So I’m sitting at my desk when the phone rings. The number says it’s in the UK. I answer it and a well-spoken voice says: “Hi Mark, this is Richard Noble.”
Noble is the man who in 1983 broke the world land speed record in Thrust 2 in Black Rock, Nevada by travelling at a speed of 1 019km/h. He oversaw the Thrust SSC (supersonic car) project that later saw Andy Green break Noble’s record by travelling at 1 221km/h.
He’s phoning to provide an update on Bloodhound SSC, his current project to break the record which will take place here in SA.
We have been following the project since its inception, visiting the project offices in Bristol in the UK and the site of the record attempt at Hakskeen Pan in the Northern Cape.
The project has been plagued by problems and delays, but these are not surprising when you consider the sheer scale of it all and the budget.
Noble explains that Thrust SSC cost £1m at a time when one of its rivals for the record attempt, McLaren with its Maverick, had a budget 24 times that. McLaren pulled out, leaving Noble and his team to successfully defend the record against the Spirit of America.
When the idea for Bloodhound SSC first began, the budget was £12m, says Noble, but today that cost has risen to about £64m. He points out that it is always a battle with money, but this time it is even more about technology then in previous attempts.
Thrust 2 was a relatively simple project. “There wasn’t much to do apart from build the car and do wind tunnel testing,” he says.
Thrust SSC was much more difficult. “People said it couldn’t be done,” he says, adding that the car was much more innovative and technical.
Bloodhound is even more innovative and technical, requiring much more research. When we visited the project base a couple of years ago, the team had just taken delivery of the carbon-fibre nose tip. It had been 3D printed. You couldn’t do that at the time of the Thrusts.
The whole project asks for a lot of sponsors, Noble says, adding that another big financing deal is being finalised.
The UK has not been hugely financially supportive, but he says the UK will benefit, as will SA where the car will arrive for its first runs in September.
The car performed its first low-speed runs on an airfield in Newquay in the UK late in 2017, watched by 10,000 people at the venue and hundreds of thousands more around the world, with the project currently being followed in 200 countries, according to Noble.
The operations team will be in SA late in March to run further checks on Hakskeen Pan and ensure some of the infrastructure that has been put in by companies such as MTN and Oracle is in place.
The infrastructure has been a project in itself because there isn’t a great deal of it at Hakskeen Pan.
The record attempts will be live streamed around the world for the first time.
Education is also something that Noble has been involved with and the project has been as much about teaching pupils that science, technology and engineering careers are great as it is about going really fast.
But going fast is the cool bit and the thing many pupils ultimately want to see. This brings us to the often re-arranged timetable, but Noble is confident is all now finally in place. In September the Bloodhound SSC will take to Hakskeen Pan for the first time, at a relatively low speed of 500mph (805km/h). Noble says they might go faster but the main aim is to test the handling of the car and that the parachute works properly.
Then in 2019 the team and the car will return again but this time with one rocket engine attached, as well as the jet engine. All of this leads up to 2020, hopefully, when the complete car featuring three Nammo rockets will be in the Northern Cape to try to break the land speed record by achieving a speed in excess of 1 000mph (1 609km/h).
It is a massive project and there have been hiccups along the way, but Noble has been there before and now it seems like the Bloodhound can really smell the scent of the chase. – Mark Smyth