Thrust SSC - Supersonic Race Update

Issue 195 Lead Article - 13th October 1997

Everyone Did Their Bit

by Jeremy Davey, ThrustSSC Webmaster and Satellite Communications Manager

1107 - "SSC, good morning. You are loud and clear." Run Controller Jayne Millington provides Andy Green with barometric pressure - 896mb - and gets a temperature from the USAC timekeepers at the measured mile - 8.0 to 8.1 degrees Celcius.

The Black Rock that gives the name to the desert
(The Black Rock that gives the name to the desert. Photo: Jeremy Davey. Image taken with a Fujifilm DS-515A Digital Card Camera)

The ThrustSSC team are back in action. Spirit of America had the first desert slot this morning, but relinquished it to ourselves without making a run. It has been intensely frustrating waiting for the weather to improve in order to allow the attempt on the Sound Barrier. First winds, then rain, have hampered operations, and time after time the team has prepared for action, only to have to stand down again. Yesterday we had great weather, but the dampened playa had not dried sufficiently at the north end to allow the car to run at supersonic speeds. The Design Team inspected the track and decided that the additional variable of a now-unknown surface was not acceptable.

Ron's profiles for today are both supersonic. The first run - Run 61 - will be to Mach 1.015, approximating to a ground speed of 766mph at 10 degrees Celcius, the second - Run 62 - will be to Mach 1.036, approximately 782mph ground speed. The weather forecast for the next few days is good, but the team are all too aware that winter is coming and further bad weather is on its way. With this in mind, the plan is to make a third run if the 1-hour turnround requirement cannot be met - to the same profile as Run 62.

We have had a wonderful offer that I must mention. Every night two team members do guard duty on the desert - no-one is exempt from doing their turn. But no-one would want to do it on the night of the big celebration of setting a supersonic record. Judge Phil Thomas is one of the local characters - he could be straight out of a Wild West movies, toting his AK-47 and Uzi as he makes sure that justice is done in the Gerlach courthouse. Without prompting he approached the team and offered to do 'stag' on the big night - the SSC and equipment will be safer than ever that night - he's taking the AK-47 - and the Uzi - with him. Phil hasn't asked me to do this, but I must also mention the appeal he is running for the Gerlach school - they desperately need sports clothing and equipment. If you can help, please contact:

Philip W. Thomas, Justice of the Peace
Main and Sunset Streets
PO Box 98
Gerlach NV 89412

A curious thing occurred this morning. You may have heard the story about how, just before D-Day, the codenames for some of the Normandy beaches appeared as answers in The Times Cryptic Crossword? It was pure coincidence, but it caused great concern at the time that the plans had been compromised. The Daily Telegraph crossword this morning - 15 Down: "Describing a boom in restored icons." Answer: "Sonic". On the day we try to break the sound barrier...

1113 - "All stations, SSC is armed and engines starting." Jayne makes sure that all callsigns - and the public listening on scanners in the hills - are aware of the situation.

1119 - "2 minutes to run is called".

1121 - "SSC, clear accelerate." It is one of those mornings where you can't hear Andy, 7 miles over the horizon at the start of the tracks.

ThrustSSC in the measured mile
(ThrustSSC in the measured mile. Photo: Jeremy Davey. Image taken with a Fujifilm DS-515A Digital Card Camera)

The dust starts to rise at the south end of the desert. Accelerating hard, the SSC appears through the mirage and tears across the surface with a huge rooster tail of dust rising behind. You keep clicking with your camera as the car screams silently past. It is followed by a gentle boom and the roar of the twin Rolls-Royce Spey turbofans.

Silence takes over as the car heads north, decelerating to stop at Mile 13.

1126 - The radio crackles - you can just make out Andy's voice, but reception is too intermittent on the Merlo's comparatively low aerial to hear his transmission. Jayne relays: "SSC, that's copied. All stations, SSC is stopped, not yet safe. Minimise comms."

1129 - Jayne cannot make out SSC's next transmission and asks him to "say again". Retransmits don't work, so "Spectre" relays: "SSC is closing down." Jayne puts out her broadcast: "All stations, SSC is closing down. Assumed safe."

USAC Timing are on the radio with the speeds: 749.139mph for the kilo, 749.687mph for the mile, 750.588mph between the traps. Dave Petrali finishes off with his final figure: "Provisional Mach is point nine nine seven." The official figure comes out later - Mach 0.996.

You head for your next station and continue to type your report. If a sub-one-hour turnround is achieved you'll have to type fast. It still feels bitterly cold, but at least the sun is shining brightly - you have the choice of freezing in the shade or straining to read your laptop screen in the sunlight.

