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It's 9pm on October 2nd. I am doing overnight guard duty in the Pit Station and for the first time in two days the 25knot wind has dropped right off. A ridge of high pressure is predicted and we could be in for two or three good days. So far we have made Mach 0.935 and Andy reports that ThrustSSC is stable and he is happy to continue. Tomorrow could be a brilliant day.
The old Thrust2 633.468 mph record went on September 25th, and I was never sure how I was going to feel - after all it had taken 9 years to achieve it in the first place and for 13 years I had been titled as holder of the World's Land Speed Record. That day was seriously special - a new World record of 714.144mph for the mile - the largest increase ever in the history of the Record. The elation was quite something to experience - the first we have had in the ThrustSSC team. The BBC camera crew were quick off the mark:
"How do you feel about losing your record?" asked Bill Grist.
"Really thrilled - we have just exchanged it for a far better one!"
It's probably going to be one of the greatest in the history of the LSR.
One evening a few days earlier I was dashing from the Pit Trailer, when I happened to glance skyward at one of our Pegasus Microlights which was flying high to the East. Suddenly a small article was seen to fall from the aircraft and plunge headlong 1000ft to the playa.
"What in God's name's that?"
"Don't worry Richard, it's Jeremy Duck's skydiving lessons. His chute has candled"
Once again the unfortunate duck had hit another spell of sheer misfortune - only equalled by the night I found him squashed by three tonnes under ThrustSSC's front wheel. "Just bad luck," I was told. "Duck seems to be in all the wrong places at the wrong time!"
What is hilarious is that huge Internet following seems to be confusing Jeremy Davey with Jeremy Duck - and people are turning up at the Pit Station keen to meet Jeremy Duck! For those interested he was last heard of sheltering from the hunting season in the BLM Offices in Winnemucca, and there have been sightings of an unhappy duck outside a Chinese Restaurant in Hong Hong.
So after all the hassles we made it to Nevada. On the 3rd, I stood on Mercury Aviation's ramp at Reno International and saw the Antonov make a very fast and long landing. It was a fantastic moment, for just two weeks earlier it looked as though we would never make it. It was one of those moments to savour - all that hard graft by so many people had actually got us to Reno.
But things were never going to be easy for us. On arrival in Gerlach there were no hotel rooms and the locals were angry because Bruno's had put up all the fuel and food prices. Bruno told me he was going to help - but nothing happened and the room prices were hitting new highs as more media piled into the little village.
But our old friend Bev at the Miners' Club was as ever equal to the task - before long a list of small apartments had been found by my brother Andrew, and although the team were initially unhappy about sleeping in hallways on mattresses, Suzy Kraike soon had things in hand and more apartments were found which reduced the population density.
More problems occurred with the breakfasts. We needed to breakfast quickly and early and the Bruno's service was not increased to meet demand. Two lovely ladies, Lola and her daughter Bonny, came to the rescue with a breakfast service at the local community centre. 5am cooked quality breakfasts - no problem here! Donny Lawson came to our help at Empire supplying gas at cost - which meant a huge saving.
Andrew Noble and our old friend Tom Reviglio of Western Nevada Supplies had set up the most amazing supply chain of local sponsors, and our old friend Dink Cryer of Carson City Dodge picked up the opportunity that Rover had dropped, supplying Dodge pickups, a crew bus and two Neon cars.
With amazing speed the ThrustSSC machine swung into action. The contrasts with the Spirit of America team were interesting. ThrustSSC had its entire desert base up and operational in 48 hours - due of course to the brilliant AireShelta hangar and meeting room, whereas SoA had struggled with a metal building for the better part of ten days. The sheer scale of the SoA organsisation was intimidating. The old Gerlach Post Office had been hired as a media centre, and everywhere one went there were large white spotless Ford trucks with huge SoA logos. Clearly image was very important.
Huge numbers of cars and RV's surrounded the SoA's base - and this included live satellite facilities for the SpeedVision network. It was very impressive. But whereas the SoA people had obvious material resource, we found ourselves with two brilliant Americans who were prepared to work beyond human endurance for the project. Dave Hackette and his wife Sherrie live in Reno and absolutely nothing is too difficult. Jack Franck found the project on the Internet, followed it for six months and then gave up everything to take part. He took over all the trackwork - and whereas the SoA people had a superdooper laser track marking machine, we have Jack who looks after all his costs and can run a straighter line faster than the sooperdooper laser.
