It's 0842hrs - Rob Hemper calls from the south end of the tracks - "Pit Station, SSC. We are in position, Mile minus point five." When towing the jet-car, the Supacats always report in under the callsign SSC. Once in position the start team - Nick Dove's crew today - will pull the tow dolly away and resume the 'Cat 1', 'Cat 2', 'Dodge 1' and 'Dodge 2' callsigns as appropriate. In the Pit Station, Jayne Millington responds and relays to all stations.
Today the team are going all out for that elusive supersonic World Land Speed Record. On Monday the turnround was a fraction under 50 seconds too slow - due to a 17-minute tow after the parachutes failed and the car overshot recovery position, and to a 5-minute hold while the overheated onboard computers had to be allowed to cool. Ron has assigned two identical profiles for today - 14 mile runs between Mile -0.5 and Mile 13.5 are planned to reach 735mph indicated, approximately 782mph ground speed, Mach 1.036. On the Daily Run Brief sheet it is noted that those figures assume an air temperature of 10 degrees Celcius - it is currently 3C and rising rapidly. If the turnround is not completed in the hour, a third will be made.
There has been a change to the profiles that affect yourself as "Merlin". "Firechase" needs to be present at engine start in case of any incident, then drives at full speed to its allotted position at the end of the measured mile. Andy is happy to save time by running with the Jaguar still rolling, so the end-of-measured-mile call will be made by yourself. It's a simple task - you call: "End of mile, end of mile" as ThrustSSC passes you. No callsigns. No repeats. No confirmations. You know you have to get it right.
Yesterday was an engineering day on the car. First of all it had to be checked out after Monday's supersonic runs - and a cracked bottom panel stringer was found underneath - it is believed that this had failed due to the transonic buffetting it has been receiving under the car. Many of the panels on the rear fuselage have had their old rivets drilled out by Rob Hemper and replaced also - the car is receiving a battering on the long reheated supersonic runs. Runs in the afternoon were not attempted due to the high temperatures - which reduce the power of the Spey 202's and increase the speed required to set a supersonic record.
Today the objective is clear in everyone's mind - a two way average of at least Mach 1.01 as agreed with the FIA to claim a supersonic record. A recently as three or four runs ago we thought the car had sufficient performance in hand to exceed 800mph. We are now finding that the car is putting enormous amounts of energy into the ground at supersonic speeds - the principal shockwaves go up into the air - and are felt and heard by the Pegasus microlights - and down into the ground - pulverising the surface. There is a marked difference in the tracks left by a subsonic run and a supersonic run. Ron Ayers is finding that the drag in the sonic region is much higher than expected - although it is not certain whether that is due to the damper desert or is an effect of the transonic aerodynamics.
0901 - "All stations stand by. Engine start in two minutes, the car is armed. I say again - engine start in two minutes, the car is armed." We are immensely fortunate to have Jayne as Run Controller - her military experience shines through in our operations.
0903 - "SSC, copied. All stations, stand by. SSC engine start this time."
0906 - "All stations, stand by. 2 minutes to run." Jayne gives Andy the wind - 10 o'clock to the tracks, light and variable.
0908 - "SSC copied. With Firechase rolling, you are clear to roll." As she says it you see Firechase heading up your side of the tracks.
0909 - SSC is approaching the measured mile. You put down your cameras - pictures can never come before safety - and pick up the microphone. This is the first time you have watched the SSC for the full length of the measured mile - and it is staggering how fast the jet-car is moving. There is no noise - the car is arriving faster than the sound of the exhausts. As Andy clears the mile you key the microphone: "End of mile, end of mile." SSC responds. You've got it right on this run - one more to go.
0912 - "SSC stopped mile thirteen point five." Jayne acknowledges and relays to all stations. A minute later: "SSC, that's copied. All stations, SSC is safe, safe, safe."
Dave Petrali wastes no time getting on the air: "Pit Station, this is USAC Timing." He reads out the speeds and Jayne copies them back: kilo was 756.742mph, mile was 759.333mph, 763.623mph between the traps. He pauses to check the temperature vs Mach number tables - provisional Mach number was 1.015. Another run like that and we will have the first ever supersonic World Land Speed Record.
You pack your cameras and drive past the Press Area heading for Mile 6, pausing to allow one of the microlights to land in front of you. On arrival you continue typing your report. The dust is hanging in the air over the measured mile, barely dispersing in the virtually still air. Picked out by the sun behind it, it seems inpenetrable - you wonder if it will cause any problems?
