Richard Noble’s Bloodhound project diary – June 2012 update
I started writing this last month and I am going to leave the first paragraphs in as they give a good flavour of the pace of the project at that time:
The pace is frantic and I am stuck in the hotel in California ready for a major presentation tomorrow. It could be a most important meeting this one and it hasn't started well because a member of the hotel staff and the DHL people unaccountably decided to send our board room Bloodhound model back to England a day before instructed. We've all tried to get it back but too late - it's on a plane for London and they can't get it back from east midlands in time. The meeting is at 10:30 tomorrow and we are going to have to turn up without the beautiful board room model.
This just goes to show how fate can have a hand in everything we do – enormous efforts go into each of these meetings – in this case 6 months of work and preparation. And then it gets unaccountably screwed by events over which we have no control.
Just to put the project in perspective we are now developing on five major fronts – car design and build, rocket development, desert preparation, education programme and project funding. Get any of these wrong and the project is in serious difficulty. It's a very tough tightrope to walk with a small team – and it's a huge team achievement that we are progressing well on all fronts.
It's one hell of a year – the pace is cracking and with so much going on – success often hangs by a very small thread. This year is hard slog year – we know just about all we can get from the car research and now it's about slogging through to get the car built on time and to the target weight – and to get the rocket motor programme to target thrust and dependability. So far the figures all look achievable, but if we are heavy on weight and short on thrust then the car is unlikely to achieve 1000mph. It's a year of very hard slog with an enlarged organisation and heavy costs.
But we have great news – our friends Marcus and Yan Tiefenbrun at Castle Precision Engineering in Glasgow have decided to go ahead with the manufacture of all the Bloodhound wheels. Castle Precision Engineering is one of the best run precision engineering manufacturers I have ever seen. The way their operating data and plans are scheduled around the company is just magic and it's no wonder they are a major supplier to Rolls Royce.
So now we have all the wheels for Bloodhound but Castle has a problem – they are expanding and they need more high quality apprentices and a graduate for their three year fast track scheme providing the lucky candidate with direct access to becoming a much sought after project engineer. Castle are having trouble finding the right high quality candidates – so here is a unique opportunity for direct entry into one of the most successful of the country's precision engineering companies. It's an opportunity to be grabbed with both hands.
Machining those wheels is one thing – but where are the forgings coming from? Step forward our friends in Germany who already make millions of forged wheels and complex aerospace open die forgings every year. The aluminium cheeses will be press forged on a 3500 tonne machine and we will be able to show the process from the first melt of material, through casting and the forging itself. They are then rough machined and heat treated before shipping to Castle to complete the inspection and detailed manufacture. Watch this space we will be announcing details of this company very shortly!
At Hampsons in Wigan, the team are machining the final large lower fuselage components and the emphasis has shifted to final finishes, riveting (there are 4000 on this section alone!) and bonding strategy with the assembly now coming together on the huge Manufax jig.
On the composite build at UMECO, with the detailed design now being released after years of work, the manufacturing is now well underway. The machining of the huge lower monocoque mail pattern is now complete and the even larger upper pattern is on the machine as I write and completing next week. The female carbon moulds will follow quickly from these patterns and by August we will be laying up the final upper and lower monocoque parts and this key primary structure section will quickly then come together.
The University of Sheffield AMRC (Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre) have come on board and are now making key parts including the all important rear sub frame as well as supporting the manufacture, test and calibration of vital components for the UK Rocket test. The facilities and resources at AMRC are truly world class and need to be seen to be believed.
In Manchester the Hyde Group completed a five week design package on the supersonic fin. This great work by Hyde has allowed the team in Bristol to take that vital data and mature the upper chassis design.
Huge efforts are being put in by our friends at Jaivel who are writing all the machining programmes for the parts manufacture –and thus setting the pace for the entire manufacturing programme! We have to thank Thyssen Krupp and Smith Metals for the vital flow of raw materials. Back in Bristol the team have to get the detail drawings for the upper rear fuselage structure completed by the end of July – so that can go into manufacture and assembly. Mark is still short of engineering staff –so it's a huge push.
All sorts of activities are happening. As a result of Conor's efforts with the Deputy Prime Minister and the Business Secretary, I was summoned to a meeting at No 10 Downing Street. They were amazed at the huge scope and potential of the project and this was followed by a further meeting with Minister David Willetts. There is no time to wonder if all this is going to deliver anything – there is a just a huge unrelenting pace of manufacture and fight to keep it all funded and moving.
Andy Green and I are doing around 300 presentations a year on the Bloodhound now – we hardly see each other as the project now runs seven days a week and the pace is unremitting. At Back Office we start at 05:30am and the day generally finishes off late at night with a presentation 200 miles away. Sleep is a real problem and I am totally dependent on my car reliability which has already done 144,000 Bloodhound miles – and we are racking them up at 1000 miles a week!