1146 - Jayne broadcasts a request to the many aviators who have arrived by plane to see the runs. There is a light aircraft over the desert that is posing a serious threat to operations and is not responding to calls on any of the common frequencies - including the distress frequency, 121.5. Do any of them know any other frequencies she can try to contact it on and advise them of the NOTAM covering flying in the area during jet-car operations? A couple of minutes later one of the security team relays a new frequency for Jayne to try.

1158 - A high speed white saloon is reported avoiding interception. All callsigns are advised to keep an eye open for it - he may try to venture back onto the playa later.

The USAC Timekeepers and other before the run
(The USAC Timekeepers and other before the run. Photo: Jeremy Davey. Image taken with a Fujifilm DS-515A Digital Card Camera)

1204 - USAC timekeepers gives "Long-Name" a provisional temperature for the run of 8.4 to 8.5 degrees Celcius. He cannot give a definite figure until he has downloaded the data from the calibrated thermometer at the measured mile. It is fantastic piece of equipment - arranged by our old friend Tom Reviglio at the Western Nevada Supply Co. and Thomas Gallagher at the Summit Engineering Corporation, it records the temperature to the high degree of accuracy required to prove a supersonic record. Mention should also be made of John Bowen at the Desert Research Institute who provided, set-up and calibrated the thermometer.

1206 - There is a minor problem with the car - it is realised that the turnround is not going to be completed in the required hour. Two further runs are provisionally planned.

1219 - An inspection of Track 1 reveals that Andy veered close to the adjacent Track 21 on which his next run is planned. Dust has obscured the white line for some 300 feet - "Long-Name" asks "Dog" (short for "Dead Dog", Andy Green's callsign) if that is a problem for him? Andy is happy.

An estimated next run time of 1245hrs is broadcast from the Pit Station. Delays continue and Adam Northcote-Wright and Bill Breedlove arrange to meet - ThrustSSC are now venturing into desert time that rightfully belongs to the Spirit of America team, and they want to run their car. At 1250hrs there is a further problem - no run can take place for an hour and no further intentions can be broadcast without liaising with SoA.

Pegasus Black
(Pegasus Black. Photo: Jeremy Davey. Image taken with a Fujifilm DS-515A Digital Card Camera)

1307 - Trackmaster Jack Franck calls by. He passes on an interesting piece of information: Pegasus Black reported "two violent explosions" as the car passed under him - sonic booms. He'll be carefult not to get so close next time.

1315 - Jayne broadcasts an apology for the delay, and gives an estimate of engine start in 30 minutes. She discusses the next runs with Andy who advises that two more good runs are planned, after which there will be no more requirement for the playa today. Unknown to you at Mile 6, the SoA security people are radioing in on their channel from their positions helping with our desert security and saying: "Give them the playa!"

1324 - "Due to the kind cooperation of the Spirit of America team - and this is much appreciated - we have been cleared for 2 further runs." It was a fantastic gesture that would prevent them getting in any runs today - and the ThrustSSC Team showed their appreciation at the Press Conference at the end of the day. The spirit of good competition was alive on the playa today.

1344 - Chris Cowell as crew chief of Team 1 is on the radio - the car is serviceable, the turnround sheets are being completed. Engine start is estimated in 5 minutes. The mirage has crept much closer - it is a hot day.

1354 - "All stations, SSC is armed and engine start. 5 minutes to run. 5 minutes to run." Jayne follows up by checking the operational callsigns are ready. Adam Northcote-Wright checks that Firechase has the all-important rubber mallet used during the parachute loading.

1401 - The radio crackles - you can't identify who is calling. Jayne replies: "SSC that's copied. All stations, two minutes to run. 2 minutes to run."

The Jaguar Firechase
(The Jaguar Firechase. Photo: Jeremy Davey. Image taken with a Fujifilm DS-515A Digital Card Camera)

Firechase tears down the tracks to its allotted station opposite you.

"SSC stand by. Awaiting Firechase. Firechase call in position."

Brian Palmer is on the radio as soon as the Jaguar reaches its place: "Firechase is in position, ready and waiting."

"Copied. SSC, you are cleared supersonic. Your discretion." Jerry Bliss has better reception than Andy and relays to him. It's 1403hrs.

Run 62
(Run 62. Photo: Jeremy Davey. Image taken with a Fujifilm DS-515A Digital Card Camera)

Andy Green begins his run and the dust rises at Mile 13. The usual long wait ensues before the car comes charging out of the mirage and screams past. Again you strain to hear a sonic boom - again you believe you do but are unsure over the roar of the jet engines - must check the camcorder later.

"Negative chute, negative chute."

"SSC, copied. Negative chute. Recovery overrun."

