Briton attempts to break motorcycle land speed record by hitting 724kph
The last time Briton Richard Brown attempted to break the motorcycle land speed record, it nearly ended in tragedy, his tyre bursting at high speed and bringing a rather dramatic end to his record-breaking ambitions.
At that stage, in 1999, Brown had already clocked 587kph, at the time the fastest top speed in the world, but the incident meant he was unable to claim the out-and-out record. To do so, the record must be broken in both directions of an attempt.
Looking back, the 47-year-old says: "I was lucky not to crash big time."
But the buzz of travelling at breakneck speed far outweighs the perils of Brown's passion and he is plotting to become the first man in history to travel over the 644kph mark on two wheels.
The current record of 605kph is held by American Rocky Robinson but Brown is confident of blitzing that with ease and potentially travelling at 724kph when he makes the record attempt next year, most likely on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, where every motorcycle land speed record since 1956 has been set.
His creation is a motorcycle with a difference. Like the rest of his peers in that arena, it is far from a conventional motorbike, more like a rocket on two wheels. But in the case of Jet Reaction, it will be the first jet-powered bike to go for the record.
Talking about his reasons for attempting the record once more, he says: "When I came back from Bonneville in 1999, I had time to reflect. I was 95 per cent happy and satisfied with what I'd achieved. At the start of the project, I'd set out to design the fast two-wheeler and I'd done that.
"I was content with that until something changed, which was either a sizeable offer from a sponsor or else someone else would go faster than that top speed."
The latter happened, forcing Brown back to the drawing board to rethink how best to tackle setting a new record.
"I did consider getting the previous bike back and stripping it down and doing a complete overhaul," he says, "but I would say that jet power is the only way to go."
Traditionally, jet power has been used to power four-wheel vehicles in various guises, most typically by taking out an engine from a fighter jet and building a chassis around it.
Such an engine is too heavy for two wheels - as Brown points out, "it would just topple over" - so the British inventor has been forced to think outside of the box. He has come up with Jet Reaction, which is powered by a 1,250hp helicopter engine.
"It's not really suitable as it's designed to drive rotors," he explains, "so it's redone to create thrust with an afterburner spraying fuel into the exhaust to generate even more thrust."
Brown has done almost all of the work himself at his workshop and has a rough chassis built and ready to test later this month. The plan is to run it at a British airfield later this year before going to Bonneville for the world record next year.
To achieve that feat and meet the costs of such an attempt, Brown needs to get sponsors on board. His last attempt was turned into a BBC documentary and he is hopeful when he proves the vehicle's capabilities in testing, the sponsors will come rolling in.
"The biggest cost aspect in something like this is skilled time," he points out. "Obviously you need some materials that are expensive but what costs more is having people on your payroll," he says. "Because of my skills, I've been able to do the majority of it in my workshop - I've almost single-handedly built the vehicle."
As well as being the vehicle's designer and owner, he will also be the driver, despite admitting that previous record attempts have scared the life out of him.
"It's very difficult to describe the feeling of it all," he says. "It's all the things you'd imagine it to be. I make no secret of the fact that I was always petrified about the high-speed runs. You're only one small mistake from a disaster the whole time.
"It's not like a conventional motorbike where you use your body to adjust the bike, you have steering that you're continually controlling to keep on course and you're receiving instructions in your earpiece about different things, like when to deploy the parachute to avoid overrunning and things ending badly.
"You simply cannot make a mistake. It's so loud - there's the roar of the engine, a significant amount of noise, in fact, and, because of the speed of it, you're being flung back in your seat.
"You obviously want to live to tell the tale and there's a huge buzz and relief at the end of it."
His other passion is jetpacks, a fact that lends itself to watching the opening ceremony for the 1984 Olympics when the audience were wowed by the arrival of a jetpack rider.
"Sometimes, I wish I'd never seen that," he says, jokingly, having spent the last eight years creating his own jetpack. "The jetpack's the other project and it's proved a technical Mount Everest. I've been hooked on that since 1984.
"I'm aiming to create something capable of a 10-minute flight time, which is a colossal increase. If you'd asked me a couple of years ago, I'd have predicted I'd be flying by now. I've been off the ground in it but there are safety issues to still get through."
When not creating jet-propelled ways of travelling, Brown has a relatively mundane day job, running his own business buying and selling machine tools, though this tends to play second fiddle to his hobbies.
"I've managed to get myself into a position where I don't have to do a 40 to 50-hour week. I've got myself where I'm earning a decent wage and can focus on my other things."
In pursuing those passions, the key has had to be patience. He has already spent four-and-a-half years on his jet bike and he admits in the pursuit of his record, "my patience has occasionally run out and, every now and again, it's a case of dear, oh, dear".
In saying that, Brown is confident that a new world record will be his in Bonneville come next year.
Updated: February 10, 2012 04:00 AM