Richard Noble's Bloodhound Project diary

We started BLOODHOUND officially in June 2007- that was 33 months ago – 33 months of hell at my end keeping the programme afloat – but this next week we believe the Aero team will come up with the final shape of the car.

We had all hoped to get there by November – but it just didn't happen. Of course you can't do a programme like this in sequence – aero first, and then structures, systems and rockets – it's all got to happen in parallel otherwise we'll all be deep into Pension Time when it comes to the roll-out. So the Aero programme hasn't necessary slowed the project, but it's important to understand that the 10 costly design iterations have been absolutely essential to learn about the BLOODHOUND, its stability and aerodynamics.

Why, you ask has it taken so long to get to this point – could it not have been made much simpler and moved much faster? Of course, hindsight is an exact science and there were one or two wrong turnings – but that's to be expected because this is all about innovation on a huge scale. There is no industry out there able to help us, there is no precedent – the aerospace industry doesn't build cars and the race car industry speedos don't exceed 250mph. Having said that, Ben Evans and Ron Ayers will be the first to acknowledge the huge help we have had from Rolls-Royce and Intel which has made so much of this possible. Of course we could have taken a colossal risk with all the companies working on BLOODHOUND and just taken a wild gamble with their goodwill by building a car shape we guessed might be right. We would have a fine looking car by now – but would it be a safe car with a good chance of reaching 1000mph? The chances are absolutely minimal. Of course it would be a very beautiful design but since until now no one knows what a Mach 1.4 car should look like no one would be the wiser. That sort of thinking was acceptable in Craig Breedlove and Art Arfons' time in the 1960's when the only aero prediction work revolved around the wind tunnel: Craig tried to continue with that approach for Spirit of America in 1997 and the beautiful car unexpectedly turned on its side at Mach0.9. Fortunately Craig Breedlove had yet another lucky escape with his life. Today we have CFD and computing clusters and it's absolutely essential to make best use of them in order to learn this new science and make our car predictable and safe right the way through the speed range.

The weather always costs us money and even intrudes into the research programme, just like it always intrudes into the run programme. Heavy rain in California has slowed the rocket development programme – we should have completed the second 18 inch firing by now. Snow in England wrecked our meeting schedules, lost us a team meeting and wasted our time. The costs go on just the same!

But now, you are going to see the programme accelerate away from this point. John Piper and the Design team will shortly have the hard points on the car exterior shape and this means they can push ahead with the detail design ready for parts manufacture and assembly. The build plan cashflow is a real frightener but we have to push forward now and get it done. Like a visit to hospital this is going to be a very painful 20 months, but hopefully we can soon get it behind us. In the meantime we are recruiting designers and we need them on site quickly.

Frankly I had a huge personal sense of achievement when we made it through 2009, and paid most of the bills. It had been a very difficult year – everything had taken at least four times as long as I had planned – and every month's delay meant that we had to find another £100,000. The costly delays fell broadly into two categories – delays with the design team on the BLOODHOUND design and the project reliance on third parties who didn't share BLOODHOUND culture, which is to move fast get decisions made and move ahead. Delays affect the critical path, slow the project and increase our fixed costs hugely. Overall, BLOODHOUND cost just over £1m last year, somehow we all survived. It's important to remember that the BLOODHOUND is not a weak charity begging and living off hand outs, nor is it a collection of part timers - we are a commercial organisation and we employ very exceptional engineers: they are paid proper money. Of course we demand an exceptional project and I am now convinced we are getting one.

It very easy in these flat organisations to let the communication lag the action and make assumptions. The fight for funding has been so tough that I have been unable to attend as many of the BET and Engineering Design Meetings as I had hoped. So when I went into the January EDM, I held the opinion 'Here we go again - more delays and another £100,000 needed until we get to the aero freeze'. But that was uncharitable, the quality and quantity of the workload, the intensity of the discussion confirmed that we are creating a real masterpiece and the funding is just the unrelentingly painful side of it all.
So it is important to understand that with these high technology projects, the research stage can take a long time to develop and by comparison, the design and build phase is a short one. The old days of producing prototypes quickly are long gone – the risk is far too high. There is no argument for cutting corners and producing as risky prototype when the means of modelling the car performance and stability are available.

