Hydrogen peroxide rocket racing has a long and illustrious history in the United States, led by trendsetters like Ky Michaelson and Jack McClure back in the 1970s. For the last few decades since then, the concept has been all but dead… that was, until Kurt Anderson arrived on the scene and forced a revival. Anderson found himself in need of a hobby after a change in life circumstances, and he turned to drag racing – after winning an auction for a front-engine dragster on eBay, of all places.
“I knew nothing about it; I was just trying to find a way to occupy my time,” says Anderson. “The thing that really got me pointed in the right direction was the guy I bought the car from. Even though I won the bid, he wasn’t going to sell me the car unless I promised to get licensed and surround myself with people who were concerned about safety.”
With the safety mantra in mind, Anderson made the decision to attend Roy Hill’s Drag Racing School and learn the intricacies of drag racing.
“One thing after another led me into the whole drag racing scene. My first drag race ever was the March Meet in 2007; I went from Minnesota and drove all the way out to California. I was in my element, as everything just fit. It’s family-oriented, racers help each another, I was in love with it. This is where I’m supposed to be,” he says.
For many drag racers, too much is never enough, as the search for more speed becomes the prevailing thought to all else.
“In my quest for more speed, I happened to run into Ky Michaelson. It turned out that he lived in Minnesota, just half an hour away from me, and was involved in these rocket-powered vehicles. I went to see him, and he had the Conklin Comet – the quarter-mile record-holding fastest vehicle – sitting there. Ky started explaining the peroxide rocket system, and I was absolutely fascinated. But he explained that the fuel was impossible to get,” says Anderson.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Anderson started doing his own research on the fuel acquisition issue, and at the same time made the decision to build his own rocket car. He asked Michaelson for his assistance, and the pair forged a bond that sustains itself to this day.
“A month later, we’re in California, in the aerospace salvage yards hunting for the parts we’d need to build the peroxide propulsion system,” says Anderson.
To make a long, convoluted story much more easy to digest, Anderson plans to campaign the rocket he’s christened the ‘Arctic Arrow’, which has been designed to break all of the standing start and top speed records on both snow and ice surfaces at an upcoming meet – called Speed Weekend – in Årsunda, Sweden. He will not only shoot to eclipse the rocket-propelled world speed record in the quarter-mile on ice, which stands at 247 mph and change, but it will also see him return to his family’s home country for the first time in his life.
From 1973 to 1982, when Rod Stoltz finally closed the door as the final racer using rocket technology in the NHRA, the rocket racers like Michaelson and McClure enjoyed a strong fan following and exhibition status. But in the days since, the technology has virtually stagnated; until Anderson came along.
“Ky started explaining the peroxide rocket system, and I was absolutely fascinated.” – Kurt Anderson
As Anderson has reignited the passion for rocket-powered vehicles and dragged Michaelson back into the drag racing world, Michaelson has done the same for Anderson, exposing him to other facets of rocketry to help him gain a greater understanding of the overall picture of what it takes to safely operate one of these units.
Anderson’s Background Info
Not Prime Time Ready - Yet
The rocket car renaissance isn’t ready to take over NHRA again just yet. “One thing I want to mention is that we’ve rented every track I have run on for special testing. The NHRA was not happy with me especially at Brainerd International Raceway. I had my own insurance agreement with the track owner. Bob Lang [NHRA’s Division 1 Director, and also the series’ Director of Emergency Services] spoke with me personally about not running on NHRA tracks until we get a new rocket car exhibition program in place,” says Anderson. Regardless, when this program is arranged, you can bet that Kurt Anderson will rocket to stardom.
“Everything about my world is process-driven – we have controls on everything, so it wasn’t a stretch for me. I’ve always had a high level of mechanical aptitude,” says Anderson. “As a kid I had a minibike, and if I wanted to improve it, I had to find an engine for it and install it. I grew up in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, where if you didn’t have a license you weren’t supposed to be on the streets with one of those. I got chased by plenty of cops through the alleys. It was a rite of passage growing up there.”
His first car, a 1956 Triumph, had a seized engine, which of course he took apart and repaired, and then he moved on to a 1968 Land Rover. His affinity for British cars as a young man meant he was always under the hood, constantly tinkering, improving, and learning. That thirst for knowledge has been stimulated by the challenges of learning about hydrogen peroxide rocket propulsion as an adult.
But before we dive into the Arctic Arrow’s construction details, here’s a quick lesson on how the propulsion system operates.
The system is designed to use pressurized 90-percent rocket-grade hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), which has the same chemical makeup as the 3-percent peroxide that you find in drugstores, but in a much higher concentration. Rather than the peroxide actually burning to provide propulsion, it’s subjected to a process called decomposition, which involves the fuel passing over silver-plated screens to start the decomposition process.
