Bloodhound project diary - October 2012 update
It is October 19th and time for another update. This morning we had an important check meeting. I was sitting across the table from Mark Chapman, Conor La Grue and Chris Dee. Mark is our Chief Engineer, Conor looks after manufacturing and Chris is responsible for the car assembly.
The plan is to assemble and test the car in modules – each module being exhaustively tested before assembly. This way we can build the car faster and we can be sure that all works when we get to final assembly We looked at each other across the table. The question was simple: Can we deliver the car for 1st August 2013 or earlier?
They asked me the key question "Have you got the finance in place?"
For the first time in a very long time I was able to reply "Yes finance is in place!"
"Then we can do it!" Heads nodded - we could go forward.
Frankly it's been an extraordinary month. From my December 2011 calculations I reckoned that October was going to be the critical month when the project would run out of money. In order to ensure that we could maintain pace we would have to expand the company against a falling cashflow or else fail to get to South Africa for 2013. And if we couldn't get to South Africa in 2013 –then that would probably signify the end of the project – because to build the car we need 150% growth and to get that we have to deliver for our sponsors within 18 months. Britain is in serious difficulties, many of the manufacturing companies are experiencing very rough times, and with this background expanding Bloodhound at this rate is just not comfortable. But we have to do it.
So what is forcing this pace? Well, frankly it's the weather – the weather in the Northern Cape. Each year it's at its coldest in August and gradually it gets hotter until the rains come. When the rains come in November (or even earlier if we are unlucky) the Pan floods and it's not usable again until May. That's why we have our Met Office weather station set up on the pan. (We plan to give you daily weather updates shortly) So the plan is to have Bloodhound completed by end July ready for UK commissioning and testing – and then fly everything to South Africa. During this period we also have bring the mono rocket motor up to safe operational standard - and that's hopefully not too difficult as we are nearly there already. But in parallel with that we also have to push on with the hybrid rocket – there's probably another 18 months work to get that one to a safe and reliable operational standard ready for 2014.
And then there's the support vehicles for the Pan - Martyn Davidson our Ops Director wants them sorted by Easter (When's Easter? I ask. March 31st - better get this one moving quick!)
Make no mistake this is a very special team and it has truly outstanding capability. We have come a very long and frustrating way together. We have seen major deals collapse, we have seen whole companies collapse around us but we are still here, we have never compromised the project and we are going to see this through!
So this is an extraordinary period - in fact the week commencing October 1 will go down as very special.
Right at the start of the project in January 2007, Andy and I had a meeting with Lord Drayson, then Minister for Defence Equipment and Support. Andy and I hoped the Minister would agree to loan us the EJ200 jet engine. In short he was not interested but he gave us something much more important - he suggested the idea of using Bloodhound as an education icon, and to run it through all the schools to stimulate a new generation of engineers and scientists. Gradually the relationship with the Ministry of Defence began develop as we all began to realise common interests and common concerns. At a later stage the MOD decided to loan us the very early EJ200 engines retired from development service. We were incredibly grateful to MOD and to Rolls-Royce who decided to support the project and Andy, Mark and I tried to attend as many MOD and Rolls-Royce speaking engagements as we could for them.
And then enter Major Oli Morgan REME (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers).
I first met Oli when I was struggling with a TedeX presentation that didn't go particularly well. Oli was in the audience had already put his family names on the fin and had become a Bloodhound Ambassador. He was not slow in explaining where he was going – "I am a REME officer and I think a REME engineering team should be working with you to assemble and develop the car. Our people have been in the operational theatre of Afghanistan and they know how to operate in small intense teams."
Andy was sceptical - "The Ministry of Defence is cutting back they can't possibly do this."
