Burkland 411 Streamliner


Date Location Driver Vehicle Power Speed over
1 Km
Speed over
1 Mile
September 26, 2008 Bonneville Salt Flats, USA Flag of the United States Tom Burkland  Burkland 411 Streamliner   IC supercharged hemi - 415.896
Piston-engined record Group I, Class 11: 2 or 4 stroke engine with supercharger, cylinder capacity > 8000 cm3

After years of hard work and struggle Tom Burkland, the Burkland streamliner and the Burkland family finally made an important step towards the final goal of breaking the wheel-driven record.
During the September Top 1 World Land Speed Shootout, an invitational meet organized by Mike Cook, they took the FIA International mile record from Al Teague, who held it for seventeen long years, since 1991.
The speed, 415+ mph, was not fast enough to break the kilo record, but the relative ease with which the record was broken, and the speed on the mile in the return run (427.723 mph) makes everyone comfortable that the kilo record will follow soon, and eventually, given the right salt conditions, the outright wheel-driven record might be within reach.

Burkland Family Race Team - Speed Breeding

The Burkland Family Uses Two Hemis, Aerospace Technology, And Pure Hot Rod Savvy To Set The New SCTA Piston-Driven Land Speed Record At 417.020 MPH

By John Baechtel, Photography by Jeffrey Conger, Ryan Hobbs Hot Rod Magazine, October, 2009

On September 16, 1947, Great Britain's John Cobb established a 394.196-mph land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in his Railton Mobil Special. He overshadowed that achievement the very same day with an astounding 403.135-mph one-way blast that marked the first-ever penetration of the 400-mph mark by a wheel-driven vehicle.

In the nearly 58 years since, men have battled for the favor of the 400-mph maiden, and while thrust-powered vehicles have broken the sound barrier (team ThrustSSC set a 763.035-mph record in the Nevada desert in 1997), hot rodders still battle for the wheel-driven records over 400. Those records are further broken down by piston engines versus turbines, and whether the event is sanctioned by the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) or by the more hot rod friendly Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) at Bonneville. Either way, a record demands that the average speed of two runs must exceed the old record.

Cobb's one-way pass denied him a 400-mph record in the '40s and fellow Brit Donald Campbell struggled mightily before setting the first actual 400-mph international record at 403.10 mph on Australia's Lake Eyre in 1964 using turbine power. Mickey Thompson used four Pontiac V-8s to scorch a 406.60-mph one-way run at Bonneville in 1960 but failed to back up the record due to driveline failure. In 1965, the Summers Brothers crammed four injected Hemis into their Goldenrod and posted a 409.277-mph international class record that still stands.

In 1990 Nolan White's 401-mph run marked the first piston-engined, wheel-driven excursion past 400 in over 25 years. A year later, Al Teague ran 425 mph one-way and established a new SCTA record at 409.986 mph as well as a similar international record. On October 18, 2001, Don Vesco took his turbine-powered Turbinator to a new FIA land speed record for wheel-driven vehicles at 458.440 mph. Knowing the potential for automotive engines to run equally fast, Nolan White attacked the record again in 2002, setting SCTA AA/Blown Fuel Streamliner record at 413.156 with two big-block Chevys.

Now Tom, Linda, Gene, and Betty Burkland own the fastest piston-powered SCTA record in history. On October 16, 2004, Tom Burkland climbed into his family's PPG Auto Finishes Orange AA/BFS streamliner at Bonneville and cranked a new two-way average of 417.020.

Both Nolan White and Burkland have surpassed that speed on one-way passes, with Burkland running 438.815 mph with a terminal speed over 450 mph. Tom Burkland expresses high confidence that a piston-powered, wheel-driven car can achieve 500 mph under optimum track conditions.

Burkland's streamliner was originally designed to run F-16 main-landing-gear tires, but spin testing proved them unsuitable for ultrahigh speeds. From 1991 through 1993, the Burklands embarked on a tire-development program with Mickey Thompson Tire Company. Complications with the engines further delayed the car's debut, so the streamliner first hit the salt in 1996. Overcoming various problems and track conditions, they gradually worked the car up to serious speed in the late '90s.

In 2000, Tom ran off the end of the course by a couple of miles when the 'chute risers failed after a 450-mph pass. He then set a top speed of 421 mph at the 2001 USFRA World of Speed, but the car was virtually destroyed when it struck a partially buried oil drum as Tom exited the course. The car rolled multiple times and the chassis broke apart as it was designed to. The cockpit remained intact, but Tom suffered a broken arm and the car's body was ruined. It took three years to rebuild the streamliner, and many changes were incorporated.

