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Surveying for the World Land Speed Record

Rosco McGlashan’s life ambition is to become the fastest man on Earth. For almost 50 years he has been working tirelessly towards this dream, which could soon be realised with the help of his dedicated team and the Aussie Invader 5R. This supersonic 16 metre-long structure will be powered by a rocket motor, packing an almighty 62,000 lbs of thrust (some 200,000 horsepower).

The goal is to reach 1,000 miles per hour (1,600 kilometres per hour) to beat the current World Land Speed Record of 763 mph (1,223 km/h), achieved in 1997 by the British team in the Thrust SSC vehicle, driven by Andy Green.

Naturally there are other contenders to the land speed throne: the Brits aim to keep the top spot with a new car called the Bloodhound SSC, while the US and Canada have joined forces to build the North American Eagle. Rosco’s Aussie Invader 5R is the most powerful of the three and indeed the most powerful Land Speed Record car ever built, travelling from 0 to 1,000 mph in 20 seconds!

So where does surveying come into it?

One of the most crucial aspects to achieving the World Land Speed Record is finding the ideal track for the Aussie Invader to run on. For this, Rosco and his team have enlisted the help of Land Surveys, a national survey company that normally specialises in the resources, infrastructure and construction sectors but who couldn’t resist getting involved in a project as exciting as this one!

In addition to being a surveyor, Land Surveys’ Managing Director Peter Rullo is also an avid race car driver and jet boat pilot, so naturally he was keen to accept the challenge. “It would be wonderful for Australia to achieve the World Land Speed Record and take the accolade away from the Brits,” he said. “Land Surveys is happy to help Rosco and his team wherever we can to ensure they have the best track surface that will meet the tolerance requirements for the Aussie Invader 5R.

To make the record attempt, the team needs a track 31 kilometres long and one kilometre wide. Although prepared to travel overseas for the ideal plot, Mike Annear from the Aussie Invader team spotted a huge clay pan in remote Central-West Queensland during a flight and wondered if it would be up to the job.

Land Surveys UAS Manager Darren Wilkinson helped to organise a reconnaissance trip in November last year so they could discover if the site was suitable.

The technology

“Surveying an area of this size using traditional surveying methods alone would have taken far too long,” he explained. “We approached precision systems specialists Position Partners to see if we could get their Topcon IP-S2 3D mobile mapping equipment out to the site, as it would enable us to survey a large area quickly and accurately.”

The Topcon IP-S2 combines terrestrial laser scanners, GNSS antennas, a Panasonic 360 degree camera, wheel encoders and an inertial measurement unit (IMU) to deliver accurate three-dimensional data for any linear mapping project. This vehicle-mounted system enables data and 360 degree imagery to be captured at normal road speeds, significantly reducing the time it takes to survey large areas.

To complete the survey, the Land Surveys team combined both traditional GPS-based surveying using rovers and the data captured by the Position Partners mobile mapping car, driven by company representative David Low.

Accuracy is paramount

“Our work plays a very vital role in the World Land Speed Record attempt, because with a vehicle travelling at some 440 metres per second, every dip or bump in the surface could have a significant effect on the trajectory, speed and stability of the vehicle,” Wilkinson added.

“It was therefore essential that we survey the track very accurately, so that we can build a precise model of the terrain for the engineers to work with.

Rosco and the Land Surveys/ Position Partners surveying team conducted an initial site reconnaissance on Day 1, circumnavigating the clay pan and examining the surface for the most suitable track. The Topcon IP-S2 survey, conducted on day two, consisted of three parallel runs, providing an overall swath of approximately 300 metres. Base stations were established with GPS along the proposed track and the logged data used to generate an accurate model. As an independent check, Land Surveys deployed a Leica GS15 on a second vehicle to log data.

“The speed of acquisition and accuracy of results from the mobile mapping survey were impressive, given the flat, featureless terrain that is the Bilpa Morea Claypan,” Wilkinson said. “The 31km track has an RL difference of two metres from one end to the other, and the IP-S2 data clearly captured the characteristics of the clay pan, in terms of micro-relief, texture, and where it existed, vegetation.”

Due to the remoteness of the location, organising the project logistics proved to be far more challenging than actually executing the survey. “Position Partners was willing to help from the outset and we are extremely grateful for their support,” Wilkinson added. “The technical guidance from Heath Low, their National Product Manager for Scanning Systems, has been outstanding.”

Having support for the survey work allowed Land Surveys to concentrate on coordinating the other supporting groups which included land holders and service providers in the district, Shire of Diamantina, Tourism and Events Queensland, Skytrans and Channel 7.

The next steps

With an accurate data set of the current surface completed, the next stage will be to determine the tolerance levels of the Aussie Invader 5R using computer 3D modelling software. Then the earthworks requirements will be calculated and a final design created, which will be loaded onto Topcon machine control systems to accurately grade the terrain and meet the required tolerance levels.

Upon the earthworks completion, Land Surveys will conduct an as-built survey of the track to ensure the Aussie Invader team is fully equipped with relevant and accurate data of the site.

Rosco is very grateful for all the help that went into the recent track recce. “When we arrived at the site I had great expectations (probably unrealistic) to see a lake bed that was all ready to go,” he said.

“Although my hopes were downgraded somewhat by the stone areas and some dead Spinifex here and there, the great news is that thanks to Peter Rullo of Land Surveys and David Low of Position Partners, we now have a viable site to make our world record attempt.

The team is now engaged in getting approval from the local shire and land leaseholders. Once local support has been gained, the team can start work in earnest to source support for the track preparation.

“A Land Speed Record attempt of this magnitude is an enormous undertaking,” McGlashan explains. “It requires meticulous attention to detail and the help of so many people and companies for their expertise, support, financial backing and will to succeed. As my main man Pete Taylor keeps reminding me, ‘if it was easy, everyone would be doing it!’, so we just keep on keeping on in pursuit of this crazy and exciting dream.”

For more information about the Aussie Invader land speed world record attempt, visit

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