On 18th May at BAWA, Bristol following the SWWE Branch AGM the heat (quite literally!) and the anticipation was building from a near full capacity audience of enthusiastic project managers keen to hear from Richard Noble on a matter close to his heart; Engineering! When Richards name is recalled people automatically think of Thrust SSC and the land speed record, not many would think that Richard Noble is a key part in rekindling the UKs interest in engineering and helping the students of today becoming the forefront of engineering excellence in the future.
Richard gave an enthusiastic and invigorating history of how he became passionate about the Land Speed Record challenge and an update on the Bloodhound SSC project, with various enthralling videos, (more can be found on the website at the Bloodhound website). The key challenge of the project was the management of the engineering and financial risks, especially as there was no traditional project budget to draw on and the project depended entirely on generating a funding stream from donations.
Richard realised that to retain the land speed record something special would be needed, and so Richard met with Lord Drayson (the then Minister of State for Defence Procurement and Support at the Ministry of Defence) who also happened to have a passion for speed and had his own racing team (Drayson Racing). However, the request for a Eurofighter engine fell on deaf ears! But Richard was curious when Lord Drayson raised his concern at the lack of engineering capability in the UK and the difficulty the UK MoD had in recruiting engineers. Never one to miss an opportunity, Richard realised that children and their education could be the key to the projects in turn help the UK industry in the future; Richard referenced the Leitch report which estimated that the UK could benefit from 80Bn over 30years if it developed a future skilled workforce of engineers.
Frustratingly Richard was still encountering difficulty obtaining support within the UK for the project, a lot which was credited to Richards belief that the UK industries have become too risk averse and so a global search was underway for financial support. Richard explained that just to staff the project required funding of some 10k per day, and the company would need to grow at 300% per annum to be able to deliver the project, but there is actually no capital assets for which to secure funding against! A slight challenge!
The Bloodhound SSC is an engineering challenge throughout; to obtain speeds of Mach 1.4 and driving 10 miles in 100 seconds (1 mile in 3.6 seconds) really needs something special. Over the last twelve months the project has secured contracts with Cosworth and Rolls Royce, the latter being a real coup for the project as commercially the company were already fully committed to commercial aviation commitments but the Director of Engineering & Technology recognised the potential impact this project would hold not only for the company but for future engineers.
Furthering the mentoring and education theme, the Bloodhound SSC team have an education team of four who have enrolled over 4000 schools in the education programme in the first 18 months of the project, ranging from nurseries, primary and secondary schools to colleges and universities. To supplement this there will be approximately 3bn pages of web data and the philosophy is to share data openly (so much so that technical drawings are available to download from the website) and when Bloodhound SSC is run in earnest some 500 data channels will be streamed live to the WWW and education academy for information and analysis.
As with all projects though, some unforeseen risks do come to light and it is now considered that the Blackrock Desert (where Thrust SSC secured the land speed record) is now not suitable as the ground is to dusty due to climate changes and so a new location was needed. In Summer 2009 Hakseen Pan, South Africa was the favoured location which provided an extended window of eight months use; however it was at 3000ft and an area of 18km long and 1500m wide needs to be cleared of any stones to make it usable.
One notable on-going concern of Richards is of that which he refers to as the Columbus effect; the project being staffed by UK interests but having to be funded largely by organisations overseas which would be a great shame and a missed opportunity.
With many thanks to Richard Noble and his team for such an enthralling presentation heres hoping that with the project anticipating an afterlife of some 15 years the UK industry and make beneficial use of such a unique opportunity.