Something has happened. I can't put my finger on it – but the public support for BLOODHOUND is becoming very strong indeed. The demand for presentations is becoming overwhelming and there are BLOODHOUND presentations going on somewhere almost every day of the week. In January,
Ian Glover and I found ourselves giving the Fresson lecture for the Royal Aeronautical Society in Elgin, a Scottish town two hours drive from Aberdeen.

350 people made the event travelling through appalling conditions and donations and sales totalled £1500. The sales of merchandise memberships and fin donations off the web now vary between £12-£20,000 every month – this is steady business – every penny goes into the project and this can amount to some 15-20% of our monthly costs.

But of course the public donations are not enough on their own – and as the build moves ahead, our cashflow will accelerate to £110,000 a week.

We had a budget of £6.8m to build and it's now down to £6.6m as a result of a good month in January. How exactly we going to do this?

The funding business is quite extraordinary. Talk to an engineer about it and they'll come up with the traditional solution - target a company and work away at it until they finally capitulate. This sadly is a hopeless scenario – it will take too long to find out if they are really interested, and by the time you have got a proposal into the board, you will have spent months of precious time. BLOODHOUND has always been about raising awareness, quickly locating the interest and working out a deal together. This way we know we are working with real corporate interest from day one – and if the companies are bold enough to make contact, then you both know there is a fair chance of success.

The old style sponsorship approach would never have located Rainham Industries, a highly motivated supplier of contract labour to the power generation industries and who is using BLOODHOUND in the most amazing way to inspire their customers and even offenders institutions. The whole project is very much about innovation, particularly at sponsor level.

Interestingly, BLOODHOUND doesn't seem to have much to do with the recession – certainly the sponsors have spare capacity and can make components for us – but the country is changing very fast and the companies are very much focussing on big social change. You can see it time and time again at the BLOODHOUND presentations – the man in the street believes strongly that we have the UK structure wrong and we need more manufacturing, more engineers and that means fundamental change. If the politicians were to stop preaching and start listening they would realise that this is most probably where serious votes lie!!

There is also a very strong view that the current generation have not done enough to inspire and encourage the kids in their education. There is strong demand for gender diversification – the need to encourage female engineers.

The engineering establishment is very male dominated and very much out of line with modern practice.
So perhaps all that's something to do with the fact that we now have some 12 financial sponsorship deals in process driven by the companies – the demand is getting very strong. They are really interesting deals and one or two are really inspirational material - we'll tell you more when they are signed. (Conor La Grue has already over 200 companies on the product sponsorship side). Do those 12 deals have the potential to fund the whole build? Clearly not, but they do have the potential to reduce the budget shortfall very substantially.

This month we are just kicking off a new opportunity which enables companies, clubs and organisations to have their names on the BLOODHOUND tailfin in return for a £500 donation. The first £500 donations are already in, and the original £10 personal donations have proved very popular with 2,500 names on the tail – we will have to raise this introductory price shortly as we can take only 80,000 names.
Another extraordinary area of old Britain which has such an important part to play in all this are the Institutions and Liveries. BLOODHOUND was turned down in its early stages both by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and also by the Institute of Engineering and Technology; both clearly thought it an irrelevance. These Institutions are facing declining membership and increasing costs and it is interesting that BLOODHOUND has outlasted their earlier management. We don't seem to make much progress with their central administrations – which is frustrating when they could contribute so much to the common goal - but the branches seem to be far more active and we were very glad to work with the IMechE Essex branch recently. However there is a limit to the number of lectures and presentations we are doing for these organisations without proper support from their leadership. There is a huge fight on to get BLOODHOUND built and everything we do has to generate serious money from now.

