Thrust2 Front-right-upper Coventry Transport Museum
Thrust2 (Coventry Transport Museum)

MADE ON THE ISLE OF WIGHT: WORLD LAND SPEED RECORD BREAKER THRUST2 WAS CREATED ON THE ISLAND

Thrust 2 At Coventry Motor Museum (3)Thrust2 was a jet-propelled vehicle – built and designed on the Isle of Wight – which held the world land speed record for 14 years from 4th October 1983 to 25th September 1997.

Amazingly, the story of Thrust2 began when designer John ‘Ackers’ Ackroyd was working as a deckchair attendant on Ryde beach in 1977. There, he saw an advert which read: “Wanted: 650 mph Car Designer”. John responded to the advert and the rest – as they say – is history.

John Ackroyd’s usual profession was not, of course, deckchair attendant. He was a 1st class engineer who had been trained at Saunders Roe in East Cowes. He later went on to design the Enfield vehicle, the world’s 1st modern electric car.

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The person who had placed the advert was former RAF pilot Richard Noble, whose dream was to break the world land speed record. Fortunately, Richard had already got his hands on a Rolls Royce Avon jet engine from an English Electric Lightning Fighter  the first British plane to fly faster than twice the speed of sound.

Noble had already had Thrust1 built for him. On a test run, this had overturned several times at approximately 140mph.  The Rolls-Royce engine sustained a large portion of the damage. It was never used again and the wreck was sold to a scrap dealer for £175.

The initial budget for Thrust2 was minuscule – a mere £175: the money Noble had received from a scrap dealer for Thrust1.

John set about making his first designs for the future world-beater in a derelict kitchen in a condemned house at Ranelagh Works, Fishbourne, which he had rented for just £5 a week. He had no telephone so if he wanted to speak to anyone he had to get on his bike and ride a quarter-of-a-mile to the nearest phone box.

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Ranelagh works Fishbourne

‘Ackers’ then rented a shed from some boat-building friends and turned his designs into reality by building the framework for Thrust2.

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John Ackroyd said:

“Richard Noble was based in London – where the money was. I was based on the Isle of Wight where the skills were.”

Richard Noble raised more money for the project, but it was always done on a shoestring budget.

As John wrote in his book Jet Blast and the Hand of Fate:

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“Our World Land speed contender was being built by a collective cottage industry and contagious enthusiasm.”

The conditions for building the world land speed record contender were hardly ideal. The workshop was so small that its front wall to be demolished, so they could get Thrust2 outside.

Thrust2 Chassis
Thrust2 without cladding at Bournemouth airshow 1980 (Image: Mugatroyd49)

By 1980, the prototype had been finished. That year, it broke the British land speed record (248 mph) at Greenham Common in Newbury.

The following year, world record attempts and further testing were carried out at Bonneville Flats in the United States. Thrust2 achieved speeds of 300mph, then 400 mph.

By 4th November 1982, Thrust2 was travelling at speeds of 590 mph in Nevada. The revolutionary vehicle was now closing in on the world record. However, winter snows forced the team to return to the Isle of Wight.

Funds for the project were now running short and it was thought the project might have to be abandoned. However, on 4th October 1983, Thrust2 finally brought the land speed record back to Britain by reaching 633.468 mph (1,019.468 kmph) in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, USA.

It took Thrust2 just 9 seconds to accelerate from a standstill to 200mph, a further 20 seconds to reach 400mph and 40 seconds to break the 600mph barrier. Altogether, it took a mere 59 seconds for Thrust2 to achieve its record-breaking speed.

At a speed of about 600mph, a shock wave began to build up in front of the vehicle, which appeared as ‘fog’ around the car and was later described by Noble as “something really worth seeing”.

The previous record (622mph) had been set on 23rd October 1970 by the American Gary Gabelich with Blue Flame on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

In 1997, Thrust2’s record was broken by Richard Noble’s follow up car, ThrustSSC, which had a top speed of 763mph (breaking the sound barrier).

In 1991, Thrust2 was offered for sale at £90,000. Following a fundraising campaign to keep the car in Britain, it was bought by Coventry Transport Museum, where it is currently on display.

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ThrustSSC (Coventry Transport Museum)

After his work on the land speed record, John then worked with his team on a record-breaking balloon, Stratoquest, that reached the then-highest altitude of nearly 12 miles in 1987. His further projects included Virgin Atlantic flyer: the first hot air balloon to cross the Atlantic.

The story of John Ackroyd’s world-beating balloons will be the focus of the next edition of Made on the Isle of Wight

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