new machine? What is the ultimate top speed or FIM record you are hoping to obtain?

“I plan to test and run up to the British record by the end of 2012, and if all goes well, than Bonneville in 2013. My goal is “World’s Fastest 2 Wheeler.” It would be great to be the first to reach 400 mph, but I know others are also chasing the same goal. It should be an exciting few years!”

As always, enjoy the ride…