Computer Business Review had the great privilege of witnessing the first test runs of the Bloodhound SSC in Newquay, Cornwall. A dedicated team are pursuing a goal of 1000mph, hoping to extend the very British history of the world land speed record.
Arriving yesterday at RAF St. Mawgan on what was a dismal morning, spotlights from inside a Cold War hangar pierced the gloom, revealing the Bloodhound SSC within in all its glory. Ron Ayers, the 85 year old Chief Aerodynamicist who was inspired by Spitfires during the Blitz, stood proudly beside the car amid palpable excitement.
People who have been working on the project for years flocked to Newquay to witness the moment that the project raced into reality, many seeing it for the very first time. The crowd was audibly impressed by the roar of the engine.
Just prior to the test runs, driver Andy Green shared insight with the attendees of the event, giving a glimpse into the thought process that will be involved when he is behind the wheel for the 1000mph record attempt in South Africa.
“The pressure really is on me not to drive a high performance car, but the pressure is on me to make sure that my contribution to the engineering team is of the same standard as all of the world class engineers who build that incredible car,” said Mr Green.
“There are still critical bits where the timing has to be exact, for instance, if I put the parachutes out too fast on a supersonic run they will simply come off. Parachutes are rated to about 90 per cent of the speed of sound, 650 miles an hour, they work really well and they will produce nine tonnes of drag that will induce three G of deceleration, 60 miles an hour per second.”
The RAF Wing commander exuded calm, he was humorous, and completely in control. Moments later he stepped outside to begin the testing. Mr Green is the current holder of the world land speed record, having set it at 763.035 mph; he is now working towards shattering his own record.
“If I put it out too slow we are going to be too far down the desert and we are going to run out of distance, so the timing for things like that is critical. However, in a two minute run, although it sounds terrifying to have two minutes from brakes off to being at the other end of a twelve mile desert, there are two minutes of thinking time, so some of the tasks I can spread out,” he said.
Finally, turning his attention to the task at hand, Andy Green said: “There will even be time to have a couple of breaths and do a little bit of screaming, maybe not enough time to enjoy the view. On the runway it is slightly different, zero to 200 in eight seconds, there is a lot going on there and I need to get all of that right during each one of those eight seconds.”
By the end of the afternoon, the RAF Wing commander had steered the vehicle home following two successful test runs, marking new progress in the journey to the land speed record. Now all hearts and minds involved are turned to the 1000mph attempt, set to be staged in the Northern Cape of South Africa on the Hatskeen Pan.
Technology giant, Oracle, a key element in the Bloodhound Project, was able to harvest a mass of valuable data from the test run. Joining CBR at the test run was John Abel, Oracle’s UK head of technology and cloud, who was on hand to give his post-test run commentary.
“It is a great experience seeing a car that has been in engineering for ten years going down a runway and doing the job it was built to do. The thing that surprised me was the rate of acceleration when the afterburner kicked in, that was mind blowing, and he only had that afterburner on for about two seconds,” said Mr Abel.
Oracle’s role in the project revolves around data, with Mr Abel telling CBR just how quickly the tech giant can start harvesting insights from the test-run.
“We could start analysing data immediately; we could see it visually and check the video input at the same time. Once the car starts we get a real time pulse via visual analytics on mobile phones, so we could see some of the data starting to appear as Andy was driving around the track,” said Mr Abel.
Oracle is bringing its mastery of data to the table in support of the project, and John Abel highlighted some of the interesting statistics.
“The acceleration point, the G that Andy was pulling and the brake heat were interesting areas. On the second run he was pulling 1.28 G which is the same as the Saturn 5 moon rocket. That was from just two or three seconds of afterburner, imagine what that is going to be like when he is doing a thousand miles per hour,” he said.
It is not all about data and a land speed record, with the Bloodhound Project also geared towards ramping up interest in technology. From the start, education has been at the heart of the project; Richard Noble previously told me about his belief that inspiration is key to encouraging children to pursue mathematics and engineering – fundamental skills that are becoming increasingly valuable.
“When we set this project out we had design goals, one was that everything had to be accessible to students,” said Mr Abel.
“Second, we wanted to take the data to the interface of the user rather than what businesses do which is taking the user to the interfaces of the data. We were using things like Facebook, virtual reality, YouTube, mobile apps, various technologies that had a big impression on me.
“The virtual reality was as interesting to a six year old as it was to a sixty-eight year old. We set one big bar, and that was to get people interested in the technology side as well as the scientific side, everybody that came up was fascinated,” Mr Abel said.
A key individual at the test-run and an important figure in the pursuit of the world record was Sylvia Lucas, Premier of the Northern Cape, who shared her thoughts on the project, and particularly the Hatskeen Pan in the Kalahari desert.
She said: “We are meeting here at the best of times, most exciting, because of course eventually people are going to see that Bloodhound is materialising.” When asked about the how the people of the Northern Cape feel about the world land speed record attempt, the Premier said: “Enormous pride, it will just be an event for many people, but for us it is something that is the beginning of a legacy that will live on forever.”
“In the first instance, Hackskeen Pan, twenty kilometres of track had to be cleared, and the people of the Kalahari did it by hand. Three hundred people worked on the track, clearing it of every stone bigger than a twenty cent piece in South Africa, so you can imagine that was the biggest contribution.”