It has been a hard slog this winter - equipment to refurbish, modify and repair, a 'house move' from Q Shed to the luxurious P8R Shed, and endless modifications to the ThrustSSC to complete. On top of all that, the roadshows, Open Days, special evenings and lectures have all had to be given.
Glynne Bowsher has hardly had a moments rest - day after day has been spent in front of his laptop designing new parts and re-designing old ones. No sooner is a drawing complete than Nick Dove's team in the workshop is making or fitting the parts. Jeremy Bliss's inflatable mattress has seemed to be permanently laid out at 'P8' as he has tested and commissioned the active rear suspension - crucial to maintaining exactly the right angle of pitch on the car at high speed.
Richard Noble can hardly have slept either. On his shoulders has rested the enormous burden of bringing in the money that is swallowed up so quickly by the Thrust operation. At least he has had the relief of a continual stream of cups of coffee from Dee Campbell-Coombe - every day, without fail, she is there making sure everyone is fed and watered. The number of man-hours she frees up for work on the car is enormous.
It isn't just ThrustSSC that has been changed. The computer and communications rooms in the Pit Station Trailer have been completely reorganised and rebuilt by Mach 1 Club member Brian Taylor as a direct result of lessons learned in Jordan. PK Consulting and Cabling have fitted the most fantastic computer network - every room is wired, and there are even sockets for computers outside. ThrustSSC's trailer has been modified to make use of the spare space. The Jaguar firechase has been tested in action with Gatwick airport's fire-service and some minor modifications identified and completed. Every aspect of the team's operation has been examined and improved.
So what is the target calling for all this work? The objective all along has been to return to Jordan in the spring to complete the high-speed testing interrupted by the weather. By the end of last week all the work on ThrustSSC herself was complete, and the rest of the workload was almost done. The engine installations had been checked out in a tie-down test - it was time to test the car on the runway again!
3 run profiles were identified. A first low-power test to check that the brakes and steering were unaffected by the winter's work. If that was satisfactory, a second to maximum military power would check the new top parachute hitch, whilst a third would see the afterburners light once more in a full system test.
At 1400hrs on Saturday afternoon, Marshall of Cambridge's air-starter was detached from the car as the twin Speys 'spooled up' under their own power. The car rolled forward, and slowed as Andy Green tested the brakes. Forward again, then slow down again. Finally she rolled onto 'Two-Five' and requested clearance to run.
For once Jayne Millington was not in the Air Traffic Control Tower. A posting to the Falkland Islands has deprived the team of her skills for four months, and Video and Communications Manager Adam Northcote-Wright was standing in. The procedure was unchanged, however, and as ThrustSSC stood on station at the end of the runway Adam's instructions came clearly over the radios:
"SSC, clear roll."
"SSC rolling," was Andy Green's reply as he applied power and released the brakes.
In a series of surges ThrustSSC accelerated and braked, accelerated and braked, accelerated and braked. Happy that all was well, Andy then steered the car from side to side, criss-crossing the runway before slowing to a stand at the end.
Analysis of the results revealed some strange temperature readings from the brakes, especially from the onboard sensors. Were they safe to run again? In the event the question was answered by airfield's afternoon flights schedule which prevented further runs, so the car was towed back to the workshop to investigate the results of the test.
Checks revealed some changes required to the sensors, and this were completed overnight. By 0900 on Sunday the car was ready once again and the team had been briefed. At ten minutes past ten Andy Green repeated the previous day's profile - this time the readings were closer to predicted levels. The suspension and steering had both performed superbly so a second run was authorised.
At 12 noon ThrustSSC surged forward much more purposefully as Andy took her up to 'full dry power'. Number 2 parachute deployed perfectly and the car came to a stand after a very satisfactory run. One more and the team could get away and enjoy the remnants of their weekends! A business-jet departure was due at 1430 so the next run was scheduled for immediately afterwards. The interval was a pleasant one - although a cold day, the sun was bright, and everyone was entertained by an old Hurricane fighter performing low passes over the car - fantastic material for the photographers!
Just before the jet left the Palouste was started again and the Speys fired up. Both ignited well and as they rumbled loudly on 'idle' the jet took its position on the runway and departed. Thrust could not go yet however, another jet wished to take-off, land, take-off and land again - presumably some testing was needed. It quickly completed its circuits and returned to its allotted place. Once again permission was given to proceed onto the runway, and ThrustSSC braked to a stand in its usual place before requesting permission to proceed.
"SSC, clear roll," was Adam's reply.
With a roar like thunder the Speys came up to power and the car forged quickly down the runway with the ground shaking in its wake. Twin tongues of flame leaped out of the exhausts as the afterburners ignited momentarily before Andy selected idle and fired a parachute.
"Good chute, good chute," came from Robbie Kraike on spotting duty.
"Copied. Thank-you." replied Andy.
The SSC braked to a halt for the third time that day. Everything had worked fine. The next time the car runs will be Press Day, then it's off to Jordan. The Antonov is booked, the Land-Rover Discovery's are in transit, and the advance preparation team is packing their bags. What is it they say in Indianapolis about the 'month of May'? This is going to be the most exciting in years!
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