I am often asked: What are the biggest problems facing you now?
'Its simple – sleep and money!'
The rocket team is making solid but slow progress now. It's so easy to dismiss the work as straightforward and to wonder why its taking so long to come to fruition. We are developing an experimental rocket system from scratch and then productionising it to the point where we have a reliable and dependable system, safe enough for human transportation. This is a huge job requiring complex systems, scheduling of all the valves, controls and safety systems and constant testing to nail the leaks.'
That was written last month, now let's bring you up to date:
This week we made a huge step forward – the first all important step in the rocket system development was achieved. This first step is critical – the idea was for Cosworth to complete the systems designs and then carry out a number of pumping trials using deionised water to avoid contamination of the system which had already been fully passivated ready for HTP pumping. This critical sign off stage has been achieved and now we can start pumping HTP and for that we now start using the mono rocket, which will happen next week. Once we have safe mono firings with good data, we have reached a key waypoint. Firstly we can progress to full hybrid rocket trials and second, we will have a safe mono rocket system which can be used in the car for 2013 South African trials.
So as this huge engineering programme comes to a head, we are starting to get visibility of the essential operating criteria. We have nailed the aerodynamics and there is not much more to do there until we run the car. Can we deliver our car to the strength and weight criteria? Will our jet and rocket motor mixed powerplants deliver the thrust and duration we need to get our car to 1000mph and stop on the 12 mile Hakskeen Pan track? Have we really got that power to weight ratio right? If we are overweight or down on power it will be difficult to make the target speed. If we are overweight then the car is going to be difficult to stop! It's getting awfully near!!
Sadly our long term relationship with our transport supplier G&J Lockwood ran into difficulties. They had done a truly wonderful job for the project over the years, but they had a number of bad debts wreck their company and they had to close. This left us in great difficulties since there are a wide range of prebooked presentation events. But not for long – Chris Spriggs from Arthur Spriggs and Company came to the rescue and we have now settled with what is going to be a truly brilliant relationship. We'll be doing a big feature on Arthur Spriggs very shortly. But also thank you Graham and Julie Lockwood for everything you did for us!
Shortly after the California meeting I was back in South Africa. The funding for the desert team has been found and we now have 247 people back working the track clearance. This is the most enormous job and they have cleared 6,000 tonnes of stones already. This visit I was able to see the whole track for the first time (last visit it was flooded) and to appreciate the huge scale of the development and the quality of the surface. Andy and I have seen a lot of these deserts but I have never seen a desert as fine and consistent as Hakskeen Pan. The huge desert team has found a simpler way of clearing the stones – one person moves ahead using a domestic spade, running the metal blade along the surface to loosen stones, and then he or she is followed by a second with a brush to brush up the stones into piles. The team is followed by the wheel barrow crew who pick up the stones and deposit them by the trackside. To put this in perspective, there are now 24 miles of these stone piles and the desert surface is left as clean as a domestic floor. While I was there we got a chance to meet with the team and fortunately I had brought enough Bloodhound posters for everyone. It was great to meet everyone and thank them for their help – there were some very, very good questions! It is a great programme and brings paying work to 300 people in a very poor part of South Africa. There is still a lot of work to be done under the very capable management of Nico Fourie who believes they will be through by October and before the rains come in November.
In South Africa the distances are vast – I was lent a car by Matt from Volkswagen and drove 2400 kilometres in two days. Town and City navigation is not easy but fortunately the Audi had a brilliant nav system and got me out of trouble. In Kimberley we reached agreement on the exclusive use of the desert for Bloodhound and back in Johannesburg we signed the Product Sponsorship agreement with MTN the very large mobile phone service provider in South Africa and also in most of Africa. This is a massively important agreement as it enables us to get the HDTV and data from the car to the MTN mast which is 14km from the track. The data can then hop from mast to mast to Upington where it joins the fibre network and the internet. The agreement then enables us to deliver on providing the huge quantities of car data to the web. There is still the question of quality of data being streamed from a car at 1000mph – but that's just another technical challenge for us all!!
The education team are flat out – earlier this month in Jersey and now working to complete the big Northamptonshire education programme which is beginning to show real promise. So far over 80 schools in Northamptonshire have joined the programme so we are not far behind Jim Harker's target of 100 schools and 12,000 school kids. Nottinghamshire has just decided to join as well and there are more counties interested in running similar programmes. We are already very, very busy!
All this development activity is masking the all important planning and strategy. We now have 5059 UK schools colleges and Universities on the programme. How are we going to support these when the car starts operations in summer 2013?
