Can You Break the Sound Barrier
On Land and Live to Tell About It?

  By Randy Gray   

Gerlach, Nev. -- The sudden flurry of excitement over land speed has triggered speculation as to whether the sound barrier can be broken by a vehicle with all fours firmly on the ground.  
Craig Breedlove floated his long-range plans of hitting 700 mph and then breaking the sound barrier even before bringing his car to the Black Rock Desert this week to attempt a record run of 640 miles an hour.
It would take a speed of more than 750 mph to break the sound barrier at the Black Rock, experts say.
According to Gary Swenson of Pullayup, Wash., such an attempt would be fatal.
"Our team believes a vehicle would be able to break the sound barrier once, but the driver and the vehicle wouldn't make it for a second run," said Swenson, who had hoped to make a record attempt at the Black Rock but failed to raise sufficient funds.
"There's no way the driver would make it. I want the record. I want to bring it back to America, but I want to live to enjoy it. I think they (Breedlove and record holder Richard Noble of Great Britain) know it can't be done safely.
"That wave would go under the car and literally explode underneath the car," said the veteran drag racer with 15 years experience in driving jet-powered cars.
Breedlove believes Swenson's comments are based on insufficient evidence.
"Sure, there's risk involved," he said. "We
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would have to conduct unmanned tests to see if we could go supersonic.
"We'd need a log of knowledge and data, and build one success on another to make a judgment. There's no way to do it on computers or in a wind tunnel."
Noble was more outspoken when told of Swenson's comments.
"I think what you have to understand is we spent 2 1/2 years researching this," Noble was quoted as saying. "I hold the record. I've been over 600 mph 11 times. We know exactly what happens at the sound barrier.
He said his team has conducted 13 supersonic runs with a 1/25th scale model of Thrust SSC going from 0 to 820 mph in .8 seconds.
"It has proven this car is safe," Noble said. "Otherwise we wouldn't be doing this. It's easy for somebody to come out and say it's unsafe. You have to have grounds to say that. This is not about emotion. We've done this on solid facts."

-- Randy Gray
copyright 1996, Randy Gray

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