Thrust SSC - Supersonic Race Update

Richard Noble's April 1997 Update

Richard Noble

Jeremy Davey's on my back again! The changes to the Thrust Web Site are moving ahead swiftly with a huge effort going in - and as usual I'm late with the monthly report and letting people down again. But I'm only 1 day late this time - so I guess this must be seen as a huge improvement!

Actually its 4am in Reno, Nevada, and I'm still on UK time - the old circadian rhythms are playing hell with the system and I don't think I've slept more than 3 hours in the last three days. A few floors below me in the Peppermill Casino is our Ops Manager Martyn Davidson - who emerges every morning fresh faced and cheery - I am dead envious and convinced he can't spell C-I-R-C-A-D-I-A-N.

It's been another very tough month - financially appalling, which as usual left us wondering how the hell we were going to meet the monthly wage bill, when suddenly the sponsorships stopped unwinding and executives began to make commitments again. It's a really tough business: all the time you are backing your judgement and dangerous optimism and hoping to God that you are going to be able to meet the bills at the end of the month. Any smart executive or financial director would be screaming 'cut-cut-cut'. We have 12 well-paid team on the payroll and the monthly costs are not small. But if you cut the workforce then ThrustSSC will never be finished to supersonic standard, and the word will get around that the project's hit trouble. And no brave executive is going to present a troubled project to his board with a recommendation to proceed when Board members might respond by saying: 'Isn't that the project that hit trouble recently'.

Well, we have news for everyone - ThrustSSC is finished, painted and ready to go! Sure we have a few more engineering elements to complete, but to all intents and purposes the car is complete. Finished. Together we have done it - the huge effort which went into the merchandise sales during the first quarter has paid off: it's kept the cashflow running while the new sponsorships were being negotiated. It's very much a team achievement - certainly we have been able to meet the bills but the design and build team have worked very long hours to achieve the objective in such a short time. For once the project has started to meet its productivity targets and we aim to keep it that way. And you can see how we are getting on by just accessing the Web Camera on this site.

But now we are into something quite new: a further 300% expansion and three major activities to be carried out in parallel:

  1. Further development and upgrading of the car
  2. Establishment of Jorda track arrangements and end of April operation of ThrustSSC in Jordan
  3. Development of the September US plan for operation on the Black Rock Desert
All these activities are hugely time consuming, and there is no money or time for anything to go wrong. It's like war on three fronts. The organisation has to expand and delegate, and still keep meeting its targets. How I envy Craig Breedlove with his operation 5 hours drive away from Black Rock Desert. As their Crew Chief Desher put it so smartly at a recent meeting 'Thats why we live here!'

Early on in the month we had a private visit from Air Marshal Sir David Cousins who is the Air Member for Personnel - head of the Royal Air Force human resource operation. There is no official support for the project from the Air Force, and this has meant that the tremendous effort we have had from the RAF team members has been entirely in their own time, burning up their holiday entitlements at the expense of their families. I think Sir David was impressed - he strode into my office and the conversation went something like this.

'You run all this and fund this huge project - from here? You have no secretarial support or admin support - at all!'

I explained that the project is a highly lean operation - that Sally handles the book keeping from home and that because of the strong teamwork ethic, the team largely manages itself and is highly effective. It means therefore that my commercial role can be more like a City currency telephone dealer. And this is where Sir David's words really struck home.

'My God! This place is a powerhouse of sheer skill ambition and achievement!'

Sadly a few days later, we heard that Andy's girlfriend Jayne Millington was to be sent to the Falklands - but she would be back for Black Rock, provided we can get there. She will be much missed by us all, and hugely welcome when she makes it back to the team.

One of our main problems on the desert is that of aerial support. In Jordan we have the use of the RJAF Bell Huey helicopters, but the cost is steep and we can only afford to have one on standby in case we get an accident. Above all we needed a small light aircaft which can be used for desert spotting, for photography and for high speed transport - since it takes a good 30 mins to move from the desert site to the Jafr military base. A few weeks ago we were lucky to have a visit from John Fack, the Marketing Director of Pegasus Aviation, one of the world's most successful builders of microlights. He liked the idea and now we have a fantastic Pegasus Quantum 912 in production. This is a tremendous aircraft: it flies at 80 mph and climbs at 1200ft a minute. We will carry it out in the Antonov and once in Jordan it will be flown by Simon Baker, the current World Champion and supported by David Lane of Freedom Sports Aviation. It's going to make a tremendous difference to the project - and I know its going to spawn a new collection of Thrust microlight pilots!

On the 8th of March Andy and I found ourselves signing and selling the Thrust table glasses in Selfridges. The arrangements seemed to be somewhat chaotic with the glass signing operation taking place some distance from the main product display. We tried hard to bring some order to the situation and to give Nick Allen the best chance for his glass sales, but the Selfridges staff brought in Security to move the signing operation back to its original position away from the video and display. This meant that we had to work really hard to move the glasses, chatting up everyone who would talk to us, and most who wouldn't. The high spot came when we tried an outrageous chat up line on a passing family from the Middle East:

'Welcome back from Jordan - did you know that we were running ThrustSSC on Jafr in October.'

The Middle Eastern gentleman stopped dead in his tracks and pulled out his passport.

'How on earth did you know I am Jordanian!'