0937 - "Spectre" advises Pit Station he is moving to his new position. The sonic booms heard at Mile 9 are described as "absolutely amazing, two loud cracks like two thunderflashes going off." You heard the boom at Mile 7 - but is not easy to be sure. Further down the tracks the shockwave arrives before the decelerating car and the sound is far more distinctive without the roar of the Speys.
0939 - In response to a request from the Pit Station, "USAC timing" advise that we have 30 minutes left of the hour.
0945 - A second run has been authorised. Estimate engine start in 10 minutes. We are in with a chance of achieving the objective we have worked so long for.
0948 - "SSC, you are loud and clear, how me?" A pause - you can't hear Andy at that range. "Pressure is eight niner four."
0955 - Jayne confirms operational callsigns are ready. Time ticks on, and the tension builds - 14 minutes left.
1000- "SSC that's copied. SSC is armed and engine start this time." Ron Ayers as "Telemetry" reports that all the turnround sheet signatures have been completed. It's looking good.
1002 - "SSC, that's copied. All stations stand by. Two minutes to run, two minutes to run." Wind is called as 10 knots, 4 o'clock to the track.
1004 - "SSC with Firechase rolling. Clear supersonic. Clear supersonic." Within the hour...
Firechase is screaming down the track towards you. The dust is still hanging over the desert - thinner and higher now.
SSC comes charging down the tracks at incredible speed. As it screams through the mile you depress the switch once more, trying to keep your voice clam and relaxed: "End of mile. End of mile." You hear no boom - your heart sinks. Then suddenly "boom, boom" as the sound is reflected off the hills.
1007 - "SSC, that's copied! All stations, SSC has stopped." You can hear relief in Jayne's voice - or are you just imagining it?
"Merlo, please scramble to recovery point. No further comms."
You throw down your cameras and abandon them, camcorder still running on its tripod. The Merlo starts first time - it has never failed yet, but you dread it doing so now. Turning tightly to the south you floor the accelerator and charge south - at 24mph... Taking care of the hydraulic transmission takes a very low priority - you thrash the telescopic boom handler flat out. Your mind returns to the sonic boom - was it something else - has something happened?
"Cat 2. Pit Station. Scramble to recovery point."
"Safe" is called, you breathe easier but don't relent from the Merlo's thrashing. "USAC Timing" gives the speeds: 763.718 for the kilo, 766.609 for the mile, 771.402 between the traps. The kilo average is 760.343. Mile average is 763.035mph. Provisional Mach number for the last run is 1.020. Subject to confirmation by the FIA, the ThrustSSC Team have set the world's first ever supersonic World Land Speed Record! But what have you been scrambled for? You hope desperately that a historic feat is not marred.
In your mirrors you see "Mobile Recs" collect your cameras for you. You press on. "Mobile Recs" then passes you and collects the parachutes. "Telemetry" passes and Jerry Bliss waves. Various callsigns report in at the SSC - all seems well. As you approach through the dust you can see the car looks fine. "Team 2" asks "Pit Station" to relay a message to "Team 1". Jayne obliges: "Thanks for a top turnround!"
The reason for the "scramble" becomes clear - "Cat 2" was the recovering team's tow vehicle - Merlo might be required to get the SSC home. You relax...
Around the car it is a huge party. Everyone is hugging and kissing, and the Spirit of America Team come over from their Pits to congratulate the ThrustSSC Team. They are clearly as elated as we are that the World First has been achieved - after 6 weeks out here a tremendous bond has formed between the two teams.
Back at the Desert Pits the excitement is incredible. Bill Sherlock takes off in Pegasus Green towing the banner - this time it reads simply: "M1". The Press Conference is fantastic - Andy and Richard handle the questions with ease and fantastic humour. Flash the crazy barman from the Black Rock Saloon struts a T-Shirt with "The Empire Strikes Back" on the back. Richard and Andy are hoisted into the air by the team - all the time Richard waves and waves his Union Jack. The successes of the team are proudly announced - including the incredible 2.5million accesses on this Web Site yesterday, making it one of the most successful in the world!
After a bolted lunch the BBC crew showed us their footage taken at Mile 7 - the twin cracks of the shockwaves are unbelievable. The film will be used in the documentary they are making - in the meantime it will be shown just once - on next week's "Tomorrow's World". Don't miss it!
ThrustSSC has virtually reached the limit of its performance. The team will pack the car and equipment and return home, having achieved an historic objective. But first there will be one hell of a party...
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