Stakes also owns and plans to use two fuel tanks from a Redstone rocket, like the one that carried Alan Shepard into space in 1961, and pressure vessels from the Apollo spacecraft's service module. "This stuff is all well-tested and essentially fail-proof," he says.
Through the years, Stakes has worked on other land speed projects, including a BMW-powered streamliner motorcycle that set several records in the late '80s and an 1160-hp 1988 Ford Thunderbird that captured numerous records for cars with normally aspirated internal combustion engines. But Stakes is enough of a realist to recognize that the bar for admittance into what is now a supersonic club is set exponentially higher. "You can't just toss an old surplus turbojet engine into a homemade chassis anymore and go for it," he notes on a Sonic Wind website managed by his son Tone.
As Craig Breedlove explained in Popular Mechanics while he was unsuccessfully chasing a 750-mph record back in 1965, shock waves, aerodynamic instability, transonic local airflows and other "fatal gremlins" can easily wreck a car at Mach 1 speeds (761.2 mph at sea level). More than 20 engineers are working on a British bid to smash the sound barrier and hit 1000 mph in the Bloodhound SuperSonic car, and even after years of research and $15 million, they're not sure what will happen to their vehicle above 800 mph. Stakes believes the Sonic Wind could easily reach these speeds and go well beyond, but he doesn't even have a computer in his cluttered office.
Nevertheless, he claims to know how to keep the Sonic Wind from wrecking or taking fatal flight at transonic and post-Mach 1 speeds. "The idea is to use all the forces acting on the car to keep it stable during runs," he says. "The Sonic Wind's body changes plane slightly in the nose area. This anchors shock waves over the front wheels to increase the negative lift. These shock waves, along with the shocks that will radiate downward from the rear bi-wedge tail fins, will also be used in roll control."
At least, that's the theory. It's a theory that could use a few years of testing and refinement in an advanced wind tunnel. It's a theory that a driver may not want to risk his life on.
At the moment, the Sonic Wind isn't much more than its parts laid out where they'd be positioned in what Stakes envisions as a seven-wheeled beast that's 47 feet 4 inches long and 7 feet wide. Stakes gets help from friends in the land speed community, as well as the occasional moonlighting rocket scientist, but he alone is responsible for the design, handcrafting the scale models and assembling the vehicle.
To any outside observer, Stakes's chances of completing his rocket car-much less breaking any records with it-might seem vanishingly small. It's tempting to remind him of the need for wind-tunnel testing, trained engineers-heck, even just a computer. But then, how many of history's breakthroughs sprang from the passions of similarly obsessed, deeply impractical men-the Wright brothers, Lindbergh, Cousteau... Listening to Stakes spin out his vision of speed, you want to talk some sense to him, make him concede that he's in over his head. But then you don't. Does every dreamer need to build the first plane or fly the Atlantic? Is it so wrong to chase a dream that might truly be beyond your grasp?
Not long after Popular Mechanics visited his tiny workshop, Stakes learned that his landlord was nearly doubling his rent. Undeterred, he simply packed up his parts, plans and prototypes to a small ranch he bought on the outskirts of Apple Valley, deeper in the Mojave Desert. He says he could have handled the rent but actually prefers his new location. It's isolated, with fewer distractions, and he can work outside. But he won't be able to walk across the street for lunch at Del Taco anymore. "The best thing about working alone," he says, "is that you don't have to ask anyone to make changes."
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Sure, and after he tries to break 2000 MPH we all will be saying.........................