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.
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
, 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
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 tyre
Goodyear (who were at the time funding Craig Breedlove’s
Their pitch to
the Goodyear executives was well prepared, with Green’s aerodynamic
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
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.
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
, 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
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.