Richard Noble's Bloodhound Project diary
I'm late again – the workload here is massive and getting time for creative writing is proving really difficult!
So it's nearly Christmas and we are still here! That's a great cause for celebration on its own – as I travel around the UK, I seem to see more and more closed factories and warehouses and for BLOODHOUND to be expanding when so much else is in trouble is a fantastic testament to a great team achievement.
And the scale of the problem is now becoming apparent. The Engineering Technology Board has changed its name to Engineering UK – their latest report, Engineering UK 2009/10, is a masterpiece and it's well worth getting yourself a copy to study in the holiday- here are some of the high points:
• The UK manufacturing sector will need to recruit 587,000 engineering and manufacturing workers with state of the art skills – by 2017.
• Transport sector will require 366,000 workers including engineers and technicians by 2017.
• Construction industry will require 366,000 engineering technicians and skilled tradesmen
• A further 21,000 workers will be needed in electricity gas, water and mining.
• The nuclear industry needs to recruit 1000 new apprentices per year until 2025.
You need to know that 60% of the aerospace and defence workforce will retire in the next 20 years and that 55% of all UK exports are derived from engineering and manufacturing.
So now you know why BLOODHOUND is generating this huge interest – the country is in trouble! It's all about getting the country back on its feet again to fight the next round.
So we now have our Bristol building, we have a final shape for the car (still aero work to do), we have the EJ200 engines, the first firing of the Falcon 18 inch rocket achieved, 168 companies on the programme and 3067 schools 217 colleges and 35 universities on the programme.
We also have the National Federation of Education Research audit on the BET activities – (we'll put the whole content of the report on the web soonest). At this point, you might think it's going to get easier – in fact it's going to get a great deal harder! The cashflow has to increase by 400%, the build activity has to move ahead at a high rate and it has to be incredibly disciplined to remain on target.
On the schools front, we have to support all those schools with new materials and our Ambassador team but before we can do this we have to find out how the teachers are using BLOODHOUND in the classrooms and what is needed.
Communication in the education world tends to be one way and we need the reverse: we need to hear back from many more teachers – How is it going? How are you using Bloodhound? What do you need? Please sends us your mails – send it into Dave Rowley and mark it urgent – we need to hear from you.
We now need to build up the BLOODHOUND Education Team (BET) and take on new people to develop the education programme. We have the plan together, we have some funding and we need to recruit more full time education team members.
We are looking for creative experienced and risk taking education people looking for change. If you know of someone who is capable of making a real difference, get them to write in to me at BLOODHOUND soonest.
November was a very tough month – Tony Parraman and the BLOODHOUND show car was almost continuously on the road thanks to our sponsor Graham Lockwood. Andy Green and I were speaking at events three nights a week. I thought that one of the high spots of the month was the Protocol-National stand at the Association of Colleges show at the ICC in Birmingham.
Protocol-National, suppliers of teaching staff to the colleges, designed a really beautiful stand and their organisation and teamwork was exemplary. It was a real privilege to work with them. There are some 400 further education colleges in the UK and these are big – some like Dagenham having 20,000 students and this is a part of the education scene that I knew very little about. But of course, this is where much of the UK skill base is generated – these colleges, (too often overshadowed by the Universities) are incredibly important.
At the last minute I was invited to speak at the Association's dinner on the opening night – we had one of the best meals I have ever eaten with an amazing chef who even explained which fishing boat he had sent out for the fish course! For obvious reasons the dinner overran mightily and I suspected that the BLOODHOUND presentation would be chopped – but they decided to go with it. I worked my way though a 20 minute brief at the end of the meal and then sat down. Over on the far side of the room, unexpected and unannounced, one of the guests got to his feet: "My name is Ray Faulkner- I am the chair of South Staffordshire College and I am now committing all the schools and colleges in South Staffordshire to Bloodhound", and he sat down to massive applause. This was just the start of a huge experience - over the next two days, 152 Colleges signed up to use BLOODHOUND – we now have a massive level of commitment and a huge responsibility to all these schools and colleges.
The overwhelming affect of the ICC conference was not lost on Protocol-National and they have just signed as a BLOODHOUND SSC stripe sponsor. This is great news for us and we look forward to working with them in the New Year when they take responsibility for handling all the BLOODHOUND activity in the Further Education Colleges.
November was a tough month because we had to include the long delayed media day, the sponsors' conference (which had to precede the Media day) and also the 1K Supporters Club day. We were getting concerned – the 1K Club now numbers 2600 members and we need to hold more club days each year – 12 or more so we can present to at least 2500 members in the year.
With the Falcon rocket fired and the deal done on the BLOODHOUND Technical Centre, it was time to get the media day away before Christmas media swamped everything else. The ideal day was November 24th, which meant that the 1K Club day would have to be on the 22nd and the sponsors day on the 23rd! Three huge events on three consecutive days –and following a week of exhibitions in Birmingham!
There was a certain level of incredulity in the team at this tight sequence of key days – any of which could fail the project – but we went for it.
At the club day, I took the members through the huge fund raising programme to raise the £6.8million needed to build the car over 20 months. For the sponsors, the following day was Conor La Grue's day. 89 companies turned up and spent the whole day with us listening to the presentations on the build, the schools programme and of course the desert programme which kicks off next year when the Hakskeen Pan road and causeway has to be removed.
The South Africans had sent their Premier Hazel Jenkins and an impressive team of 10 – the idea being that their whole team should bond with the BLOODHOUND team. There is no doubt that it was a highly successful day and at the end of the day long conference, the sponsors stayed around for hours deep in thought and discussing their plans. To me this was the real test of the day –if they had all raced for the door it would have meant failure. Conor plans to hold another of the conferences in the middle of 2010 to report on progress.
