Budweiser Rocket


Date Location Driver Driver Country Vehicle Power Speed over
1 Km
Speed over
1 Mile
December 17, 1979 Edwards AFB, USA Stan Barrett USA Budweiser Rocket Rocket     Questionable supersonic top speed claim not officially recognized due to non-standard measurements and doubted by many experts.

The Budweiser Rocket was a 3-wheeled land vehicle powered by a hybrid liquid and solid-fuel rocket engine that has been claimed as being the first vehicle to have broken the sound barrier on land, driven by Stan Barrett and designed and built by William Fredrick.
Neither the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme nor the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, the official speed record certifying bodies, recognise the record attempt, the speed purported to have been reached or that the vehicle ever attained supersonic speeds.

The first run of the car at Bonneville Salt Flats showed that the propulsion system was unable to develop enough power to sustain a speed high enough to establish a new official World Land Speed Record. The team decided then that their goal would be to exceed the speed of sound on land, if only briefly, although no official authority would recognize this achievement as a record. The speed of sound is a function of the air temperature and pressure. In other words, the sound barrier is not an absolute speed value, but dependent on air conditions. The speed of sound during Barrett's speed run was 731.9 miles per hour (1,177.9 km/h).

The claim of breaking the sound barrier on land was made on December 17, 1979 after a run on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards AFB. While it has been claimed that the Budweiser Rocket did briefly break the sound barrier, it could not gain any official titles because standard ground speed record regulations measure an average speed over a measured distance (either one kilometer or one mile (1.6 km), depending on the particular sanctioning body's rules). The measurement of the vehicle's top speed during the run has been disputed primarily because of the methods used to calculate the speed, and its extremely small margin of success.

No independent authority sanctioned the performance, although United States Air Force radar tracked the vehicle and recorded the speed at 38 mph. This was obviously an error, and is generally considered to represent the movement of a truck in the vicinity. The report on the speed achieved was confused, but eventually a figure was produced nearly eight hours after the run. This figure was based on in-car accelerometer data, which were affected by vibration. These data were interpreted by the team as indicating a high degree of probability that the car exceeded the speed of sound at one point in its path by achieving a peak speed of 739.666 miles per hour, or Mach 1.01. These data, however, have never been publicly released and one expert claimed that the vibration interference was so great that almost any speed could be claimed.

According to witnesses no sonic boom was heard. It is claimed that this was because of the short distance between the observers and the deafening sonic waves from the combined liquid and solid-fuel rockets used to propel the vehicle. Standing shock waves in the rocket exhaust produce continuous supersonic shock waves (a continuous "sonic boom"). The auditory dynamics of two roaring rocket exhausts, combined with the pounding physical effects of such intense sound waves over the short distance to the observers, made it questionable whether close observers could have differentiated the vehicle's sonic boom from the general cacophony of background noise. No boom was heard at greater distances either, in marked contrast to the runs of Thrust SSC, which generated extensive and well attested sonic booms over a wide area.

Despite an unauthorized written speed certification by the United States Air Force (USAF), there is much debate over the validity of the claim. The USAF states it "never intended to give official sanction to test results, nor to give the appearance of expressing an official view as to the speed attained by the test vehicle. Any such opinion was that of individual Air Force personnel, not of the Air Force". None of the land speed record sanctioning groups was present for the run, nor was the run duplicated within any particular time frame as required by most sanctioning bodies for official recognition of a new land speed record. No accurate measurement was taken of the car's speed, which was announced as having been calculated from accelerometer data which has not been made public. As a result the Budweiser Rocket is not officially considered as the first vehicle to have broken the sound barrier on land, and few people believe the car to have actually done so. The British Thrust SSC is officially recognized by the FIA as breaking the land speed record — and the sound barrier as well — in 1997, with an average speed of 763.035 mph (1227.99 km/h) on a measured mile in both directions.

As of 2004, the Budweiser Rocket is in the Talladega Superspeedway Museum, Alabama. The second version built but only used as a show car was given to the Richard Childress Racing organisation in North Carolina, USA.

The British Thrust SSC is officially recognized by the FIA as breaking the land speed record — and the sound barrier as well — in 1997, with an average speed of 763.035 mph (1227.99 km/h) on a measured mile in both directions.


Budweiser Rocket Car - First Supersonic Car 1979


Baumea, Don. "A Review of Chuck Yeager's Letter of Testimony on the Budweiser Rocket Car". Retrieved 14 June 2012.