As we walked out of the apartment this morning Paul Remfry looked up at the sky. "That's a bit ominous," he said - the air was cool with a tinge of dampness to it, and the cloud cover was thick and forbidding. After the usual breakfast provided by Bonnie and Lola we drove out to the desert where Martyn Davidson was on overnight 'stag' duty.
"Hawkeye, good morning, this is Blackadder. We have your breakfast."
"Blackadder, this is Hawkeye. Thank-you. It is raining gently at the Desert Pits."
Sheets of light rain could be seen hanging around the area, including over the Black Rock Desert. Regardless of the threat to operations, work progressed through the morning to ensure we would be ready to run ThrustSSC. The Jaguar Firechase made its sweep of the tracks to check for any debris that had been missed by the 'fodders', or had arrived since the tracks were checked. Apart from a couple of stones and another of the ubiquitous shell cases the tracks were clear, but the rain continued to spatter intermittently on the windscreen of the Jaguar as showers watered different parts of the desert.
With the rain coming down steadily at the Desert Pits a two-hour postponement of the 1000hrs rollout was called to watch and see what happened. Feet and vehicles have steadily ground up the surface of the Desert Pits until it has become a sandpit - it quickly became coated in a thin layer of mud as the water was soaked up by the dry alkaline playa. Much more rain and it would become very unpleasant, sticking inches deep to the soles of shoes and clogging up tyres in vehicle wheel arches. We were lucky - the rain passed over and the skies began to lighten once more.
An inspection of the tracks showed no harm had been experienced - the lines were intact and the surface was firm - the centre of the playa had received much less rain than the west side where ThrustSSC is based.
The decision to run was taken, and Martyn briefed the team: two more Mach 0.9 runs were planned to gather more aerodynamic data for Ron Ayers. With the cooler air than Tuesday they would not be as fast as ThrustSSC has been - the speed of sound being lower.
At 1241 SSC rolled out of the protective Aireshelta and the team began to take up their positions for the runs. The USAC Timekeepers confirmed that they were ready - in the relatively dull light of a cloudy day, their timing lights would really show up well. The security team made sure the desert was closed: sporting his shining new 'Sheriff' badge, Paul Remfry coordinated the SSC and Spirit of America volunteers to ensure that no unwanted incursions onto the desert occurred.
The team continued to prepare for the runs, and at 1308 SSC was on the air and checking in with the Pit Station. Wind speed and direction was requested: 4mph, half past nine to the tracks. At 1329 Jayne Millington was on the air again - despite the coolness of the day it was still not possible to hear SSC directly from 7 miles away: "All stations stand by. 2 minutes to run. 2 minutes to run."
At 1332 local time Andy Green gently brought the twin Speys up to power and ThrustSSC was rolling. As speed increased, he fed in more and more throttle until the jet-car was storming across the Black Rock Desert on full afterburners. Reaching the measured mile Andy throttled back to keep his speed constant before deploying chute 1 and braking to a stand. The chute deployed well - a fact confirmed by the next radio message from Jayne: "Pit Station copied. Message for Start Team. Chute 1 out. Hurrah!"
Just two minutes and 13 miles after starting, Andy Green called 'stopped'. Jayne responded: "Pit Station copied. SSC stopped. SSC stopped."
At the 'Merlo point' Alain Ernoult from Paris-Match held a quick sweepstake on the peak speed. Christophe took 705mph, I was unwilling to chance fate and opted for 695. Everyone else was over 710. SSC called safe and the USAC Timekeepers came on the air. Kilo was 697.950mph, mile 700.661mph, traps was 705.156. Andy had ever so slightly decelerated through the measured mile. Christophe just won the sweepstake...
Another run within an hour was all that was required for a record and the recovery team, "Mobile Recs" and "Telemetry" moved into action. The car was turned and refuelled, while the 'hazard' data - that from the safety-critical sensors - was examined. There were no problems, and it was still before 1410hrs when all stations were advised of engine start in an estimated ten minutes. The team were on track for the record - another run over 700mph through the mile would see Andy become the first man to achieve a two way average greater than that mark.
The BBC and Paris-Match people asked to be dropped at the Press Area - they wanted to film Richard if the record fell. Merlo - callsign "Merlin" - continued to Mile 6.
At this point it is very difficult to convey the emotion of what happened. Please forgive me - but I can only resort to my notes scribbled hastily on the back of a scrappy sheet of paper.
1414 - SSC is armed with engines starting. "USAC Timekeepers" confirm they are ready. Team 1 confirms they are ready. As "Merlin" you confirm ready. "Mobile Recs" confirms ready. Sat alone on the playa opposite the timing lights for the exit of the Mile, you feel unbelievably tense. Would this be the day that Richard Noble handed his crown to Andy Green? You check all your equipment again - just to be sure.
1419 - "2 minutes to run" is called. Firechase screams down the tracks to take up position at Mile 6 to the east of the tracks.
1421 - "SSC rolling." The tension is becoming unbearable.
1423 - "Six to go." ThrustSSC clears the mile as Firechase gives Andy positive confirmation of his position. Jayne repeats to ensure Andy has heard. It looked fast.
1424 - "Pit Station, SSC. The car has stopped." All of a sudden you can hear the SSC despite the distance. "That's copied. All stations, the car has stopped."
You wait nervously. There is no-one to talk to, no-one to share the tension with.
"Pit Station, SSC. The car is safe." The nagging doubt in the back of your mind wonders if there was still something wrong. Something to prevent a record.
Dave Petrali is on the radio in a flash: "Pit Station, this is USAC Timekeepers. I have some times for you." It is 730.784mph for the kilo, 728.008 for the mile, 723.496 for the traps (I think - my notes are barely legible at this point). You aren't capable of working out the averages, but Dave does it for you: 713.990mph for the kilo, 714.144 for the mile. The ThrustSSC Team has (subject to confirmation by the FIA) annihilated the Unlimited World Land Speed Record!
Jayne repeats Dave's advice about the record being 'subject to confirmation' and adds: "Hurrah to that!"
You head to the Press Area half a mile up the tracks - the place is in uproar. Everyone is interviewing Richard who is ecstatic about losing his record. The euphoria is almost tangible. As one person said: "It seemed too easy."
Everyone moves on to the Desert Pits. The long solitary haul back to the Pits at 24mph is interminable. One of the Pegasus microlights 'buzzes' you - Suzy Kraike is leaning out of the back waving wildly - you raise the telescopic boom arm into the air and wave the forks in reply.
The Press Conference is a party - Jerry Bliss has "We Are The Champions" blasting out of the Pit Station loudspeakers. Steve O'Donnell jokes: "Don't get too cocky - that was only an engineering run..."
The serious interviews begin. Richard Noble emphasises to the world's media that is the Team's record - and the team are standing behind him grinning from ear to ear. He talks about the 30-man team, the 231 sponsors, the 5000 members of the Mach 1 Club - and the tens of thousands of people who bought the fuel to fly the car to America. Everyone did their bit. Andy handles the questions with his usual calm aplomb. Asked: "What does the world look like at 700mph?" he replies: "Like stationary, only faster..." Everyone laughs heartily.
You overhear Rod Barker say to Richard: "By the way, well done, mate."
"For Christ's sake, well done YOU!" It WAS a team effort. Now for the Sound Barrier.
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