Thrust SSC - Supersonic Race Update

Richard Noble's May 1997 Update

It's Just Trucks and Computers!

Richard Noble

This is just not easy, not easy at all! Think of Thrust as a very fast moving dynamic puzzle: everything is changing all the time, and somehow you have to work out the key and fix the deals - very quickly! Today for example we are just 9 days away from departure to Jordan. We are committed to a huge expenditure on the aircraft, we are having difficulties with trucks (like no trucks!), insurance for our vehicles in Jordan, and our computer inventory is worrying us all because of the quality and quantity - and as always money. The radio station deal we have created was looking like failure. In Jordan they are not sure whether they are going to let us land the Antonov at Jafr because of the new runway surface, or whether we are going to have to land at Azraq 200 miles away - and that's a difficult problem because we don't have tractor units - and our Discoverys are stuck in customs at Aqaba. Simon Baker the Quantum microlight pilot has to leave on the 3rd and a replacement found.

Behind all this there is an even bigger problem: whilst we have the resource at long last to go to Jordan, any delays mean that the summer weather is getting seriously hot and we have to come back with a good result or ThrustSSC is headed for the museum. The logic works like this: we've fought like maniacs to refund the project and pay off the bills - whilst all the time retaining and paying our workforce - and pay our debts - but we have no money for the US campaign. Unless we do well in Jordan it is going to be very difficult to finance the huge US campaign - we need 250,000 gallons of fuel for the Antonov for starters, and once in the US to finance the team and the operation for 6 weeks as we head for Mach 1 - and on what is an open ended budget. Then you have to remember that nothing happens in the UK in August, so we have to have the deals together by the end of July. Leaving for Jordan as late as May 17th means that we cannot expect to be back before mid June. So we have do well in Jordan and to make all the money and finalise all those deals in the 6 weeks after we come back. How I envy Breedlove who has just got to motor 5 hours from his Californian home - and return there to work on his car if things get difficult at Black Rock.

April has been a tough month also. It started well with Jerry Bliss's active suspension working for the first time, then we ran ThrustSSC again on the Farnborough runway. The first run since Jordan - at long last we felt that we were making progress. We followed through with the crucial Press Day on the 27th. It's not a brilliant idea to hold a Press Day in the middle of an Election - but then we were planned to depart for Jordan on May 3rd, and so we had no option. The e-mail invites went out and since the media never bother to reply, we had no idea whether anyone was going to come. Come they did - just under 300 of them - after briefing them on the great head to head in September we went out and ran ThrustSSC, with a nice routine 180mph afterburner run.

Andy put up a spirited performance but when we were talking to the media I asked him how it went he just said: 'Fine', through his teeth. This I have come to understand means that we have problems. In fact what had happened is that in a spirited effort to provide the usual shattering performance Andy had spooled up the turbofans faster than before and the afterburners had lit with more assymmetry than before. As usual when this happens Andy just steers out the yaw. This time when he came to the end of the runway, the steering wheel was displaced through 20 degrees to the left while the car was pointing straight ahead. It wasn't like that when he started the run. After all this three month slog to redesign and rebuild the entire rear suspension, something had bent (yielded, the engineers call it!). Was it the suspension, was it the steering linkages - was it the car?

Since there was now serious doubt in the team we needed to be sure we had the car right before flying to Jordan - and right beyond doubt, for once committed to Jordan we would never be able to come home for quick repairs. The way ahead had to be an independent audit on the steering, which was most generously carried out at very short notice by MIRA and DERA. This was tough on Glynne whose design work was being publicly checked, but within days he had been given an unqualified approval and the fault had been identified: the partial failure of a shaft connector at values well below stated performance. Within hours A&Z Engineering had made the parts and we were in business. A good high speed proving run proved we had it right, and the team were smiling again.

'We are really ready now - we've got it right - we are on the way!' Jerry Bliss was well fired up. 'We've got a supersonic car now!' The feeling was great throughout the team - but would we be able to make it through Jordan and then to the US?

On the last Sunday in April we had another Mach 1 Club day. 216 members of the club came - the merchandise sales broke all records - and as usual we auctioned used parts of ThrustSSC. The idea is very simple: you can't buy bits of ThrustSSC unless you are a Mach 1 Club member; if we are successful then the parts will double or treble in price by next year. The idea fast catching on is that you put your money in ThrustSSC parts and outperform the Stock Market. But first we have to go supersonic.

So we have a catalogue of problems which would drive most people to despair: how can you go to Jordan without trucks, with tired computers, with your vehicles still in Customs. How can you get to Jordan when the deal is that Royal Jordanian generously agrees to provide the fuel for the Antonov - but only in Jordan, and the Antonov needs 90,000 litres in UK? There was one airline who we prayed would do a fuel swap - we offered to meet all their costs up front, but they declined, which left us all feeling uncomfortable. By clever fuel and route management Graham Pearce and the Ops Team at HeavyLift-VolgaDnepr came up with an inspired solution. We could do it - just!

In spite of the huge difficulties the team morale is quite something - no one appears to be phased. As Robbie Kraike puts it: 'It's just trucks and computers Richard!'

Oh yes, and the Radio Station. Graham Swain, who had been following the project from the early days, right from the first Mach 1 Club visits to the build at Fontwell heard that we had difficulties in getting established and rang back. 'I've made a few enquiries. I've assembled the equipment. I am prepared to provide my time free. When do we start?'

The radio station is incredibly important to us. The difficulty we have is that the media tend to come to Jordan for short visits. They only just get to grip with the project and its technology when they are summoned home. This tends to mean that the level of coverage tends towards the superficial, and they seldom get a deep understanding of what is going on. Radio is the most immediate of the media, reaching vast audiences quickly - but the budgets are small so they can seldom afford to send reporters to Jordan. However the situation changes is we have an independent reporter on site sending back daily bulletins on the project progress. Using the Hughes satellite link, we can then send the reports back in digital format ready for the radio stations to take them off the Internet. So if you are a radio station and want to pull down the daily reports, please access us as soon as possible on

In Australia Lake Gairdner is drying fast, and Rosco is ready to go. They plan a three or four month campaign on site and have built a village - Machville! Ron believes we should not attempt the LSR at Jordan because of the shortage of track overrun distance. So that gives Rosco a 4 month window - 4 months in which to get the LSR before Spirit of America and ThrustSSC get down to business at Black Rock.

On that subject Martyn Davidson has just finished the huge plan for the BLM which identifies all the critical activities needed to run the event in safety and to protect the desert from damage. At this point we are into final agreement with the SoA team on the heads of agreement which should be signed off in the next day or so. The master plan can then be finalised and presented to the BLM.

As I write this - the last of the active suspension modification components are due in from Survirn tomorrow. We work through Saturday and Sunday with final assembly, and go to Boscombe Down for the last static tests to trim back the afterburners on Monday. Food and team are all together - the advance party moves out to Jordan on Monday which includes the three Mach 1 Clubbers - and we fly 83 tonnes at 0830 on Saturday the 17th. It looks as though a large number of Mach 1 Clubbers will be following in the next weeks, which is just fantastic.

Once in Jordan we will be giving you regular reports and photos on this Web Site - and you can make contact with us via the new Mercury Thrust Information service: just call +44-(0)890-888-850 (49p/min).

Trucks and computers apart, we are as ready as we will ever be!

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