The engine from NASA's X-15 rocket plane will provide the thrust for the Sonic Wind. Image: NASAEnlarge Photo
Salvador Dali was rumored to have once said, “The only difference between myself and a madman is than I am not mad.” The same statement would likely apply to Waldo Stakes, a California man who has dreams of breaking the 2,000 mile-per-hour barrier in a specially designed rocket car.
Is Stakes a rocket scientist with a wall full of advanced degrees from prestigious institutions? A mechanical engineer who dabbles in aerodynamic modeling as a hobby?
Actually, he’s none of the above. As Autoblog
and Popular Mechanics
point out, Stakes is a general contractor who dropped out of community college.
That doesn’t mean he isn’t educated, since he’s spent the better part of four decades learning all he can about about engineering, high speed airflow and the perils of transonic travel.
He knows his way around a high-tech scrapyard, too, and has managed to amass an impressive collection of aerospace bits and pieces for use in his record attempt vehicle, the Sonic Wind.
Power will come from an XLR99 rocket engine, originally developed for the X-15 aircraft that reached 4,520 miles per hour in flight. Fuel tanks will come from a Redstone rocket, and various pressure vessels have been sourced from scrap leftover from the Apollo program.
Other land-speed-record programs
, like the better-funded and better-staffed Bloodhound SSC
effort, hope to achieve 1,000 miles per hour on land. Stakes hopes to double that, and he’s building the Sonic Wind essentially on his own.
Sure, he consults with a friend who happens to actually be a rocket scientist, and he gets help from those he’s met in previous speed record runs. Still, the bulk of the work on the 47-foot-long, 7-foot-wide Sonic Wind is done by Stakes himself, and there is no projected timetable for his record run.
If he’s successful in building and running the Sonic Wind, history will record him as a genius, who rose above all challenges to accomplish great things. If he’s not, Stakes will likely be known as the madman who augered into the salt flats trying to overcome forces beyond his control.
The world needs more dreamers like Stakes, so we certainly wish him the best of luck on his attempt.