But neither Andy nor anyone else for that matter had experience of Morgan levels of persuasion and having met the Generals, I found myself signing for Bloodhound. We would pay, but we would get an engineering workshop and 5 experienced and skilled engineers. The quid pro quo – and why the Army was so keen on Oli's idea – is that these young engineers get a career-enhancing opportunity unlike any other. There is a serious shortage of these skills in Britain and very shortly we found ourselves with a great team of guys who helped us through the rocket programme struggle. But once the MOD flywheel had revved up there was much more to come. I found myself with the Minister Peter Luff - he decided he wanted the MOD to sign a Concordat agreement with Bloodhound. We worked out an agreement but then there was a political reshuffle and a new Minister, Philip Dunne arrived. Our agreement was clearly low priority and now would probably never reach signature. Then suddenly we heard that the new Minister wanted to meet. We had a friendly meeting in Whitehall and he went off to think it through. Shortly after I got a very friendly letter to say he wanted to go through with the Concordat. And on October first we signed on a rainy parade ground in London. I have attached a copy of the Concordat. This is very special. Bloodhound is a very high technology project, we have spent some 30 man years on research – but we all know there is still much to learn and having exhausted the research potential the only way forward now is to run the car and get the data. We are going to need a lot of help.
The education programme is now under the able management of Chris Kirby formerly head of education at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Chris is managing the team on a part time basis and has brought considerable stability now that the Bloodhound Education Team (BET) activity is itself becoming more stable. The extreme difficulties and uncertainties of the early years when we were struggling to survive are behind us now that we have 5300 UK schools colleges and universities following Bloodhound. But this is in no way an opportunity to relax – we now have to build strongly on what has been achieved and this means building up the education resources to support the growing interest in the project – and also getting development up with the on-line Virtual Learning Experience (VLE) to enable UK and global followers to understand and interpret the live data coming off the car. Demand for the County education deals is building up and having completed the Northamptonshire deal we are now contracted to undertake a huge programme in Nottinghamshire. As the pressure builds up so we need more help with the presentation work and we are delighted that we have been joined by Simon Haydn and Jo Beswick as animators/presenters as well as having most able presenter Nick Naylor's services full-time. In addition to all this we need to build the Ambassador Team which Seema Quraishi is working hard to do. Seema is shortly to call a conference of all Bloodhound ambassadors. This will be our first chance to get the whole Ambassador team together and it going to be a really inspirational event. We have 505 Ambassadors on the books at the moment and at a guess we are going to need 1000 by the end of 2013. We might have around 10,000 UK schools following us at that point and that would give us a ratio of 10 schools per Ambassador which seems about right.
October has other key dates. On the 4th, we verbally celebrated the Thrust 2 record of 633mph - the Thrust2 team doesn't meet any more partly because a number of the key members are no longer with us but we might just be able to do this next year for the 30th anniversary if the record still stands. October 15th is the anniversary of the ThrustSSC record and we all got together at Coventry on the Saturday. It was good to see the old faces again, and to remember absent friends and what we had achieved together. So the two Thrust teams have now held the World Land Speed Record for 29 consecutive years – the nearest contender is John Cobb (1939-64 = 25years). But as I write this the North American Eagle are moving on to the Alvord desert or their record attempt - their target is 800mph and to take the record from ThrustSSC. Follow their progress on www.landspeed.com.
At long last the Autodromo Bloodhound SSC models are arriving in production quantities. There were early problems with the bases but these have been fixed and so far there have been some 390 sold. This first model batch is only for 2,000 units and we are getting them mailed out as quickly as we can.
This now leaves the Bloodhound book written by our friend Dave Tremayne supported by the team. The concept is that the book is a manual to enable Bloodhound followers to understand the Bloodhound technology. With all the live data to be made available on such a huge scale the manual is an essential textbook. Nothing like this has been tried before and of course like so much of Bloodhound, it's a huge gamble. At the recent rocket firing we handed out some 200 of the early copies – the early trial copies have a few typos and errors and are probably set to be collectors editions! Richard Knight has driven the book programme: he has produced a truly beautiful book and very much more than the traditional car manual. We are going to have stock by the end of October and they will make brilliant Christmas gifts.
On Oct 8th we were presenting Bloodhound education in Scarborough Yorks where the town has a strong engineering pedigree which extends from busses to the Olympic Games. Peter Wilkinson the organiser of the huge event that moved 1400 school children through the Bloodhound experience paid us a most valuable compliment - "I was led to believe that Bloodhound would produce a special engineering event for us – but I was quite unprepared for the huge levels of enthusiasm and personal commitment of the team members".
