Thrust SSC - Supersonic Race Update

Issue 189 Lead Article 2 - 7th October 1997

Weather Window

by Jeremy Davey, ThrustSSC Webmaster and Satellite Communications Manager

The plan for today was for Spirit of America to take the first slot, with ThrustSSC following on later. The early wind levels were good enough for Spirit to make a run to check out the afterburner that had failed to ignite yesterday due to a wiring problem, but as the day progressed it rose to a level that made high speed running of ThrustSSC inadvisable.

The decision was made to continue with scheduled engineering work on the car and try for further runs tomorrow - the alternative would have been to sit around, unable to work on the car, waiting for the wind to die to reasonable levels. Time moved on and by lunchtime it was clear that the work on the car was progressing well and the weather was improving - it had certainly warmed up from the bitter cold of the morning. Spirit planned a second run this afternoon to continue their engine checks - we would run after them.

Spirit of America makes a run through the haze of the morning
(Spirit of America makes a run through the haze of the morning. Photo: Jeremy Davey. Image taken with a Fujifilm DS-515A Digital Card Camera)

By 1600hrs SoA had finished running and the ever-efficient ThrustSSC operation was in full swing - Supacats and the hugely-effective Dodge pickups were en-route to each end of the track while the Merlo took Paris-Match to the USAC timekeepers' point and the BBC's Matt to the Press Area. Arrangements at the measured mile were not the usual ones - there would be no official times as the expected break in running was being used to move the timing equipment to the new tracks marked out to the west of the original 20. This was not a problem - these were just engineering runs. In addition there would be no media en masse at the Press Area - with many of the Mach 1 Club returning home at the end of their vacations, we did not have enough people available at short notice to secure the desert and act as escorts. Securing the desert takes priority.

The Pegasus microlights have been loaded with cameras for the runs which are scheduled to reach Mach 0.98 and Mach 1.00 - the second being potentially our first sonic (not supersonic) run. This is a consequence of some superb photographs taken by microlight pilot Richard Meredith-Hardy yesterday which clearly show the shockwave off the front of the car (for more details, see "Shockwave On The Black Rock". Pegasus Black has Rod Barker with the Fuji digital SLR to get still images of the shockwaves off the car, Pegasus Green has Suzy Kraike as a passenger to get video footage.

Spectators in the hills are reporting that they can hear the shockwave at a distance, although at ground level there is much less certainty. Dan, a blind musician who has been following our progress here closely since we arrived, and who has studied audio spectrum analysis extensively, has reported to Ron that he can tell slow and high speeds from the feel through the ground. His acutely tuned senses are describing the shockwave accurately as well - it is a fascinating account to hear.

Paul 'Blackadder' Remfry
(Paul 'Blackadder' Remfry. Photo: Duncan Garrett. Image taken with a Fujifilm DS-515A Digital Card Camera)

Paul "Blackadder" Remfy, looking after the SSC security operation, and his opposite number from the SoA camp, Bill Ingham, have reorganised their operations to take into account their reducing manpowers. By combining the two teams during runs they can cover the full requirement - it means even more effort is required from the already hard-working Mach 1 Club members and members of the America car clubs. That there are no complaints from the loyal supporters almost goes without saying.

1644 - The '5 minutes to engine start' warning is issued.

1651 - "All stations, stand by. SSC is armed and starting this time. 5 minutes to run. 5 minutes to run."

1655 - "SSC, that's copied. All stations, stand by. Two minutes to run. I say again, two minutes to run." Even by her usual incredibly high standards, Runs Controller Jayne Millington is running a tight ship today.

1658 - "SSC, you are clear accelerate decimal niner eight."

A crackle as Andy answers - although you can't make out his transmission from 7 miles away.

"SSC rolls."

ThrustSSC is recovered after the first run
(ThrustSSC is recovered after the first run. Photo: Jeremy Davey. Image taken with a Fujifilm DS-515A Digital Card Camera)

The SSC seems to make almost leisurely progress as it charges north in the evening light - the sound doesn't reach you until it has passed. Andy throttles back and releases the parachute, aiming to stop opposite Chris Cowell's recovery team for a quick turnround.

1702 - SSC calls stopped.

1704 - "SSC is safe, safe, safe" is relayed by Jayne. You relax and pack your cameras for the journey back to Mile 6, your next station. Andy is back on the radio to the Pit Station - it will be a slow run back, cruising to get the car home in the failing light. The procedure has been worked out in advance - even at slow speeds for the SSC, the car and equipment can get back to the Desert Pits much more quickly than if the car was towed all the way from Mile 13. The object is to avoid risky night towing.

As you arrive on station details of the run are released - indicated air speed was 700.0mph, approximating to Mach 0.98. "Telemetry" analyses the data - which reveals an unofficial ground speed of approximately 750mph. A decision is made to run back on "Lane 2" - between the "Lane 2" just used and the previously consumed "Lane 3" - to conserve the labour consuming tracks.

1738 - An estimate of 10 minutes to run is issued.

The hills around the Black Rock Desert in the evening
(The hills around the Black Rock Desert in the evening. Photo: Jeremy Davey. Image taken with a Fujifilm DS-515A Digital Card Camera)

1750 - The wait continues. You begin to feel cold as the sun lowers itself towards the western hills and the shadows lengthen. Although not taut, the Merlo's flag is well stretched out in the evening breeze. The best of the light has gone, however - but no doubt one day the chance will come to photograph the SSC against the warm light of the 'golden hour'.

1752 - The radio crackles as someone transmits. Jayne replies: "SSC, you are loud and clear. How me?" The Motorola set crackles intermittently again - you don't have the Pit Station's range from you much lower aerial and cannot hear the SSC. Jayne chuckles at something Andy has said, and confirms that the SSC is armed and starting engines. Operational callsigns are checked for readiness. Throughout, the atmosphere is relaxed but professional, something which has very much become a hallmark of the team's operations.

1758 - "SSC, that's copied. All stations, 2 minutes to run. 2 minutes to run."

ThrustSSC makes a slow run home
(ThrustSSC makes a slow run home. Photo: Jeremy Davey. Image taken with a Fujifilm DS-515A Digital Card Camera)

1800 - "SSC is rolling". This time it is leisurely - as Andy seems to crawl past through the measured mile he calls: "Firechase, SSC holding 150mph. hope you're keeping up." Firechase is in hot pursuit. The SSC peaks at a bare 170mph - a gentle country stroll by its usual standards.

ThrustSSC is recovered after the second run
(ThrustSSC is recovered after the second run. Photo: Jeremy Davey. Image taken with a Fujifilm DS-515A Digital Card Camera)

1807 - "SSC has stopped." Nick Dove's team move into action to recover the car before darkness falls. Shortly after you hear 'safe' and head for home. It has been an incredibly relaxing pair of runs for you - but you're not sure why. Maybe it's the lack of pressure from incursions and visitors to be looked after? It's getting a real nip in the air now - you play with the Merlo's switches and find the one you hoped it had. Thank God (and Chris Oliver, Merlo UK) for the cab heater...

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