This decomposition converts the hydrogen peroxide by breaking off one of the oxygen ions to create H2O + O, which is at its essence simply superheated steam. This superheated steam is forced through an orifice at the back of the rocket engine to create thrust; in the case of the Arctic Arrow, the reaction produces a whopping 5,000 pounds of thrust. There is no fire involved, and the motor is able to be throttled from near-zero to wide open.
The technology is used in aerospace applications currently, as it can be employed to perform functions like change the direction of a rocket’s flight or adjust an orbital craft’s positioning. You may remember the Rocket Belt – seen flying at the opening ceremony of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games – and made famous by its inventor, Bell Aircraft Company engineer Wendell Moore. The Rocket Belt also used a version of a hydrogen peroxide rocket motor.
Chasing The World Record
Anderson has taken the education gained by racing his front-engine dragster, the insight shared via Michaelson’s lifelong dedication to rocketry, and the rest of his life experience and rolled up all of that intelligence into the creation of the Arctic Arrow. He’s spent eight to twelve hours a day for the last couple of years developing this one-of-a-kind machine, pouring his heart and soul into its construction. He knows every nut, bolt, and weld on the craft, and each piece has been over-engineered from a performance and safety standpoint.
The rocket-powered snow machine christened the Arctic Arrow – because all badass race vehicles need a nickname – actually began life as a rear-engine dragster. Anderson purchased the chassis, then disassembled each piece, and began to re-engineer it for the challenges of competing on the ice. Today, fully-loaded with driver and fuel, it registers a flyweight 1,510 pounds on the scale. There is no element of the vehicle which does not need to be there; conversely, each component which has been used in its creation has been dissected and engineered specifically to perform in the demanding outdoor, extremely-cold conditions.
The driver’s compartment has been built to SFI 2.3Q specifications – the same specifications a Top Fuel Dragster uses, and includes ISP roll cage padding, an Impact 16.1 harness, and an EIS poured form seat. In addition, Anderson has a HyBrid X head/neck restraint, a three-point high pressure safety relief system, and a primary and secondary fuel shutoff system. Anderson has even fitted a set of cockpit arming and disarming controls.
Environment-Friendly Fuel - Sort Of
One of the most interesting side notes to the use of hydrogen peroxide rocket engines is that they have zero carbon footprint. So if the EPA ever completely cracks down on the use of nitromethane in the NHRA Top Fuel and Funny Car ranks due to “pollution”, there will always be the ability for fans to see high-powered vehicles capable of reaching triple-digit speeds. It’ll just take the enterprising racing community to make the change to hydrogen peroxide-powered rockets – and Kurt Anderson will have a leg up on everyone. Interestingly, in order to purchase of the fuel today, he had to take special courses in its handling and safety.
Steering is controlled by a 15:1-ratio Stiletto steering rack, while the rear suspension is a custom-built Hardtail design for maximum control over the uneven ice surface.
A pair of 14-inch drag skis ride under the independent front suspension, while the rear skis are Aero Ski MI500 units sourced from the winter aircraft industry.
Interestingly, the engine has found a second life in Anderson’s hands. Originally built by none other than – you guessed it – Ky Michaelson, way back in 1974, the 43-year-old HTP rocket engine was modified and overhauled by Anderson in 2014 and 2016.
Using pressurized 90-percent high test peroxide running through DeZurik wafer valves, the engine produces a whopping 5,000 pounds of thrust through the hydrogen peroxide reaction.
A pair of Simpson 12-foot Crossform drag chutes will combine with the custom-engineered Pneumatic Ice Claw to slow the Arctic Arrow down after what Anderson hopes will be a record-setting run.
The 25-foot-long Arctic Arrow is six feet wide in the rear to provide maximum stability while minimizing drag and wind resistance; it appears to be modeled somewhat after Bonneville-style speedsters with Anderson’s custom touches thrown in for ice competition.
There’s a large contingent of folks who have been instrumental in Anderson’s pursuit of the record. Ky Michaelson (Crew Chief), Curt Michaelson (Assistant Crew Chief), Buddy Michaelson (Fuel Master), Kevin O’Kelly (Chassis Master), Captain Jack McClure (Commander and Chief), Captain Ed Ballinger (Safety Supervisor), Steve Wagner (logistics support), and Dan Swanson (Fuel and Motor Heating Engineer) have all played integral parts in the construction process of the Arctic Arrow.
Kurt Anderson has done the necessary research and spent the time and money to engineer what he believes will be a record-setting vehicle, and laid the groundwork to get said vehicle to the race course. The only question which remains is whether he’ll be able to achieve his dream of being the fastest man alive to strap himself to a rocket covering a quarter-mile of ice surface – and we’ll find out shortly, as he’s on his way to Sweden right now.