Back on the 29th September, I joined with the keenest members of the Speed Record Club to remember John Cobb who died at 200mph on Loch Ness in the Crusader K6 waterspeed record boat. We dodged the high speed Scottish road traffic to put our wreaths on the Cairn high above Loch Ness and later we laid flowers on the loch. It was good to see the great man remembered, the man who held over 60 records and who lost his life in such unfortunate circumstances. The truth is not known, but since later correspondence shows the designers eager to build a follow on boat to Crusader, it's likely that the accident cause was haste and poor operational control - Cobb and Crusader ran through three wakes at high speed. Cobb was the inspiration for the Art Arfons , Craig Breedlove and a host of record breakers. I was lucky enough to see the boat on the jetty when I was a small boy of 6 and I still go to see the Railton Mobil Special when I find myself in Birmingham! Cobb, a very quiet man truly was the record breakers' record breaker.
On October 3rd, we fired the hybrid rocket for the first time in UK. It had taken a long long time to get to this point – the previous firing had been in 2009. If anyone tries to tell you rocket development is simple just refer them to us for an experience and sanity check! We had been hoping to run the rocket since July but it just didn't happen. The systems are highly complex but once established, John Davis' systems began to work well and reliably. On arrival at Newquay I was surprised to learn that the engineering team had raised the HTP feed pressure to 800psi. Previously they had run the mono unit at 600psi and the increase might cause very public failure of the unproven Catalyst Pack, although it had been designed for 1000psi. However Mark Chapman our chief engineer had agreed this and so we went forward. We had borrowed three huge concrete hardened aircraft shelters (HAS) at Newquay and we used one for reception and the schools, one for presentation and the third for the rocket test – the last unit conveniently having a huge exhaust diffuser enabling Tornado aircraft to be run up to full power.
This meant we could run the rocket under cover and in the separate HAS some 150 yards away.
About 400 people turned up and there was a high level of expectation in the air. Richard Knight had explained eloquently that the rocket had three options, roar, bang or phut. Of these by far the worst was phut which suggested we didn't know what we were doing! Daniel Jubb and John Davis had done a great job but even so as the firing time arrived there was serious tension. The Cosworth screamed into life and a few seconds later we felt the huge rumble as the rocket lit. It fired with a red flame which showed that it was running rich and after a few seconds of tension thunder and shock diamonds, it shut down exactly as expected. There was a huge cheer from the audience as Andy took them through the procedure and it was clear it had been a success. We had reached 14,300lbs thrust about half what is needed for 2014.
Whilst the mono rocket is developing target thrust – we have a very long way to go with the Hybrid which is needed for 2014 . But it's a good start. Congratulations to Daniel Jubb, John Davis and the rocket team – in particular to Martyn Davidson who led the team and Chris Boocock of RIS the great unsung hero who handled all the crucial health and safety issues. Also to Annie Berrisford who in her quiet Annie way provided outstanding support to the team. We are another step ahead now on a very long path .
The big story of the rocket test was the quite extraordinary levels of public involvement. It seems a truly vast number of people were switched in to the Bloodhound website or to the CISCO webinar.
The number of unique visitors to the Bloodhound website in the 48hrs was 93,500 viewing 312,000 web pages . The Cisco web audience was a further 120,000, with the firing being covered live across the US on the Weather Channel. The YouTube viewing over that same period was 150,000, with a further 24,000 viewing the new rocket animation video. There were 250 media articles in everything from the Daily Mail to the Washington Post.
Later as we all know Felix Baumgartner jumped 39 kilometres from the Red Bull Stratos on the 14th October. It is reported that the YouTube viewing reached 8 million, itself a record. The project had taken 10 years to achieve and rumours are that the cost was $65m apparently the public response took up 10% of the entire global broadband capacity. It's a very great achievement by Felix and Red Bull. But just think of this: when Bloodhound starts supersonic runs, we are likely to get this every other day! Probably in greater numbers and with steady consistency because of the education Open Data and the extraordinary live access to the project.
So now it's all simple! The big focus is on August 1st 2013 when Martyn Davidson wants Bloodhound on a runway. The engineers say they can do it, the finance is secured and we can make the mono thrust levels. But then there is the no small matter of getting the team operational on HakskeenPan for early September - and financing all that forward development as well as clearing that build finance. I doubt there is going to be much time for Christmas holidays! It's going to be one Hell of a ride!
With each month the hurdles get much much higher but this is a great team and we can take it!
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