Ed Shadle has a dream. It is to use a F-104 Starfighter jet fighter plane, sans wings and retrofitted with a powerful turbine engine and hand-crafted aluminum wheels instead of rubber tires, to set a new world land speed record.
Shadle has set speed records at the Bonnevile Salt Flats in the street roadster. Back in 1993, he took a roadster based on a 1927 Ford model “T” body, powered by a 258 cubic-inch Chevrolet V8, to 159.43 mph.
But admittedly, a jet plane on wheels is an entirely different story.
“The key is understanding the handling characteristics,” said Shadle. “Right at trans-sonic is where it gets a little weird. But I should be able to break the sound barrier.”
Shadle and his friend Keith Zanghi, who has helped him with earlier speed efforts, decided back in the late Nineties, that a way to break the land-speed record barrier on land would be to use a vehicle that had already been designed for high speeds. That led them to purchase a used F-104 from a scrapyard in Maine for $25,000.
The former jet fighter was in rough shape when they brought it home to an airplane hangar that Shadle had at the Shady Acres Airport in Spanaway, Washington. It had been stripped of everything but its fuselage and was covered with graffiti and punctured with holes; however, when stripping the paint, they found a number underneath the plane’s tail that seemed to indicate a historic connection: 763.
Upon writing to the Air Force Historical Research Agency, requesting to know something about his F-104’s providence, he was told it had served mostly as a research airplane at Edwards Air Force Base. In reading the plane’s maintenance records, Shadle discovered that Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the sound barrier, had once flown the very plane Shadle now owned.
Consider that a good sign.
The J79 engine in Shadle’s F-104 LSR vehicle has been modified by S&S Turbines in Fort St. John, British Columbia. The turbine blades have been coated with molybdenum in order to reduce wind resistance. Additionally, the fuel nozzles have been resized to increase performance. The output is now approximately 52,000 horsepower.
So how does all that power get translated to the ground? Through a special set of hand-crafted aluminum wheels, similar to those used by Noble and Green when they broke the World Land Speed Record in 1997 at Black Rock, Nevada.
The set of five wheels – two in the middle, two in the back and one in the front – cost $94,000 and were built by Eagle Machine in Abbotsford, British Columbia.
Of course, at some point, Shadle has to stop his car. To do that, LEV-X, a manufacturer based in Port Angeles, Washington, produced a set of magnetic brakes. They are the only brakes of their kind in the world. They are actuated using a hydraulic setup that activates a cylinder, that then pushes a magnet to within an eighth of an inch of an aluminum rotor; that causes deceleration without rubbing metal-to-metal.
Reportedly, it will stop the North American Eagle from 200 miles-per-hour in about a mile.
Shadle has taken the North American Eagle to 350 mile-per-hour on the dry lake bed of El Mirage, California. To break the land speed record, he’ll probably need to go to the Black Rock Desert, instead of Bonneville, since the turf is more predictable.
He’ll also need money. Every time the North American Eagle makes a run, it costs about $20,000 in kerosene and worn parts alone. Shadle estimates that it will take another $500,000 more, than the $150,000 already spent by himself and Shadle, to break the land speed record in 2009.
Can Shadle, Zanghi and their team find the sponsorship money to do what needs to be done? Moreover, can they hit that sweet spot in time and bring the Land Speed Record back to America? Don’t count them out.