Spirit of America - Sonic Arrow

aka Spirit of America - Formula Shell LSRV
aka Sonic Arrow II


From 1993 to 1997, five-time Unlimited Land Speed Record holder Craig Breedlove constructed, campaigned, and modified the Sonic Arrow jet car to set a 700 mph absolute record. Over $10M in 2008 dollars was invested by the Sonic Arrow team, sponsors, industry, and in-kind engineering and materials during the five year program. After Thrust SSC’s record runs in 1997, minimal work was completed for supersonic runs and the program was shut down in 1999.

In 2006, adventurer Steve Fossett purchased the vehicle and all intellectual property. For the next two years, a small team of dedicated professionals rebuilt and modified Sonic Arrow II for the purpose of setting records at 800 mph and beyond. During this time, the team discovered and corrected 7 separate fatal flaws in the Sonic Arrow vehicle and systems that increased the scope of the program by a factor of 4. In spite of the increased work, the team functioned efficiently on ½ to 1/3 of the budget of the Breedlove and Noble teams of 1994-1997. Sonic Arrow II was in systems and handling testing in 2008 when operations were halted by the Fossett estate.

Initial record runs were planned for a dry lake in northern Nevada in spring, 2008. A logistical exercise for loading, transport, assembly etc was conducted by the team on the Black Rock Desert in October, 2007. That is the source of the attached photos (all images © Stuart Radnofsky / Project 100 - 2007). Further engine tests / team exercises were conducted in early 2008 at El Mirage before the project was eventually shut down, with all elements carefully packed and mothballed in mid-2008.

Spirit of America - Formula Shell LSRV

In 1996, at Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, chasing a speed of 635 MPH to best Richard Noble’s 634.051 MPH performance in Thrust 2. As Breedlove explains it, his effort was a bit under-funded, so the meteorology data was provided by the same individual tasked with timing. Information was relayed to Breedlove in the Spirit of America’s cockpit via an overhead spotter in a light aircraft, which introduced an element of ambiguity to the reported data.

After a fast one-way run, Breedlove set the car up for a second pass in deteriorating weather conditions. With wind gusts picking up, Breedlove received a wind speed report of “one-five,” which he took to mean 1.5 MPH. However, what his observer had meant was 15 MPH, with potential gusts to 25 MPH. With a new record potentially in hand, Breedlove set off down the course for his second pass, entering the timing lights at an indicated speed of 675 MPH. It was then that the value of good and precise data became readily apparent, as the amiable Californian found himself fighting for control in a car that wanted to roll on its side, into the wind, at a speed inconceivable to most. The car cut a wide U-turn across the playa, narrowly missing a parked Winnebago in the process, but Breedlove once again emerged unscathed.

The accident prematurely ended his 1996 record attempt. The following year, former RAF fighter pilot and Wing Commander Andy Green (whom Breedlove refers to with more than a little bit of reverence) set the bar at 713.990 MPH in September, then at 760.363 MPH in October, breaking the sound barrier along with his own record. Breedlove was on hand to attempt the same, but his effort was cut short by mechanical failure, early season rains, and a lack of test data about taking the Spirit of America Formula Shell LSRV supersonic. In subsequent years, his quest was ended by a lack of sponsorship and funding; as in the late 1960s, corporations (and to some degree, the general public) had once again lost interest in land speed record racing.

Sonic Arrow II

The Fossett LSR car uses Breedlove’s original chassis and engine (refurbished), but virtually everything else has changed. Suspension, steering, wheel base and track, systems, brake parachutes, wheels – all have been greatly modified or entirely replaced. The car retains the gorgeous and yet meaningful shape of its former life and still looks fast even when it’s standing still.

The car has been rebuilt and re-wired from the ground up with a longer wheelbase, wider track and modified aerodynamics, including lengthened wheel covers and parachute assembly and no dorsal fin. The braking parachute and its deployment system were also completely re-designed.

Powered by a single modified S&S LM1500 (a 'land / marine' jet turbine powerplant derived from the famed General Electric J-79 turbojet as used in the USAF Phantom II fighter-bomber and F-104 Starfighter) the engine generates over 18,400 lbs of supersonic thrust with afterburner and water injection. The car is constructed of steel tubing with stressed aluminum skin, the driver compartment being made of carbon/Kevlar/glass fiber composite.

Although at first glance a tricycle layout, the car actually runs on 4 wheels, the front pair closely situated to allow a smaller frontal area and thus reducing drag, the rear pair on a wide track for stability. Primary deceleration is, naturally, by parachute, with a ‘friction ski’ brake for final stopping power.

Overall length is 48 ft (14.63 m); overall width 10 ft 6 inches (3.20 m). Overall weight (wet) is just over 9,000 lbs, achieving a thrust to weight ratio better than any modern jet fighter.

ENGINE: S&S LM-1500 / J-79

  • Supplied by: S&S Turbine Services Ltd
  • Fuel Capacity: 105.0 gallons
  • Thrust: 18,750 lbf (83.4 kN / approx 37,500 hp) with afterburner and water injection
  • Oil capacity: 2.5 gallons


  • Steel tube frame with stressed aluminum skin
  • Carbon / Kevlar / Glass fiber composite driver capsule, engine inlets, and rear wheel fairings
  • Tires: Filament-wound carbon/glass composite material with rubberized epoxy matrix
  • Wheels: Aluminum billet hub, special alloy spun disk heat treated, steel fastened
  • Wheel bearings: Tapered rollers
  • Suspension / front: coil over hydraulic shocks
  • Suspension / rear: variable deflection beam
  • Steering: worm and sector
  • Parachutes: mortar deployed, supersonic capable
  • Windshield: Lexan
  • Electrical Power: deep cycle batteries, 28V system
Sonic Arrow
Sonic Arrow
Sonic Arrow
Sonic Arrow
Craig Breedlove
Craig Breedlove
Steve Fossett

Where is it now?

Sonic Arrow currently resides at Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum, on the former grounds of Lowry Air Force Base in Denver Colarado.