Is a 2000 Mph Car Actually Possible?
The current land speed record stands at just more than 763 miles per hour. But in a small workspace in Southern California, Waldo Stakes is tinkering with the guts of a rocket car that he hopes will not only smash the record, but also reach seemingly impossible speeds beyond 2000 mph.
It's just another unexceptional small industrial park along the edge of the town of Apple Valley in Southern California's high desert. One cinder-block building is divided into nine 2000-or-so-square-foot work spaces with roll-up garage doors. In one unit, there's a cheerleader academy. In another, a heating and ventilation company. But unit No. 8 is full of aerospace hardware worthy of the Smithsonian. And it all belongs to Waldo Stakes. To Stakes, these parts aren't artifacts; they are the guts of his Sonic Wind Land Speed Research Vehicle, a rocket car he hopes will break the current land speed record of 763.035 mph and believes could potentially go as fast as 2000 mph.
Stakes is 56, but he could pass for a decade younger. He's a fireplug of a guy-tough like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas but without the menace. He's always on the verge of exploding with excitement, as if his own ideas are building up pressure inside him. Engineering terms run together in bursts of explanation and promised performance. He's a full-throttle optimist, certain that there's no challenge he can't overcome. The name Waldo, somehow, fits.
"The Sonic Wind Land Speed Research Vehicle will be the premier land speed car and the most powerful car ever seen on the planet," Stakes claims in his video tour of the project. "Nothing being built in Australia or Great Britain or planned by any nation will be able to touch this car in its velocity. And its stability will be second to none."
Stakes is a general contractor, but his career has never been the priority. In his small office, which overflows with drawings and designs, he reaches for a wooden model about 4 feet long that looks more like a dart than a car. It's the Sonic Wind. Stakes has been dreaming of it nearly his entire life and, since about 2003, spending nearly every waking moment trying to make it a reality.
Stakes's obsession with speed emerged during his knockabout Chicago-area childhood. "When I was 12 years old in 1967, I was eating some Cracker Jack, and the prize was a weirdly shaped little car," he says. "It was John Cobb's Railton Mobil Special-a car that went 394 mph in 1947. I couldn't believe a car could go that fast. By the time I was 14, I was already building model land speed cars and reading everything on missiles and rockets and aerospace that I could."
His formal education ended when he dropped out of Elgin Community College in 1974, but Stakes's passion for speed persisted. "When you study something for 40 years-and I don't mean just think about it, but study something-you can get to be pretty good at it," he says. "I have literally a thousand books on engineering and aerodynamics. Just everything."
Moving his family to Southern California in 1984 to be closer to the aerospace industry, Stakes was soon scouring scrapyards for parts he could use to build a rocket car. His most impressive find is a set of XLR99 rocket engines designed for NASA's legendary X-15, the stub-winged experimental plane that grabbed the flight speed record of 4520 mph in 1967 and has never let go. "Back in the '80s this stuff was considered scrap metal, and everyone was melting it down to recover the silver and gold from the brazed tubing," Stakes says. "But these engines weren't built that way. They're made from Inconel-X [an exotic alloy] and virtually indestructible. I think they cost $1500 each for four. I have two left. One for the car and a spare."
When it was pushing X-15 pilots such as Neil Armstrong past the boundaries of Earth's atmosphere, the XLR99 delivered up to 57,000 pounds of thrust, burning liquid oxygen and anhydrous ammonia. It's a throttled rocket, capable of operating between 50 and 100 percent thrust. Stakes is contemplating running it on a mix of methanol and liquid oxygen to produce up to 61,000 pounds of thrust.
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Sure, and after he tries to break 2000 MPH we all will be saying.........................