The media day was something of a gamble – would the London specialist media bother to come all the way down to Bristol to meet the team hear the message and see the building? We would host them in our new building where there was little to show other than our EJ 200 engine, the show car and the first components of the Intel sponsorship which has resulted in a very smart design office. I for one was worried that the event might fail, but Richard Knight at Mission 21 had the media briefed up in advance and this released a huge deluge of coverage on the day.
The turnout was exceptional and very encouraging. There was very solid coverage for the South Africans which was very important and really high quality presentations from Gordon Graylish VP of Intel and Stephen Ball UK President of Lockheed Martin UK. The Lord Mayor of Bristol stayed for hours and was hugely enthusiastic – this is very important for Bristol, he said and he wondered why he hadn't heard of BLOODHOUND before!
There were a few comments about melting down his gold chain of office for BLOODHOUND funding which he took in good humour. We also released the BLOODHOUND vs Eurofighter animation which did 63,000 YouTube viewings in its first week.
In short, the team did really well over three very tough consecutive days and we got the message out to 1K members, the sponsors and the media. It was a massive risk but it worked – we pulled through. The web accelerated away to 130,000 page views a week and the FIN donations poured in.
As all this happens, I need to reflect on the truly enormous contribution Ian and Bev Glover and Tony Parraman have made to all this. The project has generated £170,000 in 1K sales, web sales and event sales activity. Ian handles all the massive 1K correspondence on a personal basis – and Bev's entire home is taken over with merchandise storage.
Behind the scenes, Tony has all the arrangements tightly nailed down – and on every event day everything is on site and everything works. It's a very smooth operation. Every time I see Ian, he is some 300 emails behind the curve and he has become a formidable auctioneer and presenter at the 1K events. The other night at Brooklands, the BLOODHOUND pictures raised £750. Just as with the Mach 1 club and ThrustSSC, the 1K club is making a huge contribution to the project. If you divide £171,000 by 2600 members you get £65.76 a head and the total contribution amounts to 20% of our earnings this year.
In early December I had one of the catch up meetings with Science Minister Lord Drayson and we talked through the huge battle to get BLOODHOUND built – there won't be any grants from the Government – the kitty is completely bare. But anything that feeds money through BLOODHOUND would help and we have several innovative ideas being developed. One of the current major problems is the difficulty in gaining first jobs for engineering graduates – the problem is the original Catch-22: it's difficult getting the first job without commercial experience – so how do you get that vital experience to land the first job? We've come up with a few ideas and I hope we can make something of a difference.
Now the pressure is really building – as a team we have to change. We have to increase the turnover by 400% in what is going to be a very difficult year with public sector funding cut by 20%. The VAT is back up to 17.5% in January. The election may result in a hung parliament, in which case there will be more doubt at a time when there is a need for real leadership. There is little doubt that it's going to be a difficult year – and it's at this time that a project like BLOODHOUND is very important. There has to be something going forward.
The BLOODHOUND Education Team and its strategy has to change – we now have a very demanding obligation to 3400 schools – we have to establish what the teachers need and quickly provide for them. Our initial programmes have worked well but the time has now come for the next generation material. We have to work out how we develop the BLOODHOUND Education Centre programmes - and we have to build the team and deliver on a far larger scale.
Through INTEL, Bloodhound material also goes to 5m teachers worldwide next year. We have to work up the arrangements for getting BLOODHOUND material to universities and the all important colleges. We have to develop the communications with NASA and see whether we want to work together.
But above all we have to get on with the car build. Key to all this is the composites programme which amounts to 25% of the build cost. The deals are slowly coming together but now we have to go for it. John Piper has to build the engineering team quickly now with the immediate target of getting the entire CAD Master design completed by May 2010. Only then can we go ahead and order up the parts.
Conor La Grue has to run a massive supply chain which already includes 168 companies and will probably grow closer to 300. Conor's record is hugely impressive -181 meetings in 13 months with 111 site visits.
Nick Chapman has to get the website redesigned and restructured – after all the struggles in 2009 we now have an idea of how we need to go forward, but it's a huge task. The existing site is just not structured for handling the massive amounts of data media and interaction that the programme will generate.
The input from the Richard Knight and the Mission21 people has been hugely valuable – somehow they have managed to keep the media inspired and interested all through the last 13 months of dogged research. It has taken a huge level of hard work and the results have been extremely good. We have had our arguments and heated meetings – but that's all part of a solid and very rewarding relationship.
They now have to keep the media interest going through the 20 months of build – at a time when the media tends to get bored by the build technology.
But of course all this depends on the cashflow – as we expand and take on more people, so the company gets ever more fragile. I am convinced we can do this; we are getting a large number of really sizable sponsorship enquiries, but the actual cashflow is a huge worry – we have never missed a payday on BLOODHOUND but can we keep up this performance as the cost per week rises towards £75,000? (about the cost of a good Manchester United player!)
At least we will be building the car, rather than carrying out months and months of very difficult, often inconsequential and difficult to finance research. Remember there is minimal help we can expect from the aerospace and motor racing industries – neither do Mach 1.4 cars - we are right out there on our own.
There is a much much greater precedent. Back in the difficult days of the Depression, on December 10th 1931 work stopped on the giant 81,000 tonne ocean liner RMS Queen Mary. The Cunard line had over reached and was unable to make the payments and 10,000 jobs were lost. MP David Kirkwood fought a massive two year battle finally persuading parliament to fund the building of the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth liners as symbols of hope and leadership. Work restarted in April 1934 and many took the view that the decision led Britain out of Depression.
There is no way that BLOODHOUND can have that kind of effect – but we have all come to realise that these projects do have very real values.
Happy Christmas – now to get ready for the real fight!!
December 20th 2009
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