Actual construction of the streamliner took approximately one year. Thanks to Tom's aerospace engineering background, it is highly sophisticated but still very much a hot rod. At 24 feet, the car is a little shorter than most streamliners, but with a frontal area of only 7.4 square feet and a drag coefficient of 0.119, it's one of the slickest. It measures 38 inches wide and 41 inches tall at the top of the air intake. Burkland designed a slender body much like an aircraft fuselage. The shape is slightly bulbous at the front while tapering at the rear with twin hydraulically actuated clamshell speed-brake doors. The nose is built from a modified F4 Phantom wing tank holding nearly 57 gallons of engine-cooling water. A full bellypan deals with boundary-layer air passing under the low-slung vehicle.

Tom designed the chassis for loads up to 20 g's, building it from 4130 chrome-moly tubing with a fully armor-plated driver's compartment with a wrap of 0.125-inch plate over the top of the rollbar and 0.090-inch for the side panels. The front track width is 26 inches and the rear is a mere 15 inches-barely 4 inches separates the rear tires. Stainless steel fuel tanks on either side of the driver hold a total of 76 gallons and are designed to break away in an accident.

Sandwiched inside the 195-inch wheelbase frame are two 452ci, alcohol-burning, aluminum Donovan Hemis connected at the crankshafts, with one engine driving the rear wheels and the other driving the fronts. The rear engine is standard rotation, while the front is reverse rotation with a dual-disc clutch at each end. Each clutch drives through air-shifted Liberty five-speed transmissions to rigid-mounted 1:1 final drive axles. Tom spent considerable time discussing design concepts with the late Bob Summers, who planned to supply the gearboxes before his untimely passing.

The early 392-style Donovan Hemis are force-fed by 8-71 Mooneyham superchargers with early Crower eight-port upright mechanical injectors feeding alcohol through 16 nozzles. On its initial trial, the car melted much of the wiring due to heat in what was then a common engine bay. That led to ducting revisions, partitions aft of the cockpit for cooling purposes, and HPC coatings on the entire exhaust system. Spring-loaded exhaust doors that close at speed were added to the upper engine cover. Splitters in the air-intake scoop direct air to the appropriate bays in carefully determined amounts. Separate stainless steel header-bay baffling keeps heat off the engines. Header and engine bays receive separate cooling airflow based on the heat loads observed.

With declining course lengths, stopping the car is a critical function. Tom designed a hydraulically actuated speed-brake system that opens the rear clamshell doors to provide stable high-speed drag. A nitrogen-charged accumulator provides pressure-balanced continuous drag while slowing. The single cockpit control slide allows the doors to partially open from air drag, deploying the initial 4.5-foot drag 'chute. Next, the accumulator opens the doors farther and farther as the car slows to about 350 mph, then the 6.5-foot mid-speed 'chute is released, slowing the car to a point where the four-wheel disc brakes can take over. Parachute number three is a 6.5-foot backup and number four is an 8-foot "Hail Mary" anchor to stop the car quickly from 250 mph or less in an emergency. Stroud Safety supplies the ribbon-style parachute canopies and riser lines.

The car is a showcase of innovation, and the Burklands' unerring attention to detail and selective application of aerospace design principles have created a car with far greater potential than has been shown. It's clear they want to crack that 500-mph barrier with a piston-powered hot rod.

But for now, they're enjoying the success of 2004. The day the record was set was typical Bonneville. The starting line is a tense environment when a streamliner is getting ready. A "heads up" call is made to all the course workers and safety officials: "Burkland's on the way." Along with the elaborate preparation of strapping Tom into the car and arming the safety devices, the Burklands station vehicles every few miles down the course, each fully equipped to aid rescue crews in the event of a mishap. When the call goes out in the pits, everyone drops what they're doing and rushes to the edge of the return road to watch the run.

The Burkland bullet drilled the timers with a new record speed, prompting an emotional celebration at the far end of the course as Tom exited the car. In the jubilation, important human details are not forgotten. A closer examination of the 411 numbers on the back of the car reveals the number 131 painted in smaller digits on one of the numerals, a gesture of respect for the late Nolan White, and the Burklands' way of giving their friend one more record ride. After congratulations all around, Tom Burkland and Rick White (Nolan's son and partner) strolled a short distance down the course together in private reflection. No doubt, Nolan was with them.