Well it was an inspired guess! There was huge laughter and our new Jordanian friend left with two glasses. He'll be with us at Jafr next month.

Earlier on in the month thanks to huge help from the Fire Teams at Gatwick, Mike Hearn and Brian Palmer spent an amazing two days at Gatwick fighting huge petrol fires using the Kidde XJ-R Firechase. I was appalled when I saw the pictures of Brian and Mike emerging from a 40ft wall of flame. They learned a great deal, ITN got some outstanding footage, and a few minor changes have been made to the Jaguar. The confidence level of the ThrustSSC Fire Crew - never actually lacking before - has now reached huge heights, and I am genuinely concerned that now so highly trained they must be on the lookout for something else to set fire to! We have enough pyromaniacs in the team without the fire crew losing their sanity also.

The March plan called for the painting and signwriting of ThrustSSC by the weekend of the 15th/16th ready for the BBC Tomorrows World Live Show at the National Exhibition Centre near Birmingham. There were a number of real concerns: was the new BASF supersonic black colour going to look good - Breedloves paintjob is to a very high standard indeed; and second, can we apply the paint to such a huge area right first time? We had no need for concern. Under Mike Horne and Brian Palmer's planning and management the painting operation ran really smoothly - Jim Love of BASF having put us in touch with a superb team of Porsche qualified sprayers who gave up their time and made a huge personal commitment. A truly brilliant job was done with the car painted to Porsche standards. The last of the Porsche team left at 4am, just in time to start their day shifts!

And Jim Love's BASF Supersonic black? Well it just looks a billion dollars!

We made it up overnight to Birmingham to move ThrustSSC into the NEC for the BBC show. The stand was kindly sponsored by YES (The Year of Engineering Success), and our sponsors DERA had very kindly provided the ThrustSSC driver simulator which was booked up for the day within the first hour or so of each days opening.

The Show was opened by Damon Hill with cliché music and flying champagne. Damon was immediately led to the ThrustSSC stand where he stood in front of the huge 56ft long, 110,000hp supersonic car which was drawing vast crowds.

'Are you going to drive it Damon?', yelled the press.

During the show Prince Charles appeared and met Andy. Andy reported that the Prince didn't seem to know much about the project and was highly surprised by the sheer size of ThrustSSC.

But the public really did know what was going on and there was huge interest. We sold £12,000 worth of Thrust merchandise and gained just under 100 new Mach 1 Club members. The main question was surprising:

'Is that the real car?'

It seems that the public are so used to being misled at these shows that they could not believe we had brought the real car. It seems that a keen selling point of the ThrustSSC project is truth and reality.

Ron and Glynne spent hours on the stand explaining the engineering and with Pioneer Productions' agreement we screened the 60min Learning Channel Extreme Machine programme on the stand video. The more I see that video the more I admire Pioneer for very high quality photography and very snappy editing. ITN also kindly gave us extracts from their Jordan programme which we screened on the main stand area.

It was a highly successful show and YES's help provided us with a valuable opportunity to display ThrustSSC ahead of the Press Day. But there was one meeting that I had really looked forward to. Richard Bailey, the dynamic managing director of AireShelta who had saved our entire operation in Jordan by willingly sending us a huge AireShelta inflatable hangar on free loan for two months, promised to make an appearance. He and I had exchanged appalling telephone banter for months before but had never met. When we met the banter predictably got much worse and we ended up signing an agreement to build the supply the World's largest inflatable hangar - 25ft by 60ft.

This would exhaust Richard's entire promotional budget for 1997.

'I believe in you guys - you'll have it by April 10th!

So back to the PepperMill Casino in Reno. We have just had the key meeting with the Bureau of Land Management who issue the permits for the Black Rock site, and the Spirit of America team. Sadly Craig didn't show at the last moment and we found ourselves talking with Bill Breedlove, Craig's cousin and team director from Salt Lake City, and Dezho Molnar, the team's fast talking and highly focussed Crew Chief. The BLM fielded a large team, and the meeting was tough, straight talking, very open and very inspired. Martyn and I came away feeling that a huge amount had been achieved, everyone had waded in to tackle the very difficult issues which had been worrying us for years, and a good dependable result had been achieved which everyone felt strongly they could support. It was an extremely good meeting and we left with a high level of understanding and commitment to make this work, and work well for everyone.

In the meantime Andy had taken Jayne to Jordan. This was as much of an apology to Jayne for Andy's huge time commitment to the project as a crucial opportunity for someone from Thrust to check the surface at Jafr which is now dry. Andy's report came in by Email a few minutes ago, and it looks good. We are on the way!

So now we have a number of key objectives to achieve this month:

And just before I left Farnborough, Pete Ross came in with a brown envelope sealed with adhesive tape. I ripped it open. Inside was the signed BTR sponsorship agreement and a damned great cheque! Now that's more like it! The BTR relationship promises to be a really good one and they really have the right promotion ideas and the determination to implement them.

Its 6am and I've got to get started. More next month!

Oh - and I told you not to forget THE DUCK!

About this site

Supersonic Race Update Mach 1 Club ThrustSSC Shop
Sponsored by This site best viewed with Microsoft Internet Explorer 3
Digital msie artewisdom

© SSC Programme Ltd, 1997