Both parachutes have failed - in each case it is due to heat damage on the longest reheat burn the car has experienced. The fix will be simple - more heat protection on the fittings - but the tow back to the tracks will eat into the turnround time.

1407 - "SSC, the car has stopped." 3 minutes later safe is called - the car is OK but it has stopped 1.5 miles off the end of the tracks. The tow back to Mile minus 0.25 costs valuable time, but Nick Dove's turnround crew do an exceptional job to give the team a fighting chance of a record. "USAC Timing" give the kilo as 762.937mph, mile as 764.168mph, and 766.198mph between the traps. The provisional Mach number is 1.007 - a figure later confirmed. ThrustSSC has become the first car in history to make an officially timed supersonic run through a measured mile. It is one day short of the 50th anniversary of Chuck Yeager's supersonic flight in the Bell X-1.

The crowded Press Area
(The crowded Press Area. Photo: Jeremy Davey. Image taken with a Fujifilm DS-515A Digital Card Camera)

You head back to Mile 7 for the third run, stopping to chat to John Lovatt and Rod Barker as you pass the Press Area. Since you last passed one of the members of the media has placed a microphone way out in front on the ground - you see it at the last minute and manage to just miss it.

"All stations, Pit Station. SSC is being positioned slightly south of Track 24 for a return run."

The Recovery Team waiting to go into action
(The Recovery Team waiting to go into action. Photo: Jeremy Davey. Image taken with a Fujifilm DS-515A Digital Card Camera)

You wait, and wait. At 1435 Jayne asks Dave Petrali for the time remaining of the hour. He responds with "28 minutes". A message is passed to Mike Horne from Andy: "The two oval patches of speedtape on the battery bay cover have been ripped off by the airflow. I am happy to run, is Mike?" Mike - ThrustSSC's bodywork specialist - confirms he is happy for the car to run.

The wait continues. Jayne prepares for a short notice scramble of the car and checks Team 1 is ready. This one is going to be very tight indeed.

1457 - "SSC, you are loud and clear. All stations, stand by. SSC is armed and engine start."

1458 - Jayne checks all operational callsigns are ready. Dust rises to the south as the Speys reach idle.

1501 - "Copied. All stations, stand by. 2 minutes. 2 minutes."

Having provided fire cover for the engines start, Firechase is rushing down the tracks to reach Mile 7. Andy is happy to run with him short of position and Jayne instructs Mike Hearn and Brian Palmer to stop and report.

"SSC, clear supersonic. Clear roll. All stations, SSC rolls."

Run 63
(Run 63. Photo: Jeremy Davey. Image taken with a Fujifilm DS-515A Digital Card Camera)

The tension is unbelievable - there can be just seconds in it as ThrustSSC charges towards the measured mile to beat the stipulated hour. Your watch is nowhere near accurate enough to tell if the team has made it in time as Andy makes his second supersonic pass of the day. You can only stand and watch - and hope.

1507 - "SSC stopped."

1510 - "SSC, safe."

"Pit Station, this is USAC timing." Dave Petrali's call is absolutely dependable.

"USAC timing, can you confirm that run was within the hour?"

"Unfortunately I cannot. You missed it by about a minute." You don't know which way to look. Speeds are 761.379mph for the kilo, 760.135mph for the mile, 758.102mph between the traps. A provisional Mach number of 1.003 later becomes 1.000 when the thermometer data is checked - bang on the speed of sound.

You avoid the microphones again as you head back to Mile 6. The media must wonder why you spend your day driving back and forth in a large fork-lift truck with off-road tyres. A fourth high-speed run is considered, but the Supacat at the north end does not have sufficient spare fuel in its tank to make it possible - it has already refuelled the SSC once.

ThrustSSC is recovered after Run 64
(ThrustSSC is recovered after Run 64. Photo: Jeremy Davey. Image taken with a Fujifilm DS-515A Digital Card Camera)

Bureau of Land Management ranger Dick Myers calls by and you discuss the day's incursions. Your conversation is cut short by a call to relocate to Mile 1 for the last run. It will be a 200mph cruise home. On the way you pass Leigh Remfry on one of the Supacats - taking the remains of his fuel supply to ThrustSSC. That explains why the Merlo is required - as a replacement tow tractor after the run.

The Press Conference - from our side!
(The Press Conference - from our side! Photo: Jeremy Davey. Image taken with a Fujifilm DS-515A Digital Card Camera)

At 1641 ThrustSSC made its fourth run of the day - cruising slowly home into the setting sun. The team and car gathered for the Press Conference - it was a magic moment explaining to the world's media that the sound barrier had been broken. It was a team effort, and everyone did their bit.

Tomorrow the car will be inspected and the Design Team will meet to plan the next move. We'll let you know as soon as we do.

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