The Queen of Speed


In theory, the S&S Turbines General Electric J-79-11B engine from a Vietnam War-era F-104 Star Fighter with a retrofitted four-line afterburner should generate over 45,000 horsepower. It could then use this power to propel the seven-ton, 56-foot long North American Eagle racing machine at a speed of 835 mph.

That is the theory.

Transforming all that engineering into reality will rely, in large part, on the skills of its driver, Jessi Combs. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because that’s the same woman who helped build off-road vehicles on Spike TV’s Xtreme 4x4 show for four years, until she was injured when a 550-pound band saw fell on her.

Obviously, you can’t keep a good woman down, and now she’s on the hunt for the women’s land-speed record. The current benchmark of 512 mph was set in 1976 by Kitty O’Neil. Combs joined the Eagle team in 2013 and became its primary driver last year. She’s recorded over a half-dozen runs of more than 400 mph, including a personal best of 483 mph last September.

The North American Eagle team originated as a dream of Ed Shadle and Keith Zanghi to turn a jet fighter into the world’s fastest racing machine. While Shadle passed away from cancer last year, Zanghi, Combs, and the rest of the team recently upgraded the Eagle as they continue to strive towards setting records.

One key upgrade has been a fuel filter from a Lockheed Starfighter that has improved the vehicle’s fuel flow, which can be as high as 160 gallons of kerosene per minute. This has enhanced the car’s ability to accelerate and maintain speed. Other specs include $20,000 aluminum wheels, NASA-quality parachutes to slow the car down, and the world’s first neodymium iron boron brakes. The vehicle also houses a National Instruments data acquisition system that provides over 3.2 million measurements per second in real time.

The next steps for Combs and the Eagle team are first, finding a raceway that is hard enough to support the 14,500-pound vehicle. Many of the salt flats and lake beds typically used have been too soft due to historic amounts of rain and snow.

Then, the team will be tackling the 512-mph mark to officially make Combs the fastest female driver in history, while simultaneously preparing to take down the overall record held by British racer Andy Green, of 763 mph.

Image Credit: IEN

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