Richard Noble's Bloodhound Project diary

The end of September is, I hope, going to be a huge waypoint for BLOODHOUND; hopefully JP and the design team will have made their decision on the final external layout of BLOODHOUND SSC and reached what we call Aero Solution. Over in the US, Daniel Jubb and his team will have successfully fired the full-scale hybrid rocket. Can we achieve all this? – I am beginning to learn that we have a really outstanding series of teams here and I reckon it can be done.

And if it is achieved, then BLOODHOUND changes dramatically. Up till now we have been doing everything we can to persuade companies and people that we are near to a design solution. That is of course not the same as building the car – the psychology is the difference between chalk and cheese, the research period might or might not result in a design that might or might not be built – and the people who support the project at this stage are a brave lot. But once we have passed that waypoint, we are into building the car – we know what we are doing and where we are going - and we have a high level of confidence.

It's been a tough 27 months for the design team - it is important to understand that there is no precedent for what we are doing – there is nothing other than ThrustSSC to follow on with – and there is no off the shelf rocket motor that we can just strap on. In the 1960's, the IT industry hardly existed and land speed record designs involved guesswork and imagination. Today the IT industry can provide a vast range of predictive data and solutions and it's wasteful and dangerous not to make fullest use of them. The build of the car is the last thing you do once you believe you have a viable design. But to get to the viable design, you have to design many variations of the car and then test them - taking the best from each variant and incorporating it in the next. That's why the process has been so long winded and so demanding.

John Piper and I have reviewed the programme and we plan to roll out in March 2011 and head for the first overseas trials by June 2011.

So the last 27 months were tough and demanding. The next 20 months to roll out in March 2011 are going to be hell on earth. It's going to cost £6.5m over 20 months – that's £81,250 every week – four fold expansion of the company and in the middle of very uncertain times. Can we do it? Yes we can, but we are all going to be much older and wiser when we get to March 2011!

As a team, we had our vote on the build location and the team voted for Bristol – we can't announce anything yet because it's taking an interminable time to get the arrangements together. We are fighting hard to get John and the design team into their new location by mid October – we'll tell you more once the agreement is together. However in the meantime, we have built great relationships with Northern Ireland and Farnborough and I am sure there will be all kinds of activity in these other locations.

RDF Media at WroughtonBut of course you can't just make a decision and move into build - the organisation also has to have its key agreements in place with its partners. It's taken a lifetime to find these various key partners, work the deals and get them started. For instance, first one in is RDF Media who have become our media partner – they are operating, embedded with the team, filming all the key activities and providing footage for the website and for the broadcasters and programme makers. Martin Bisiker the director is hard at work interviewing the team and filming activities – he now knows more about the teams than anyone else. Martin has a grand sense of humour and this is going to be a relationship based on mutual understanding, respect and great personal confidence.

There is going to be a great story about our IT partner – after a longish courtship, we have the deal together and it should be signed in the next week. Frankly, it's going to be a truly magic relationship which will help both sides substantially and provide considerable extra resource and exposure for BLOODHOUND. We'll tell you more about this deal, which is so valuable to both sides, once the ink is drying on the contract.

The BET (BLOODHOUND Education Team) held its monthly meeting this morning – and I was late having been stuck in the thick brown soup of London traffic. As I sat down, Dave Rowley passed me a plastic cup of something, I took a swig and – hell it was champagne – what's going on ? – we can't afford this sort of lifestyle! Then I realised – we were celebrating: the BET had achieved 2,000 schools committed to BLOODHOUND. And I remembered the argument I had had with Dave Rowley and how the BET had set out to achieve 10% of all Primary and Secondary schools by the end of August. I had been dead against it – the target seemed incredibly ambitious – but they believed they could make it – and now they have.

Now of course we have a different set of problems – the BET has to change and grow substantially to support all these schools. We have a way forward for additional funding and the new would-be partner held their key board meeting last Friday. The deal survived the board meeting and we are in with a chance.

And the meeting was our first opportunity to welcome Jonathan Ellis who has joined us fulltime as the first BLOODHOUND Industry Ambassador. I had met Jonathan when he worked as the education executive for one of our sponsors and was hugely impressed. Later he called me when he became available and now he is to work 70% with our sponsors Rainham Industrial Services, where he will promote BLOODHOUND to their customers, 30% for us where he will be working with Kate Bellingham on the coaching and development of our Ambassador team which now numbers 71. The Ambassadors are our reps and represent BLOODHOUND to the schools - there has to be a huge amount of organisation coaching and support before they can get started. Kate and Jonathan are going to make a big success of this.

And I hope other sponsors will learn from Rainham and follow their lead.

As all this develops, word is getting around that BLOODHOUND is going forward to build. I found myself speaking at the Aberdeen TechFest in an amazing ballroom on the sea front. The ballroom has a 1890's sprung floor like a mattress and it takes a bit of getting used to. There seemed to be an awful lot of chairs set up for the audience – I asked the BP executive whether this wasn't a bit optimistic – but he explained that they had sold almost all the seats – How many would that be? 600!!
We all had a truly great evening together and I was amazed at what is happening – when it came to question time, the questions from the kids were incredibly accurate and searching. They had been reading up BLOODHOUND in huge detail.

