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By Cole Coonce
Photo courtesy Cole Coonce

nabled by 22,000 pounds of thrust, Gary Gabelich, a SoCal drag racer, aerospace stunt monkey and Craig Breedlove's water-skiing buddy, pilots the "the Blue Flame," a hydrogen-peroxide powered rocket car, to a cool 622.407 mph in 1970.

Likewise, inspired by the US moon shot and Gabelich's achievement, Breedlove uses the drag strips to shake down the "English Leather" rocket dragster powered by a hydrazine-fueled lunar module motor. His ultimate target speed with the rocket is the Speed of Sound, but Uncle Sam intervened and confiscated Breedlove's eyedropper and chemistry set. Or as Craig puts it, "We actually built the English Leather rocket car as a prototype test vehicle to develop a hyperbolic rocket system for a Land Speed car. That engine was designed by Jerry Elverum at TRW--and Jerry did the Apollo 1 lunar descent engine, the first throttle-able rocket engine. The astronauts could actually fly to the surface of the moon and control it like a jet engine; that's what allowed America to go down and actually make a soft landing on the moon. We ran that engine on unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine and nitrogen tetraoxide for an oxidizer. We were able to order it at will -- TRW was able to vouch for us that we were not a bunch of dingbats out there. In 1974, all of that was outlawed."

Nonplused, Breedlove began to r&d a hydrogen-peroxide rocket car. Different design, same results. "We changed the design of the car to four peroxide thrusters because they had not yet restricted hydrogen peroxide in any way," he explained. "After we made the switch, all of a sudden you couldn't manufacture or sell peroxide in any concentrations higher than 70 percent. And 70 percent is a lousy rocket fuel...At that point the entire rocket-powered land speed vehicle was trashed." Disheartened and almost destitute, Breedlove jettisoned his dream of going Mach 1 and began living on his sailboat, a sad statement on the Spirit of these here Unites States... With the government putting the kibosh on lunar module technology in the private sector, Gabelich's rocket-powered record run was the final chapter for Bonneville as the playpen for truly unlimited thrust. Bummer.

Soon, an even more abject comment on the American Dream of going Mach 1 came not from the military-industrial complex, but from Tinseltown...One of Hollywood's movers and shakers, Hal Needham, a stuntman-cum-producer/director (and whose greatest claim to fame was gracing the world with Burt Reynold's cornpone movies), purchased a rocket dragster, retrofitted 'er with a hybrid liquid/solid-fuel rocket engine and took to Edwards AFB...

"The thing about the car you have to realize is that it did not have enough fuel on board to make a full land speed record run," Breedlove states. "They applied to have the rules changed so they could make one run (timed) over 1/100th of mile--instead of a mile." With clocks installed by a drag racing organization over a timing trap of 52 feet--instead of the traditional measured mile--Needham pointed driver (and fellow stuntman) Stan Barrett at the timing cones and lit the fuse.

Needham proffered as evidence of a Mach 1 clocking the data from a handheld radar gun. Why radar instead of the drag strip clocks? The rocket car ran out of fuel before it reached the timing traps!


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