Richard Noble's Bloodhound Project diary

I failed to get the September blog together in good time, and Nick Chapman is not pleased again – we're into November, and here's the October report!

It's not for want of trying or lack of efficiency on my part, it's just the huge backbreaking task of building up BLOODHOUND which means that everything that brings in money or advances or sorts the organisation has to be prioritised. We have to change BLOODHOUND considerably as we thrash through the next stages of the project, always respecting that John Piper and the engineers have to be given a clear, unrestricted and well financed run to get the BLOODHOUND SSC built.

Got more work to be done? Well, at this stage we can't increase the headcount, so everyone has to work harder. That can mean longer hours and less sleep, which of course, is not sustainable. The project pace is surprising everybody and that is because it is a flat organisation – the team is working really well together and pushing forward on every front. We have to get used to the fact that this is quite normal for BLOODHOUND and that everyone has to adapt their way of working to meet the pace.

There are some astonishing results – we can be critical of delays in the rocket programme, but Daniel Jubb and the team finally got the 18inch rocket fired at an initial 50% of the HTP flow and with the max thrust nozzle resulting in proof that the motor will run with steady combustion at these low thrust levels and demonstrating that the motor has the capability of reaching or even exceeding its 27,500lbs thrust target. Daniel takes great pleasure in explaining that it is the largest hybrid rocket ever created in Europe and that development has taken half the time of the Virgin Galactic rocket programme – and it has been funded by sponsorship!!

The number of schools on BLOODHOUND has risen to over 2,383 and it now looks as though this will approach 3,000 by the end of the year. 82 most welcome volunteers have come forward as BLOODHOUND Ambassadors and now we have to restructure the BET (Bloodhound Education Team) to meet the huge challenge ahead where demand vastly exceeds supply. As I write this on Sunday morning, Dave Rowley is in his car on the way over for the first planning session for the stage 2 plan.

Dave has some excellent news – the BET activity has been independently audited by the National Foundation for Education Research. This was commissioned by the Royal Academy of Engineering and paid for by them from the DCSF grant. The preliminary draft report is full of praise for what has been achieved and for the extraordinary pace (we'll put the full final report on the web as soon as we have it). And so it should – Dave and the BET team have made over 90 presentations and attendances in shows and there has been a huge level of 7 days a week commitment. It's quite clear that BLOODHOUND is starting to have a serious influence in education and there is a chance that we really will have an effect on British engineering. Already Swansea and UWE Universities are seeing substantial increases in take up of graduate engineering courses with UWE 37% up. How much of this is due to BLOODHOUND? Well, I guess we'll never really know but both Universities acknowledge that there is a BLOODHOUND Effect.

Down at Bristol, JP and the engineers are flogging through the CFD parametric studies to optimise the back end of the car. We are not quite there in terms of the final shape at the back end as we are getting high Mach Number flow separation. The huge additional Intel computing capacity means we can crack through 4 studies per day. Tim Hatch from Intel explained that the team are now using the entire massive Intel capacity and soon I hope we'll break through into calm waters ahead. As ever with this project, it is all about pioneering – there is absolutely no precedent, nothing to go on – the only viable process is to design a car version – run it through the extensive CFD - get unsatisfactory results and then repeat the process multiple times until we get success. This is why we are coming up to Config 10 – the car has been redesigned to varying degrees nine times. There will probably be a few more Configs before we finally finish, but after Config 10 the changes will be small and probably just minor detail.

So the plan is to build the car in 20 months – the sequence being to finalise the design, put the parts out to manufacture and then assemble them. Planned rollout is March 2011 with first record runs in June 2011. The budgeted cost is £6.5m and the money has to be made and spent in that time. But first we need a home for the project. The team has voted for Bristol and we have a building allocated, but for some reason which I don't understand, it appears to be taking weeks to actually get into the building. We are all finding this incredibly frustrating. This is very much the flavour of the BLOODHOUND project – it advances fast and slickly on a very wide number of fronts until it depends on third party decision making – and then the critical path extends at huge cost while the third party makes its decision, often wading through treacle in the process. The secret is to avoid too much dependency on third party decision making. Of course it's easy to believe that the project would be easier and less stressful if we were simply able to buy our way around problems and difficulties. Well we don't have that sort of funding and I believe we actually have a better project with better teamwork because we have to fight every stage. Lord Kelvin once made the point: 'We don't have the money so we have to think!'