Show car at WroughtonThe next day the team was at the Science Museum's Open day at Wroughton - this is amazing storage airfield on the hill just South of Swindon. It seems that only 10% of the Science Museum's material is on show at any time. In the hangar where we had the BLOODHOUND Showcar, we found a collection of priceless aeroengines , a complete Lockheed Constellation and a Lockheed Electra from the 1930's. I had very little time to look around but from time to time I came across familiar exhibits like the 1960's Lotus Elan chassis which I remembered seeing in the London museum at a time when everyone wanted an Elan – even if they had to build it. Ron Ayers had given the BLOODHOUND presentation on the Saturday and it was my job to do the Sunday show. But the real story of Wroughton was the BLOODHOUND balloon car – this is a simple balloon powered cut out cardboard car which demonstrates jet reaction and performs excellently. Mums and Dads and kids set about building them with huge enthusiasm and in two days they had built 1000 running Swindon out of balloon stock in the process!

From all this it became quite clear that the huge effort put in by the education team is really beginning to deliver. There is a massive momentum building up.

Conor La Grue has now got up to 155 sponsoring companies and now we have to change the organisation to focus on the huge resources needed to build BLOODHOUND. Of course there isn't much sponsorship funding around and it's quite clear that the companies are far from convinced that the recession is over. It's quite clear that the country really hasn't changed all that much in the last year and as we all know, if you don't make changes, you get the same old results – and generally worse ones.

In fact the recession is quite helpful to BLOODHOUND – it means that companies have excess capacity and therefore can provide product sponsorships knowing the BLOODHOUND is not exactly the most financially secure car maker on the planet. The recession also means that prices of locally manufactured goods can be quite stable though the poor exchange rate means that imported items are going to be very expensive.

So £6.5M is the budget – we have to make and spend £6.5M and roll out Bloodhound in 20 months. This is not going to be easy, particularly when you remember that we need a very steady cash inflow and that flows from sponsors tend to mirror alpine peaks and Pacific Trench troughs! So we need an additional and steadier form of income and that has to come from trading and public donation.

One part of the funding plan is the all important BLOODHOUND tailfin. The Config 9 car has a new and much larger fin. We have decided to give the whole fin over to public donation - donate £10 or more to the project and you get your name in very small print on the fin. A quick check on the current fin area suggests we could get 333,000 names on the fin if we use both sides. It's important that we price the names at sensible prices so that the kids can have their names on the car – so for every donation over £10 you get your name on the fin. Nick Chapman is sorting the software as I write this – so please go right ahead and push the donate button. And there will be no nonsense - the car will carry all the names and all the names will be with BLOODHOUND for ever.

Richard with Ian Glover - Coventry Transport Museum, Sept 09Ian Glover and I (picture left) have been having discussions about the 1K club –it is already over 2,000 members and growing very fast. We are committed to providing a high quality experience for the club members and we have to decide how big the club should be allowed to get before we can no longer cope. I guess we may have to put a cap on it at some stage - so please join up now to make sure you get in!

So of course, these are anxious times as we turn the project around and move into the build phase. The build team has to expand substantially and that means that the cashflow and working capital requirements become really painful. We can't slow down or cut back - lose our people at this stage of the project and a huge part of our learning and knowledge walks out of the door. It also means that the teamwork and procurement has to be first class and this tiny organisation with a massive project has to move fast and focussed – skills, teamwork, communication and personal confidence is everything.

We wrote to all the sponsors last week to introduce the Centurion Plan – the idea here is that the 155 sponsors should each hold a dinner party inviting 20 of their customers and friends. That means that Andy and I each have to present at 80 dinners. This is going to be tough - that's 2 dinners and another 700 miles driving every week. At the end of each dinner each guest will be invited to donate a substantial sum and become a Bloodhound Centurion – there are only going to be 1500 Centurions and each year, one lucky Centurion's name will be on the car. The programme is just getting on to its feet now and already non sponsors are contacting us to hold Centurion Dinners - this is going to be interesting!!

Why Centurion you ask? Well, we are basing the funding structure on the Roman Empire just to be non controversial!

So putting Centurion together with the Fin programme, we should be able to flatten out to the cashflow variations and keep John Piper and the expanded design and build team operating and paid at full stretch.

The back office which at present consists of Tricia Frith and myself will have to change – we need many more people as the huge admin workload grows.

It's going to be interesting to see whether the big British Establishment companies decide to join BLOODHOUND. It was very noticeable with ThrustSSC that with the exception of BTR Group and Castrol, the big British companies kept away – and with the exception of our friends in the insurance industry, the City people took minimal interest. I am not sure why this was – I just hope it doesn't repeat - after all we are all British!

So the long summer is over – by the end of the month we should reach our waypoint and now we have to get going to get BLOODHOUND into detail design and build. It's been a very long haul to get to this point, but we have all learned a huge amount and that's going to stand us in excellent stead as we work through the BLOODHOUND design and build programme. We know a great deal about our car now even though its still in electronic form. The next 20 months are going to be the toughest any of us have ever experienced.

Author
Richard Noble

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