We also have the 50 or so Mach 1 Clubbers who under the eagle eye of Paul Remfry quickly created an operational security force bar none. Control of the huge desert is crucial to safe running of ThrustSSC since anyone with a four-wheel-drive can access the desert. Crucially important are the two Pegasus Quantum microlights flown at first by World Champion Simon Baker and John Fack. The microlights are reliable and fast, and nothing but nothing, even coyotes, gets missed.
Centre of all this is Grand Master Jayne Millington who runs a fast moving 5 frequency communication operation out of the Pit Station which attracts huge admiration from the land speed record watchers on the hill sides - all equipped with scanners. Jayne is a highly skilled fighter controller, and from time to time the RAF-speak creeps into the transmission. Words like Bandit, friendly fire, extreme prejudice, expedite, minimise, cause many a chuckle out on the desert. Frankly she is absolutely brilliant and we are really lucky to have her help.
Relations with the SoA people are very friendly and very helpful, and there is a huge help from the America Car Club people who form the nucleus of the SoA security operation. But they are very curious:
"Richard, your Plymouth Neon is filthy!"
"It's a working desert car and I like to use it as a sketchboard for illustrating points!"
"Why don't you get some of your Mach 1 people to clean it?"
"Because we would never exploit them in that way!"
Right at the start, the media people baffled me. They seemed to believe they had a God-given right to go everywhere and photograph everything. As an example yet another small camera team pitched up at the Pit Station.
"We are CNN Television", they announced.
"We want to film the entire project today and tomorrow."
"What exactly do you want to film and how long?"
"Everything - and we reckoned on 4 hours over two days."
CNN is clearly important but the attitude worried me.
"We'll give you 30 minutes."
As the time began to run out the CNN team made their way into the Pit Trailer. On the wall opposite the workstations hangs the SoA/ThrustSSC operational contract - an obvious document with "Contract" at the top and signatures at the end. The CNN Cameraman started filming it in its entirety. This was too much - I hit the lens with my open palm and camera swung through 90 degrees. There was much anger and wrath.
"Nobody, but nobody, is allowed to touch a CNN camera."
"Nobody, but nobody, is allowed to film a confidential document without our permission."
Time was up and the CNN people left - very angry.
I sat down and thought about this - why did these people think and expect they have a God-given right to exploit our privacy? It was quite clear that they are positioned near to the top of the food chain in the US, but why this behaviour? Then it dawned on me: this is the natural reaction to sponsorship. Once a venture is seen to be sponsored then it is expected to be free access to every media person to make money with video pictures and copy. But we are not 100% dependent on our sponsors so we are going to act differently. The team has to be protected from this, otherwise the media will sap our time and waste our money.
We extended the cordon around the Pits Station and Paul, now callsign Blackadder, soon had the situation under firm control. The next day the CNN man apologised and we shook hands. CNN is back on site and we have a valuable relationship.
We set about providing free news access with a press conference at the end of each days running. This had been suggested by Peter Ball at Castrol and works extremely well. There was one exception - on the day of the new record we allowed free 1 to 1 interviews and the party went on until late next morning.
Earlier there had been a huge crisis at Spirit of America. Something very solid had gone down the SoA engine intake with a devastating effect on the precious engine. They immediately announced that they were in financial trouble and were pulling out. Jeremy Davey and I put up an appeal on the Web Site - "Breedlove needs help - fast." Amazingly Breedlove was refinanced the next day and he looked a lot more cheerful. I had never seen such a financial miracle and it made me wonder.
We pushed on with the ThrustSSC runs. The profiles being drawn up by Ron and the design team, and Andy driving them to unbelievable accuracy.
The day I will never forget was Run 52 on September 23rd. Positioned at the media pen at the centre of the track the first thing you see is the dust rise 6.5 miles away as Andy starts up. This is followed by Firechase racing ahead at 130 mph to take position at mile 7. Jayne calls: "Clear to Roll, the dustcloud increases and then very slowly it appears that the car is driving wildly off course to the left. The dust cloud rises as Andy selects first Mil Power and then Min Burner and suddenly the car is seen to shoot ahead at an almost impossible speed. Almost immediately it is upon us racing ahead, giving the impression of a huge black locomotive steady as a rock on rails. It's both exciting and terrifying - and the noise travels about three miles behind. And despite max afterburner, it's quiet!!