On that subject, I remember the Mach meter story on ThrustSSC. The Mach meter is a cockpit instrument which measures the air speed and relates it to the speed of sound (Mach 1). The instrument has two air pressure feeds – one, the dynamic, is fed from the thin needle probe on the nose, and the other is a reference pressure called the static. On an aircraft the static is usually a small hole positioned on the aircraft fuselage at a point where the pressure is reasonably constant through the speed range, which is important because the static is used by the instrument as the reference pressure. We had problems positioning the static on ThrustSSC. An American aerospace company offered to sort the problem at a cost of $168,000 and three months. At ThrustSSC, we had neither, and so the problem went back to the design team. They solved it by lunchtime using a small tap and a vacuum flask – Cost? $50! I know we'll see a lot more of that innovation on BLOODHOUND SSC.

Can we actually do this project? You have to ask the key question at regular intervals just to make sure that we are not deluding everyone and wasting precious resource. The answer from my perspective is yes we can – but not without a massive fight. Just to give you background, towards the end of last month I found myself in Florida for a day or two to speak at the gathering of
the American Manufacturing and Tool Association. I had made the commitment to a sponsor 12 months ago and now it was time for delivery. The conference was attended by a wide range of Presidents and senior executives – as the event unfolded it became clear that many of the companies turnovers were down by more than 60%, while their competitors, the Chinese, have positive GDP growth at 8% (but from a smaller base). Quite how a manufacturing company survives in a viable form when losing 50% of turnover baffles me – but this is what is happening. In Britain, the politicians seem to be promising great times ahead for 2010, but few people I work with expect this. Many argue that the country hasn't changed sufficiently. With all the large public sector cuts planned, the whole British population is in for a very tough time.

The 1K club is doing well. We are now over 2,000 paid up members in just 12 months, this compares well with the ThrustSSC Mach 1 club which by the time we finished, ran to just over 5,000 members. Together with the merchandise sales at events and from the internet, the club has generated over £130,000 of revenue, which has been essential in keeping the project running. Again now that we are progressing to build, we need to hold many more 1K club days so that we can maintain our standards for the growing membership. We are behind with the second edition of the 1K Club News booklet but that goes to print next week. I have just bought one of Ian's brilliant 1K jackets complete with BLOODHOUND insignia and STP badging. He tells me he wears his all the time and takes orders wherever he goes … so we have to keep him on the move!

Ian Glover and I are worried about the growing membership numbers and how we are going to service the club members. We may have to limit the numbers in the 1K club otherwise we'll find it very difficult to service the large numbers.

During the last days in October, we managed to bring together the Financial Sponsors (sponsors bringing finance to the project and with rights to advertising on Bloodhound). The four hour meeting went well and we are going to see a number of radical new initiatives develop. In the course of preparing the reports, I realised that we had actually passed the £2M total spend mark. To deliver the mature design of the car and roll out and establish a considerable national education programme on this sort of money is a huge team achievement. But this is dwarfed by what we have to achieve now.

So what is to happen in November? Well, we'll see the Design Team positioned in the Bristol building and we need to brief the sponsors on the entire programme, so a briefing day is to be set aside in late November. We need to explain in detail how the project is planned and how the sponsors can make the best of their sponsorship. Often we have found with sponsorships that the sponsors themselves often miss the big promotional opportunities and we need to coach and make them aware of the considerable potential – which of course will run for three years at least. This is particularly important for the Product Sponsors who are mainly manufacturing or engineering companies and have limited experience of sponsorship. The other key point is that the Sponsors will have an opportunity to meet each other and the networking opportunities among the 166 companies could be hugely valuable.

We also have to complete the BET Restructure and get the BET replanned for the next phase – which means a focus on education delivery. This is going to be tough; the education World moves slowly whilst BLOODHOUND is likely to be around for only three more years – so we have to move fast. It's crucially important that we learn how the teachers are employing BLOODHOUND material and what exactly they need. It is also crucially important that the hard pressed teachers communicate with us and tell us how they are getting on with BLOODHOUND! I was concerned that without feedback from the schools, the teachers might not really be using their involvement. In fact we have heard of many schools putting large numbers of pupils through BLOODHOUND derived programmes and already there are early results. Best not to take it from me but to read it in the NFER audit report when we publish next month.

So BLOODHOUND has made it through to November. The pressures on every part of the project are very great and we'll all be relieved when we have the design team in their new building. For once BLOODHOUND will cease to become a virtual company and have a physical base.

That's just a small start … and there's a very long way to go.

Richard Noble

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