'The Thrust teams have held the World Land Speed Record for more than 25 years, and were first through the Sound Barrier on land. There are no mature challengers on the horizon, so why on earth start another LSR project when the whole country is facing a recession?’
Of course that obvious question makes very good sense at a superficial level - what if BLOODHOUND SSC were to fail? Would that wipe out the Thrust2 and ThrustSSC achievements and terminate Britain’s 100-year involvement with the Land Speed Record?
I don’t suppose you go into these projects with the consequences of failure in mind – it’s much more about the opportunity to achieve. The opportunity for the team to achieve something really spectacular. And if it does something for the country in the process, then it is truly worthwhile.
“Mr Noble, Mr Richard Noble. Can you spare a minute?”
I am walking across the lobby of the House of Commons and being chased by one of the House policemen: this is no place to discuss speeding offences and I am embarrassed to Hell.
“Sir, I would just like to congratulate you and your team of breaking the Sound Barrier back in 1997… My son wanted to study media at University, and he was so taken with the ThrustSSC project that he switched courses and is now an engineer.”
True story, and I guess that’s one new engineer.
Back in 2007 Andy Green and I found ourselves in front of Paul Drayson, Minister for Defence Equipment and Support. With the late Steve Fossett planning an 800 mph attempt on the ThrustSSC record, now was the time to plan ahead. Paul made it quite clear that there was a great opportunity not to be missed. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) - indeed, the entire country - was short of engineers, and he believed that the way forward was to generate a new iconic project which would inspire the school population - he even defined the age range: 5-19.
He related this to the great British aerospace achievements of the past: Concorde, the Vulcan, the Lightning, the Fairey Delta 2, even the Schneider Trophy racers - and made the point that in those times there was seldom a shortage of engineers. Once the Government had turned off the inspiration tap, school leavers started to look elsewhere for their careers.
This was the first time I had heard this and when we started to discuss the project with potential sponsors we learned just how acute the situation had become. The ‘Green’ issues mean that we have to replace almost everything we touch or use, much of the power generation and transmission needs to be replaced. We need new high technology cars and the aerospace industry has massive problems of its own - with new ranges of low-emission airliners needed right now. It is quite clear that we are at the dawn of a huge new global industrial revolution and with a chronic shortage of engineers and a banking system suffering from self-inflicted wounds, Britain is not well placed to take part.
It took time to dawn on us, but suddenly the BLOODHOUND SSC project took on a life of its own.
Of course there was the traditional PR need for sponsors – but a far, far more powerful driver is the educational need – Engineering and STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). For this the Land Speed Record is absolutely the ideal subject.
In conventional business everyone is concerned about secrecy – they find it difficult to talk about their latest technology because of the risk of it being copied or stolen.
In Formula 1 circuit racing, teams labour under highly design-restrictive rules partly designed to ensure that the cars don’t go too fast for the tracks in order to avoid costly track redevelopment. The cars thus tend to look similar and there is an imperative to protect technical breakthroughs so that others cannot copy them immediately. Intellectual property rights are protected passionately, and teams are thus never in a position to promote the latest technology and engineering. There is thus a culture of absolute technical secrecy to protect competitiveness.
The Land Speed Record is completely different.
We run on dry lake beds or salt flats so there is no track development - the venues flood regularly and renew themselves.
The FIA rules restrict only the number of wheels - to four or more with two or more steering.
This means that the cars are totally different - and that any technical advantage one team has will most probably have no relevance to competitors.
We are thus free to talk about, and promote, ALL of the technology.
Suddenly BLOODHOUND SSC’s role in the world becomes clear and very real.
We can promote the technology.
We can inspire a new generation of engineers because we can share all of the technical information.
And we are going to learn a great deal on the way, because all pioneers make mistakes and take wrong turnings. But there is a duty upon us to push the technology frontiers as far as we can possibly go, so that there is very real pioneering element and there are very real discoveries to be made.
We need to create the most advanced car we possibly can and to share all of the technology on the web and via specialist curriculum-valid courses for schools – this is the only way we can inspire a new generation of engineers and meet our objectives.
So from this background we derived BLOODHOUND SSC’s very clear objectives:
1. To create a national surge in the popularity of Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects
2. To create an iconic project requiring extreme research and technology whilst simultaneously providing the means to enable the student population to join in the adventure
3. To achieve the first 1000 mph record on land
4. To generate very substantial and enduring media exposure for sponsors
With all of this in mind, it gives us the fantastic opportunity to create the ultimate Land Speed Record car.
With ThrustSSC we used 30 year-old engines and our systems processor was rescued from a derelict military tank. This time we might be able to produce a really advanced vehicle using latest and yet-to-be-discovered technology. Ron Ayers suggested a 1000 mph Mach 1.4 as the target.
Subsequently we were able to discuss all this with Schools Minister Jim Knight - and he agreed that this was exactly what was needed. In fact his department, the DCFS, has helped us get the schools programmes together. Times have changed; after the ThrustSSC supersonic record a prominent minister told us that he saw no value in participation. Now Britain is beginning to change. Thank God!
This all this leads on to the project Mission Statement:
To: Confront the impossible and overcome it using Science Engineering Technology and Mathematics
To participate in an engineering adventure that will inspire, prepare and motivate the next generation, who will be building and living in the Low-Carbon World.
So we are off on an incredible engineering adventure. After 15 months of research the design team believes the project can be achieved. So that’s as far as we have got. And we don’t have the answers for an awful lot of questions and challenges:
Can it be done in engineering terms?
Can we fund it?
Will the Schools programme deliver?
Will the teachers show any interest?
Will the media portray it as a waste of valuable resources?
Will the environmental people choose to focus on it as unnecessary generation of emissions?
Is Britain still going to be boringly negative?
So now you know why BLOODHOUND SSC is an Engineering Adventure.
We will update the website very regularly and you’ll be able to see how we are getting along. In due course our reconditioned building at Filton will be available as a Visitor Centre so you can come down and see for yourselves. You may want to be a much closer part of the project - if so, please join the 1K Supporters’ Club.
Richard Noble, Project Director, BLOODHOUND Programme. October 2008.
PS: Our vehicle is called BLOODHOUND SSC after Ron Ayers’ first missile, the Bristol Bloodhound 2 - an incredible surface-to-air missile that would accelerate from standstill to Mach 1 in 2.5 seconds. We used BLOODHOUND as a working title - and it stuck.