Companies such as GE, CISCO, Intel, IMechE, Rolls-Royce, Promethean, ARCO and SERCO are now contracting with us to develop their employees as Bloodhound Ambassadors. The Ambassadors are representatives of Bloodhound conversant with the technologies and the day to day cliff hanger problems as the project develops and their role is to support the schools colleges and universities. They are not required to teach, but they are required to present the project to school audiences and we give them the training and are developing the communications network. We have no idea of the number of ambassadors we need as all this is a rich seam of pioneering experience.
We are just coming up to the 500th ambassador and this represents a new challenge – how to deploy the ambassadors successfully to support the schools. We now have to find a key new person who will develop and manage the Ambassador network – ideally someone with CRM operational experience, so if you know of some highly creative person capable of taking on this massive job (and it's paid!), please ask them to make immediate contact. We are in a hurry!
In addition we have to develop the online education and the online presentation of the off car data – this is a massive job as the data has to be represented in a simple and unambiguous form – and also to be tied up with the online non formal learning. We are working with Southampton University and their K-Box programme is getting near to going live. Just as well because Bloodhound is in 217 countries already.
So we are getting there and while the Bloodhound education team are doing a fine job – we are still short of education resources. Much of the existing non Bloodhound education material available is old and has been taught in schools for years. We need new resource materials and the team are now planning this up now – the resource materials need to reflect the education adventure we are now on – providing learning for anyone going into the web whether aged 5 or 95 or from Britain or Bangalore.
New retail products are being got ready – Bloodhound assembly and collectors models are in production and shortly we will have the Bloodhound manual which will give you an understanding of the Bloodhound technology and the huge challenges already overcome. This is going to be your important reference book as the project advances and we develop the car to its target of 1000mph.
So far so good ... and then we get hit with the most extraordinary promotional situation...
Back in May, Dave Rowley was at an educational event in Durban, South Africa, when a lady appeared and excitedly started taking pictures of the Bloodhound board room model. The lady explained that her husband was making a ThrustSSC model in Carnavon, South Africa for an Orange promotion. Dave's mail to me about this bounced because my server was overloaded.
On the 11th June, Intel called a meeting which suggested that they wished to leave the project – this was bizarre because the project is going so well and they had made a massive contribution to the project. They wanted to leave and yet they wanted to continue. Inexplicable actions by the large multinationals are quite usual because wide ranging decisions are made far from the coal face – this is quite normal and over the years we have come to expect this. I found their explanation and logic difficult to follow.
On the 19th June, just as the England-Ukraine football match finished, members of the Bloodhound team and I were deluged with tweets, calls and emails about 'some advert featuring ThrustSSC in Bloodhound SSC colours'. This caught us completely by surprise, and over the coming week the situation escalated with further ads spotted on TV and in newspapers. Our sponsors were confused and upset that we hadn't discussed this with them, whilst more Thrust SSC/Bloodhound SSC fans contacted us asking how we could have got it so wrong.
All highly embarrassing!
We put out a statement via our websites that this advert had nothing whatsoever to do with either Bloodhound SSC or Thrust SSC, and set about finding out where the Hell it had come from. It turned out to be an Intel/Orange campaign for their new handset. Neither Intel nor Orange had been involved in the ThrustSSC project all those years ago and in fact Orange had turned their ThrustSSC sponsorship proposal down.
Have a look at the ads and make up your own minds:
Of course this went all around the world and here is a typical response – this time from America:
Hi ya Richard
I'm betting you have seen this, but just in case you have not:
The ad features a p***-poor model of SSC that is equally guilty of being dressed up like a charity shop version of Bloodhound so I am making the leap here that you had nothing to do with it.
So where does all this go? I have of course made immediate contact with Intel but they don't dignify the situation with an answer. There is radio silence. I have asked them for a public apology for all the 5,000 people involved in the 1K club, the 11,000 people with their names on the Bloodhound tailfin and all the pupils in the 5059 schools studying Bloodhound. And then there is the matter of the 400,000 people each year who visit the ThrustSSC car and those who still access the ThrustSSC web site at 20,000 pages a month. They all need an apology. We have put up disclaimers on the web sites and we are waiting.
There is one last laugh with all this – if you watch the ad closely you'll see the Intel speedo reach 600mph as max speed. That means that the Intel/Orange ThrustSSC clone never went supersonic! Since the whole ad is about supersonic performance for the new handset, they have just proved that they don't know what they are talking about – we can at least have a good long belly laugh!
All this is a stupid and weak distraction – we are doing well now and we have to get on with the job!
So we are still here! We are on target for roll out and it's all looking good – today! But the economies in Europe are looking shaky, we still haven't proven the hybrid rocket with the Cosworth pump, and funding is always a big worry. But on the bright side many of the big challenges have been overcome and as I write this we have a real chance of achieving the objectives.
It's one Hell of a good team...
Richard Noble June 2012
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