Tom Burkland
Tom Burkland
Here's the chrome-moly frame under construction in Burkland's small shop. Note the plating surrounding the driver compartment to shield Tom from debris if an accident occurs. You can also see the breakaway gas tanks on either side of the cockpit.
Tom Burkland
Tom Burkland
Supercharged Donovan Hemis power the 'liner. Each has 2,300hp potential at WOT and 38 pounds of boost, but they have only been run at 53 percent throttle opening and 21 pounds to avoid excessive wheelspin. At that throttle angle, the combined engine output is about 3,000 hp.
Tom Burkland
The land speed supercrew from left to right, Rex Svoboda (Missoula, Montana); Betty and Gene Burkland (Great Falls, Montana); Herb and Nicky Ferguson (Columbia Falls, Montana); Alan Maynard (Apache Junction, Arizona); Gary Stauffer (Brigham City, Utah); Mel Sudweeks (Centerville, Utah); Bill York (Missoula, Montana); and Bill, Steve, and Keith Hunter (Great Falls, Montana). Tom Burkland is in the rear.
Tom Burkland
The Burklands received support from Auto Meter in the form of complete instrumentation packages for each engine. If you're claustrophobic, it'll freak you out to know there are less than 5 gallons of airspace around Tom when the canopy is closed.

The Ultimate Ride

by Jeffrey Conger • Published 05/02/08

The Burklands of Montana chase a world land speed record at Bonneville

It is a serene location with a glorious saline surface, a place where ingenuity and imagination confront the laws of nature. Located just a few miles off I-80 near the Utah and Nevada border, the Bonneville Salt Flats are the world's foremost venue for land speed racing. Since the early 1970s, the Burkland family from Great Falls has been a part of Bonneville's history. After setting several national records, Tom Burkland, who received his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Montana State University in 1982, is now vying to set an FIA World Record (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) with a race car he campaigns with his parents, Gene and Betty.

"Virtually everything I learned in my undergraduate engineering program is included in that car in some way or another," Tom explained recently. "This is a very technical project from the standpoint of the aerodynamic design to some of the thermodynamics that are used in the engine. Including the structural analysis of the chassis, the dynamic modeling of the tires, all the way down to writing proposals to the various manufacturers and component suppliers...I really don't think we could have done it without what I learned in Bozeman."

The Burklands' 24-foot orange streamliner houses two giant V-8 Donovan Hemi engines with superchargers, producing more than 2,000 horsepower each. Placed nose-to-nose in an aircraft steel frame, the two engines in tandem equal a V-16. A custom four-wheel drive system harnesses the power to potentially produce speeds of more than 500 mph. Shrouded in a one-of-a-kind, hand-formed steel body, the entire success of the project is greatly determined by creating the smallest aero footprint as the car slices through the earth's atmosphere.

"Tom is the designer, engineer and driver," said Betty, explaining how their team works. "Gene built the car and is the crew chief. He's quiet but keeps things moving and knows where everything is in the semi. I guess I'm the voice of the team and do all the paperwork and chase parts. And if only Gene and I are around, we work together on the car. I don't weld, but I can hold things. All three of us talk over what to do and how best to do it."

Both father and son have aircraft backgrounds. Gene was a welder for the Air National Guard for 30 years, and Tom employed his MSU engineering degree working on the F-16 program for 18 years at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Now Gene is retired, and Tom is the chief engineer at Petersen Inc., in Ogden, a high-tech steel fabrication company for the aerospace, energy and mining industries. Even Tom's younger brother, Bill, has the Burkland "aviation gene." In addition to his other degrees, Bill received a civil engineering diploma from MSU in 1997 and now works at Peccia and Associates in Helena, overseeing many of its airport design and planning projects.

The initial concept for the Burklands' streamliner came to Tom as they drove off of the salt at the conclusion of Speed Week in 1985, after they had successfully reached their goal of setting a record at 294 mph in their Competition Coupe. The coupe was a radically altered Datsun, modified to be more aerodynamic with a larger engine. Categories at Bonneville are defined by body style, engine size and fuel mixture. After their success with the Datsun, the Burklands set their sights high on the elite streamliner category, completing their entry in the AA engine class in 1995.

"We knew when we got into this deal, it wasn't going to be easy," Gene said. "I don't think any of us realized that it was going to take as long as it has or maybe we wouldn't have done it. But I'm glad we did."