Another area of importance are the Liveries. These tend to be grand, remote and expensive organisations famously devoted to exceptional dinners and good works. BLOODHOUND now has 3,300 schools on the programme and Dawn Fitt tells me we shall be knocking on 7,000 by the end of 2010. We need the Liveries help but early contact has not been encouraging – I can't understand why this should be, there is a common goal – but this is Britain!

But, we do have the first Livery aboard – the Worshipful Company of Instrument Makers who held a special evening for us. They made their Liverymen and Scholars Gold members of the 1K club and made us a substantial donation. After the evening I wanted to find out what they thought of BLOODHOUND – was this all worth doing?

The new Master Harry Tee sent me a mail:
I have been gathering feedback before I contacted you. The feedback is not just positive, it is amazing!'
Everyone from the youngest scholar to the Senior Past Master who is 89 thought it was the best evening ever. So much so that the event will become an annual one and a permanent feature of the Livery calendar.

One last point on the British establishment – In February I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at the Engineering Dinner at Emmanuel Collage Cambridge – widely regarded as the crown jewel for Cambridge Engineering. Such is the pace of life that I arrived late without my black tie dinner shirt. We were lucky, the head chef is the same size and we soon borrowed his shirt! We had one hell of a good evening and at the dinner I was told that in Cambridge the Engineers are widely seen as the most stimulating intellectual and entertaining groups in Cambridge. I wonder if the Institutions realise what they are missing!

Let's move on to the education side of the project. The current total of schools, universities and colleges is:
2 Nursery Schools
1,991 Primary Schools
1,169 Secondary School
220 Colleges
37 Universities

Of course we are facing problems – for a start we only have eight school presentation programmes – that is clearly not enough for the huge scale of likely demand. Already the 217 FE colleges are demanding material which we are not yet able to give them.

So Dave Rowley and I have had to rewrite the plan and restructure. The overall education machine looks like being very large and it's quite clear that we can't handle all this ourselves. So we have asked Intel Corporation to handle the international demand, Birmingham, University of the West of England, Swansea and Southampton to handle the University demand, and our new sponsors Protocol–National to handle the Further Education Colleges. That leaves us to look after the UK schools and to manage the education programme content to ensure that all content is accurate.

To manage the content we need the new Curriculum Programmes Director – this is a huge job defining and managing the creation of the new programmes on a very wide scale. I think it's going to make someone very famous in the education world. So far we have had quite a few enquiries but Dave Rowley is not sure we have the right fit yet. We need the CPD right tomorrow!

We had hoped to develop a co located classroom for students to see BLOODHOUND being built at Bristol, but sadly it hasn't been possible as the BLOODHOUND Technical Centre is too small and there are no nearby buildings available. There is also the big question as to whether the schools will travel all the way to Bristol.

So we have bitten the bullet and started a programme for BLOODHOUND Education Centres located in locations of high footfall (eg museums, shopping malls) where the local schools and the public can come to learn about BLOODHOUND. The plan is to include a BLOODHOUND Model on each site and video links to Bristol. This seems to be off to a fast start with four starter sites in process within three weeks and Tony Parraman is rushed off his feet building these up. He has to move fast as we shall soon be into actual assembly.

Jo Finch has just joined us to look after the BLOODHOUND events programme which is becoming huge – so much so that the actual timing of transportation between events is becoming critical. Meanwhile Jonathan Ellis has taken over management of the Ambassador Programme which now totals over 150 volunteers. These Ambassadors now have to be put through the training and CRB clearance before they can go into schools. The Ambassador team are absolutely essential to help us visit schools, man exhibition stands and very shortly help with the establishment of their local Education Centre. There is a truly tremendous team of volunteers and Jonathan has a job with fantastic potential as he brings the army together!

It's all go at BLOODHOUND – there are truly tremendous possibilities. We are right in the middle of times of great change - but we have to survive the next 20 months. Life might become a bit easier once we have rolled out the BLOODHOUND SSC We are all up for it and we know it's most unlikely to be a comfortable experience – what a really great team and what tremendous potential for Britain!

Richard Noble

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