Write-up following breakfast event on 23rd April 2013 by Merv Wyeth, Chair of Programme Management SIG & committee member of Benefits Management SIG.
Mary McKinlay clearly lives and breathes the Bloodhound SSC Land-speed record Programme, and is well-qualified to provide the narrative behind this Great British initiative. Her challenge to the audience, who once again enjoyed some great hospitality from Arup, was to map the components of Bloodhound onto Jamie Hindhaugh’s business plan for the BBC Olympic coverage. This was going to be tricky! Whilst both programmes really do capture the imagination, in some ways they really are ‘chalk and cheese’ - particularly as the Bloodhound team don’t have any money!
What Bloodhound does have though is the determination of its leader and champion Richard Noble, and a compelling vision to smash the land-speed record for the ‘measured mile’ by achieving an incredible increase in speed from the figure of 763mph to over 1000mph. So this is a truly audacious goal; and as Mary says, “if we are going to achieve it, the team will have to do things differently!”
Mary was rapidly inducted as a Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) ambassador to the Bloodhound programme around 3 years ago, and from her passion for the subject, it is clear that she is the right person for the job. In fact, by her own admission she enjoys being labelled as a ‘petrol-head’ when visiting Santa Pod on Bloodhound duties.
Mary provided us with a whistle-stop tour of more than a century of land speed records, starting with several French electric cars including “La Jamais Contente” (the Never Satisfied) way back in 1899. She proudly stated that since those early days, the British had held the record for more than 65 years.
She went on to explain that when Richard Noble had reviewed the available data from his first car, the Thrust SSC, it had become clear that he had been perilously close to disaster. His own survival had been on a knife-edge. “So what do you do in these circumstances? You redesign the car, and find someone else to drive.” That’s where Andy Green, the world’s fastest mathematician, stepped up and into the car!
Mary explained that the new car would be powered by a Jet engine (EJ200 from a Typhoon aircraft) which is boosted by a dual-fuel rocket. The liquid fuel will be pumped into the rocket by a Cosworth F1 engine. The designs have been done by students, and the CAD diagrams are actually available on line. “Everything is done in public view” and the current Headquarters for the Bloodhound Technical Centre can be visited at Bristol Harbour, adjacent to the Wallace and Grommit Studios and Brunel’s SSC Great Briton. (As an aside Mary commented on Brunel’s competence as a project manager - subject matter covered by Jim Dale in his Programme Management lecture, at the same Arup venue a few months previously).
Mary asked the audience “how do you build a budget (for your programme) when you don’t know what it is you are going to be doing?” One way is to raise sponsorship which now includes the opportunity to pay ‘ten quid’ to have your name engraved on the tail fin of the car: many of the audience members took Mary up on her offer and pledging their support.
Richard Noble was great at ‘mumping’ (my word, not Mary’s, taken from British slang for begging stuff, usually used to refer to policemen extracting low-value goods or services) but in this case he had mumped just the right size and shape of jet engine from the Ministry of Defence. She told the story of how Lord Drayson, who had initially said no to Richard’s request, later changed his mind and provided the engine free of charge on the condition that the project involved young people, getting them excited about Bloodhound SSC and thereby inspiring a new generation of engineers.
Engineers like Daniel Jubb, rocket scientist, recently described as being one of the Rising Stars of 2013 in Project magazine, who are now working on the project. Jubb, states ‘The first version of the car was a pure rocket with no jet engine at all. We eventually came up with the hybrid solution, where we’ve got the jet engine and rocket together – that gives you the advantage of something very controllable, and fairly cheap.’ Jubb describes how ‘he is still learning and, as he had done throughout his life, is using the Bloodhound to further develop under the tutorship of the industry’s leading lights.’
Mary concluded by illustrating the fact that you don’t actually need to be a rocket scientist, engineer or PPM professional to get involved with Bloodhound. By way of example, she cited an advert that Richard had placed in the Times in November 2010 which read ‘No wages, constant heat, tough work: Call for volunteers to clear 250 million feet of racetrack ahead of 1000mph land speed record.’
Perhaps we should not be surprised that over 500 volunteers came forward to perform this key task, or, that the South African Government were willing to move a road, in readiness for the record attempt that is being planned for the Kalahari Desert.
Whether or not the Bloodhound programme does manage to achieve such an audacious goal, and I know that I would be delighted to see my own name travel at 1000mph, Richard, Mary and other members of the team, are doing great work re-defining the art of the possible, as well as exciting hearts and minds - especially young ones!
Mary's presentation is below: