x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Former RAF pilot who still lives life in the (very) fast lane

In the second instalment of Stars and Cars, Matt Majendie talks with Andy Green about the Bloodhound jet car and a more mundane form of travel.

Andy Green performs aerobatic stunts on the weekend. PA Archive
Andy Green performs aerobatic stunts on the weekend. PA Archive

Everything Andy Green does is fast.

The 48-year-old is a former RAF fighter pilot, who used to fly F-4 Phantom and Torndao F3 jets, which boast top speeds of 1,480kph and 2,370kph respectively.

In addition, no one has travelled faster over land than Green, who in 1997 broke the land-speed record with Thrust SSC as he became the first man in a car to travel supersonic at 1,149kph.

Green unconvincingly tries to protest that he actually leads a slow-paced life, but his main hobby is to fly an acrobatic plane for fun. In fact, he lives and breathes high speed to the extent that he even talks fast.

He may be the fastest man on this planet, but Green's love of cars and motoring came late in life.

"I was never really a petrolhead growing up," explained Green. "I really wasn't all that passionate about cars. I was very much focused on learning to fly and getting to the top of my craft as a pilot. The interest in cars came relatively late on in life and it only really developed through first going for the land-speed record with Thrust SSC."

Despite his late initiation as a motoring enthusiast, he has become a keen petrolhead, having recently made forays into track racing in the Elise Trophy in Great Britain with more outings planned in the future.

"I'm ashamed to admit that I've had just one real track racing competition so far and I really, really enjoyed it," he said. "I also did some track-day training before that and am keen to get out on the track again."

The top speed of the Lotus he raced on track was 240kph, a far cry from the 1,609kph (or 1,000mph) he plans to travel with his new record-breaking venture.

But all his track experience to date has been done with the record attempt in the Bloodhound jet car in mind, on which work began earlier this month in Bristol in the UK.

"The main thing for the track racing was to enhance my car-handling skills," he said. "Bloodhound is admittedly an immensely powerful rocket and very different in terms of how it operates and the power behind it. But the fact is that, at the end of the day, it is still a car and still boasts four wheels.

"It still handles like a car and I need to have a full understanding of a car at speed to be ready for that challenge. By racing on track I get an understanding for the feeling of a car as it slips out from you, for the airflow that's involved. The track racing helps me begin to understand the movement."

Away from his record-breaking antics, Green drives a surprisingly modest car and makes no attempt to charge around the nearby roads to his desk job about 50km north-west of London in High Wycombe.

"The car I drive day-to-day is nothing particularly exciting, I'm afraid to say," he said somewhat embarrassed. "It's just a Volkswagen Golf that pretty much gets me to and from work and to what I'm doing at the weekends."

His weekend activity involves doing stunts in the sort of aircraft used for the Red Bull Air Race World Championship race in Abu Dhabi.

Despite his pastime and the fact he also competes in a sledge on the Cresta Run in St Moritz, Switzerland, he added: "I genuinely don't feel the need for speed, whether it's in a plane or a car.

Green's career as a fighter pilot is now over, having moved into a desk job with the RAF. But whatever else he does in his career, he will forever be remembered first and foremost for his land-speed heroics.

He broke the record previously held by Richard Noble twice in the space of three weeks in Black Rock Desert in the United States back towards the latter part of 1997.

Noble headed up Green's record-breaking antics, in which he travelled at 1,223kph, and is also in charge of the project for Bloodhound.

This time, the record attempt will be made in 2013 in South Africa by which time two rival teams from the US and one from the Australia could well have broken Green's record, which he is happy for them to do.

"I genuinely hope the record gets broken as that gives us even greater motivation," he said. "It's all about pushing the boundaries and I hope someone else can do it."

Trying to get your head around the speeds that Green has so far travelled and plans to travel in the future is mind bending.

"Well, basically I'll travel 10 miles in 100 seconds from a standing start, which gives some idea of the pace," is his somewhat modest take on it, "and I've got plenty of tasks to do along the way as well.

"I'll sitting just by the jet intake so it'll be quite noisy. How big the vibration will be in the cockpit from the jet, at the moment we just don't know. That's something we're going to find out. But I know it'll be hot, shaky and noisy."

Green insists, perhaps surprisingly, that travelling at supersonic speeds is not a frightening experience at all.

"No it's not scary as I have complete confidence in the engineers and, if I didn't, I shouldn't be there."

"I would say I'm even more comfortable with Bloodhound than Thrust SSC as I understand it so much more. The issue for me is that every single run is different and I have to be totally at the top of my game. If I am, I know I'll be fine."

As for the whole buzz of breaking a record, he somewhat plays it down.

"That's going back 14 years now," he said. "But coming out of the measured mile there wasn't an immediate 'oh yes' moment. I knew my speed was enough but didn't know if the measuring equipment of the timekeepers was all in order.

"Added to that, I was still travelling at 700mph and I still had to slow down. When I did though it was a case of 'oh phew' I guess. We'd done two or three years of serious work and it was all over in literally a flash and it was a bit of an anticlimax. There was the realisation of what I'd achieved and that I might never do anything like that again."

His car heroics to date have seen him inducted into the illustrious British Racing Drivers' Club and pick up a CBE from the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

But looking at the smartly dressed Green and the Golf he drives, you would have no idea of the speeds he is capable of on four wheels.