Rocket Car

A rocket car is an automobile that uses a rocket engine as its propulsion system. There’s also a closely-related term, rocket dragster, which refers to a rocket car designed for drag racing.

It was Fritz von Opel that played an important role in raising the popularity of rocket engines for land vehicles. Along with Max Valier, he started the Opel RAK rocket program, which led to the smashing of car and rail vehicle speed records and the public debut of the world’s first rocket-propelled automobile in September of 1929.

In the previous year, Opel piloted his own prototype, the RAK2 at the AVUS speedway in Berlin and broke a speed record at 238 kph. The audience size of that event was 3000, which consisted of regular onlookers and international media.

The speed went up to 256 kph with the RAK3 sometime later, thus setting a world record for rail vehicles. The achievements didn’t stop there, as Opel drove the first-ever rocket powered car called the RAK.1. Julius Hatry was the man behind its development.

The news about Opel’s large-scale rocket program went viral and managed to catch global attention. It was all thanks to the news that exploded in various media, letting everyone know about the success that Opel and his rocket cars had achieved.

The Opel RAK program only stop after the Great Depression struck the world from 1929 to 1939, although Max Valier walked the indie way and kept the progress going. However, he eventually died while testing a new type of rocket with liquid fuel.

Rocket cars are known for their ability to reach ultra high speeds in seconds. They’re too fast that any test involving them could put the driver’s life at stake. When it comes to land speed competition, the only kind of vehicle that could race them are jet cars.

The main thing that differentiates rocket cars from jet cars is the fact that the former carry both the fuel and oxidizer on board, thus sparing the necessity of having a compressor and air intake system which make the vehicle heavier.

Rocket cars run for short periods of time due to the characteristics of their engines that only support short launches, especially on the ground. They often fire forward for roughly 20 seconds. But even acceleration less than half a minute is enough to send them kilometers away. It’s all thanks to their bone-rattling speed.

The Santa Pod Raceway event in 1984 saw Sammy Miller recording the fastest quarter mile of 3.58 seconds while driving a hydrogen peroxide rocket car at 386.26 mph. His vehicle was called the Vanishing Point. There were at least 10,000 onlookers at the time.

Another variant of rocket system uses nitrous oxide as an oxidizer in a hybrid rocket. One example of a vehicle that uses such propulsion is the UK’s Laffin-Gas.

Rocket dragsters stopped being used in the US following the massive price hike of hydrogen peroxide propellant. In addition, such cars have been largely banned as they’re considered too dangerous to be part of any show. Rocket cars continue to demonstrate their speeds in some places in Europe, though.

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