1964: Wingfoot Express driven by Tom Green

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Wingfoot Express

Westinghouse J46 Jet
7,000 pounds (31 kN)
4 Tons (approx)
Top Speed:

415.093 mph

Wingfoot Express
The “Wingfoot Express” would evolve from the collaboration of Tom Green and Walt Arfons. The two meet during a trade fair in 1962, and together worked on the design and construction of a vehicle capable of taking the land speed record.

Green was working as a chief engineer for a torque wrench manufacturer, although 10 years earlier he had competed for a time in New Mexico stock car racing events. Passionate about aerodynamics, he perfectly complemented Arfons, who was a master in racing mechanics.

The pairs first design was for a 3 wheeled version, however this would be changed to a 4 wheeled design following a change to the FIA rules. Green’s passion for aerodynamics would see the design evolve to ensure the drag coefficient was kept as low as possible.

Much attention was paid to the frontal area, where Green narrowed the tack and used smaller wheels. His calculations indicated that the readily available surplus Westinghouse J46 jet engines would have more than enough power to drive the vehicle to over 400 miles per hour (640 km/h).

Funding for the project would be their main obstacle, however this was soon overcome after the pair approached tire manufacturer Goodyear (who were at the time funding Craig Breedlove’s “Spirit of  America”).

Their pitch to the Goodyear executives was well prepared, with Green’s aerodynamic analysis of previous record holding vehicles demonstrating the limitations of each design.

Green explained why the Proteus Bluebird CN7 would be limited to 400 mph (640 km/h), and Nathan Ostich's revolutionary jet powered “Flying Caduceus” to only 360 mph (580 km/h). But most importantly, Green was able to convince the executives that their design, while not having as lower drag coefficient as the “Spirit”, would ultimately out run Breedlove’s design.

The smaller frontal area, combined with a sizeable weight advantage, and a thrust of 7,000 pounds force (31 kN) available from the J46 engine with afterburner, compared favourably to the 4,400 pounds force (20 kN) available from Breedlove's J47 engine.

The Flying Caduceus

The Goodyear executives watched with interest the attempt on the land speed record by the “Flying Caduceus”, and when its best performance turned out to be a rather disappointing 355 miles per hour (571 km/h), their faith in Green's mastery of aerodynamics seemed well founded.

The decision was made to provide funding in addition to Breedlove's; thus the name “Wingfoot Express”, from Goodyear's trademark winged foot (inspired by a statue of Mercury) was used. Although the decision to provide funding had already been made, the executives again watched with interest as the Proteus Bluebird CN7 eventually topped out at 403.1 miles per hour (648.7 km/h), further validating Green's analyses.

It is also worth mentioning the budget afforded each respective team, the Spirit Of America had $250,000, the Proteus Bluebird CN7 more than $2,000,000, while the “Wingfoot Express” cost only $78,000! The Wingfoot Express' cockpit was located centrally, just behind the front axle, covered with a acrylic glass canopy from in front of the driver's feet to behind his head.

The front wheels were mounted within the bodywork barely further apart than the width of the engine, while the rear wheels were on outriggers and exposed to the air. Green estimated that the aerodynamic drag of the exposed rear wheels cost the car 20 miles per hour (30 km/h), but since his calculations indicated that they already had much greater speed available than they needed, this was not viewed as a problem. A small fin rose vertically at the tip of the car's nose.

Early testing of the Wingfoot Express nearly brought about its demise, when two braking parachutes ripped loose and the car catapulted through a chain link fence, jumped two large ditches and came to rest in a wooded area. Although not as catastrophic as first thought, Walt Arfons suffered a mild heart attack as he watched the carnage, which would require hospitalization.

He soon released himself so that he could commence the repairs, although it was while performing the repair work that Arfons damaged the ligaments in one hand, completely eliminating whatever small chance remained of his driving the car for the record. At this point there was no time to find another driver, and Green, who had never driven over 130 miles per hour (210 km/h) in his life, was the logical choice because of his familiarity with the mechanics of the vehicle.

On Green’s first timed run he hit 236 miles per hour (380 km/h), however he grew concerned not only of the “rattling and banging” from within the vehicle,  but an unexpected “snowing” phenomenon, the aerodynamics of the car breaking down the salt and allowing it to enter the cockpit. At higher speed, the short front axle began to oscillate, necessitating an increase in the damping of the shock absorbers; but after that last modification, Green found that he could steer with one hand.

The next run would see Green hit 335 miles per hour (539 km/h) before salt crystals drawn into the engine threw it off balance. Having only three days total booked at Bonneville, the team had to vacate for Craig Breedlove, who set the record at 400 miles per hour (644 km/h); leading to an intense debate within the FIA about what constituted a car, resulting in the unusual decision that Breedlove's three wheeled jet vehicle was actually a motorcycle.

In 1964 the Wingfoot Express returned to Bonneville for a week, but the engine never regained the strength shown in their earliest runs, and struggled to pick up speed. Even when another engine was installed, success eluded them.

Finally, Walt's brother and longtime competitor Art Arfons, a brilliant intuitive mechanic for both piston and jet engines, suggested that the 17 inch (432 mm) opening of the "clamshells" on the engine exhaust was the problem. Green also removed some of the sheet metal around the engine intake, later realizing that in the process he had destroyed the Goodyear logo. But the Wingfoot Express now easily hit 299 miles per hour (481 km/h) with no afterburner.

On the last day they had available, October 2, 1964, at 4:06 pm, a short blast of afterburner brought the car to a recorded 406 mph (653 km/h), but the official record required the run be "backed up" in the opposite direction. The lateness of the hour left no time for refueling, so the decision was made to save fuel by not making a full run over the entire distance for acceleration, and the car started the return run only 2 miles (3 km) away from the timing lights.

Green and the car accelerated like a rocket, recording a remarkable speed of 420.07 miles per hour (676.04 km/h), thus averaging 413.20 miles per hour (664.98 km/h) in both directions and setting a new record, a little less than 2% faster than Breedlove's.

Also See:

Land Speed Record Drivers
Herbert Austin LSR Attempt
History Of The Land Speed Record
Unique Cars and Parts USA - The Ultimate Classic Car Resource