Ed Shadle wants to drive a car faster than anyone on the planet. And for the past decade, Shadle, his buddy Keith Zanghi, and a group of volunteers have been perfecting a vehicle to do just that. Enter the North American Eagle, a 56-foot fighter jet turned automobile designed to propel Shadle upwards of 800 miles an hour and toward one of the world’s most coveted titles.
Ever since a French race car driver hit 39 mph in 1898 (his craft: an electric buggy), people from all over have competed fiercely for the land speed record. Shadle is going flat out for that trophy—as are his two main rivals: Australian former record-holder Rosco McGlashan (643 mph; 1996) and the current champions, Britons Andy Green and Richard Noble (763 mph; 1997).
The challenges are myriad. Without the proper aerodynamics, a vehicle could catapult into the sky or drive itself straight into the ground. There’s also the issue of passing through the sound barrier around 750 mph, which creates a sonic boom powerful enough to flip a car.
Unlike the Aussies and Brits, who are building their vehicles from scratch, Shadle has some advantages. First, the North American Eagle was cobbled together from a jet engine and the chassis of a 1957 Lockheed F-104 Starfighter (which Shadle scooped up from a Maine junkyard for $25,000), so it’s much cheaper than his competitors’ multimillion-dollar efforts. Second, it’s already been tested at more than 400 mph; the other teams won’t be on the road for at least a year.
“We’d like to take that record away,” Shadle says. “Even if it’s only for a year or two.”