Land Speed Racing is much like the Olympics, where one person can hold the Olympic record while another competitor has the world record in a similar category. The current FIA record in the Burklands' category is 409.978 mph set in 1991 by Al Teague. The complexity of speed records is more than a little confusing, especially when you consider the Burklands' national record set on Oct. 14, 2004, under the SCTA (Southern California Timing Association) rules at 417.020 mph is considerably faster than Teague's FIA world record. Keep in mind, though, that each meet has its own sanctioning body, so participants can set national records at SCTA events, but world records must be under FIA officials. Add a few more organizations such as USFRA, BNI and USAC into the mix, and you can see why some fans and participants might be left scratching their heads.

In modest Montana tradition, the Burkland family lets their actions speak for themselves. Gene, Betty and Tom are all members of the coveted 200 MPH Club, and the Burkland family streamliner currently holds the AA/Blown Fuel Streamliner record at 417.020 mph, which bumped Tom into the 300 MPH Club (there is no 400 MPH Club). Perhaps their most prestigious honors to date were Hot Rod Magazine naming the streamliner to its list of TOP 10 of 2005, and when the Burklands laid down the fastest run of the meet during 2006 Speed Week, thus having their names forever engraved on the respected Top Speed of the Meet trophy.

However many their accomplishments, the Burklands say it is the camaraderie of the sport that truly propels their team. Rendezvousing on the salt every summer around the giant orange semi-trailer packed with tools and spare parts, the volunteer team sets to the task of attaining its goal. Each individual has an appointed job to complete before, during and after each run. Working in the heat or cold of whatever weather extreme prevails, most of the team's members devote their annual vacation time to the sport. Betty describes the extended family of support that surrounds the caravan-style camp during each event.

"My dad is the computer guy," she said of her 85-year-old father, Keith Hunter of Great Falls. "He bought it, tends it and maintains it. I have two brothers who work on the crew. And then Tom's brother-in-law is there, along with one of his best friends. There are some dear friends from Missoula, Herb Ferguson Sr. who was our rock and now his son, Herb Jr., and his wife, Nicky. There's Gary Stauffer, one of Tom's longtime friends. Then Herb had a friend named Rex Svoboda who wanted to get involved in Bonneville, so now he is with us. And there is Bill York, who just started, and he is our electronics and radio guy. Does that make 10?"

Before Tom steps into the streamliner for a run, all the salt is meticulously brushed from the bottom of his shoes so at high speed it does not ping around in the tight cockpit, creating a "popcorn maker" effect. Despite the extensive team, once both engines are fired it all comes down to the driver. As Gene closes the custom canopy, a safety brace fixed inside keeps Tom's helmet in place, restricting any forward movement. Strapped into the five-point harness, his right leg crosses under the left to reach the gas pedal, as the traditional pedal location is occupied by the front driveshaft, which is tucked precariously under his right leg. With each pass, Tom will go as fast as the car will let him, making decisions second by second, depending on the track condition and how the streamliner is handling.

Watching from afar, the streamliner accelerates down the 80-foot-wide course. It is an orange blur with white salt spray billowing up behind, reaching 340 mph in the first quarter-mile. From the driver's viewpoint inside the cockpit, the special liquid-filled Auto Meter gauges reduce the needle bounce, making them discernable as the entire car shakes violently. Peering out through the football-size windshield, Tom's eyes focus on the horizon. Above 350 mph, the massive vibration rattles his eyeballs enough to play tricks on his perception, making the 4-foot-high flags on the edge of the course appear to be 25 to 30 feet tall. Putting the extreme speed into perspective, at 450 mph driving from Bozeman to Butte on I-90, the normal 75-minute trip is abbreviated to an 11-minute jaunt, which translates into a flying mile covered in eight seconds.

Looking at the project purely as a physics problem, traveling at 400 or 500 mph in an aerodynamic vehicle with more than 4,000 horsepower does not appear to be that difficult. But don't forget the fickleness of Mother Nature, who is responsible for preparing the crystalline white racecourse and the strain every high-speed pass puts on the one-of-a-kind streamliner. Getting the car right is just a part of the equation. For Tom, Gene and Betty, land speed racing is more than a casual pursuit; it has been their lives for nearly four decades. They wait for the salt to dry for their next attempt at Bonneville in September. Chasing a world land speed record in a Hemi-powered streamliner can only be described as the ultimate ride.

Jeffrey Conger is a professor of graphic design at MSU and a regular contributor to numerous newsstand publications, including Hot Rod Magazine.