The effect on the media has been incredible - they have changed from being demanding to being respectful and awe-struck. Andy and ThrustSSC are doing exactly what we planned all those years ago, but we had not the slightest idea of the awesome visual impact. In fact I had never seen a land speed record car run before - yes awesome is the word!
John Ackroyd who designed Thrust2 is working for SoA. He was on the West hillside as ThrustSSC made the 730mph pass.
"You could feel the shockwaves - it was frightening."
The run operations are managed by Martyn Davidson who has the whole thing beautifully planned and running as efficiently as I remember him running the Long Test Track at Pendine in 1993 when we were testing the supersonic models. The Americans are deeply impressed and pay us compliments.
They were not so complimentary about my computer story. I use a Digital VP to run the project and always carry it with me - usually in a bulging Flight Case. The VP has a Colorado backup, but since I seem to be falling asleep at the keyboard it doesn't get used as often as it should. Seldom would be the right word. On this day, I found myself persuading an ITN cameraman to travel to Access 2 to join the Press Convoy out to the track. I realised he had no wheels so, putting down my flight case, I helped him load his camera and tripod into the Neon. Working against time I jumped into the car and set off backwards. There was an appalling crunching noise which is usually accompanied by that deep sinking feeling. The Flight Case and the new VIP had been reduced to splinters. Jeremy Bliss extracted the hard disc from the wreckage and amazingly it worked. That's one more life lost!
Earlier this week Art Arfons turns up. Art held the record three times in the 60's and is an incredible survivor of many high speed incidents including a 610mph crash at Bonneville. Like me he has never seen a Land Speed Record car run. I hope we are going to put that one right tomorrow. Being with Art is a real privilege and there is enormous respect for his genius, tenacity, and courage. Art took me on one side: "I used to believe that the greatest LSR was held by John Cobb: I've changed my mind - after this they are going to have to rewrite the LSR history."
Also with us is Dave Petrali and Mac MacGregor of USAC who manage the timing and Dave acts as Chief Steward. The USAC machine is formidable in its efficiency. There are no problems, there are no disputes - the service is impeccable. After each run and Jayne has called "ThrustSSC is Safe, Safe, Safe", the next call is predictable:
"Pit Station, this is USAC timing - we have some times for you..."
To have USAC on board cost us much much more than I had budgetted, but after six years of very hard graft I just wanted to be sure that there would never be any doubt about what we had achieved. To add to this the FIA have now agreed to sanction the supersonic runs, so when we achieve this there will be no dispute. So from tomorrow Dave Petrali will now be calling out the groundspeeds and the Mach numbers.
Today was supposed to be Martyn Davidson's last operations day - but the winds made this impossible. He had to return to UK to start work on his MSc and he will be sorely missed. Adam Northcote-Wright - yet another displaced Squadron Leader - has taken over. Known affectionally as "Adam Long-Name", Adam's first briefing runs smoothly and effectively and it's quite clear that he has stepped into Martyn's shoes with a seamless transition. Martyn's contribution has been very considerable and of huge value to the project.
But back to this evening.
To run the finances of the project I have built a very complex 15 account spreadsheet which runs on Microsoft Excel. This manages the cash and updates the forward plan. Every single dollar is accounted and cross checked with the cash in hand. By use of averages the spreadsheet calculates the Black Rock lifespan - and as of tonight it is telling me we run out of money on October 12th - three days earlier than planned.
So bearing in mind that we have had to take the huge unbudgetted hit for the USAC costs we have probably done well. So we need more cash - quickly. There is little that I can do over here in Nevada, other than to hope that the huge media coverage will attract more sponsorships.
ITN and others have helped with a national appeal in UK and I am worried that it will fail. People will just say "bad luck" and something else will take our place. Today the papers are already saying that we have finished and the project is over. But deals are coming forward, and we have got to finish the job. We may have debts in the UK to pay, but we can't possibly trespass on our friends goodwill over here. Every bill has to be paid in full as it falls due.
We've just got to make more money fast, and I wonder whether, having just set one of the greatest Land Speed Records of all time, the UK Corporates will help us? Whatever happens, the next few days are going to be the most exciting in our lives - and with Sky's live coverage it's going to be shared by millions.
Over in the SoA camp we hear rumours that Shell are to underwrite Breedlove's entire budget for next year. How does he do that?
If we can just keep going, we can finish.
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