Richard Noble's Bloodhound Project diary

Richard Knight had chosen October 23rd at the London Science Museum for launch day back in August.

The idea was not only to stage a launch for media, sponsors and guests, but to create a mini-exhibition during half term – the Museum's busiest time. We wanted to show that when we said The BLOODHOUND Project was open and inclusive, we really meant it!

BLOODHOUND SSC car at the press launchBecause the Museum opens its door at 10.00am, the launch had to kick off at 08:30am which meant a start on site at 5.00am The entire effort had taken two months to prepare with masses of material written for the 1K club News, BLOODHOUND poster and for the web. The writing became a real effort as every spare minute of every day was needed and all the output needed to be checked and organised. We had been working on technology research for the car up till then- now suddenly we had to have new systems, skills and disciplines in place, while still developing the business, increasing the cashflow and taking on new staff as we ramp up towards car build.

Of course in theory, it should have been easy, but BLOODHOUND has a totally different and unknown dimension to ThrustSSC – it's all about education, whereas ThrustSSC was about publicity for the sponsors. There is a great deal more to BLOODHOUND than there ever was for ThrustSSC – and a great deal more to go wrong or attract informed and emotional criticism. We were launching BLOODHOUND on the unsuspecting public in the teeth of a recession and at a time when the focus was environmental concern. Would the project be dismissed as irrelevant – a team of gung- ho Edwardian racers transposed into the next century producing the most powerful car the World has ever seen? How would the education establishment view this – would they see the projects prime education objective as mere cover to provide reason for producing another land speed record car when we already hold the first supersonic record ?

Richards plan was very ambitious - the launch would take place in the Wellcome Wing of the Science Museum in London. Representatives from the different parts of the team would speak including teacher Samantha Brown from Darwen with her class of 12 children who had been trialling BLOODHOUND education material, and Lord Drayson, now Minister of Science, opening proceedings with an 10 minute long introductory speech.

At key points in our presentation specially created films would be shown – a scene setting piece at the beginning and the now famous 'BLOODHOUND SSC bullet' film at the end (click here to see the film).

There were serious logistics difficulties too in creating the BLOODHOUND SSC display: the big 18inch diameter 14ft rocket motor had to be ferried down from Manchester; the first of our EJ200 engines, weighing 1 ton, transported from RAF Coningsby; the V12 engine fuel pump had to be cleaned up and trucked over from Oxford. Would the UWE manufactured BLOODHOUND model be ready in time? Could we even get this stuff in through the door!?

While coordinating the set-up of these important pieces of kit, the Mission 21 team was also chasing delivery of posters, the education leaflets and the 1K club booklets – copy deadlines had been broken and there was doubt about whether they would arrive in time for launch. As it was, press pack materials arrived at midnight and a desperate dash to stuff packs ensued.

But there was a deeper worry – would anyone from the media actually turn up at that ungodly hour? Were we making a classic mistake by kicking off too early just because we had to complete before the Museum opened its doors? Over the last 18 months we had managed to keep the project secret and though we estimate that a thousand people knew of the project, no one had leaked it to the media. Now that we needed to brief the media in full would they show the remotest interest? Even worse there was no time for rehearsal – we would have to wing it. The risks were stacking up alarmingly and there was little we could do about it – other than just go for it and hope that the train didn't leave the rails!

Donald Campbell had a press launch go seriously wrong which directly affected the rest of his life. In 1964 he had achieved the incredible double, both the Land Speed record and the water speed record – both in Australia and in the same year. He returned to Britain a year or so later and held a press conference with the Bluebird CN-7 car , Bluebird K-7 boat and a mock up of his CN- 8 rocket car. Something went wrong and the results were not good, resulting in the shelving of the rocket car project and the re-enginging of the 11 year old Bluebird boat as a low cost option to keep the Campbell flag flying.

Andy Green To further complicate matters, Mission21 had arranged for GMTV to do a series of live broadcasts from the Museum throughout the morning leading up to the launch. Potentially great for publicity – and a nice piece of theatre for the hundreds of guests who would be there to see TV being 'made' in front of them – this also meant that any last minute disasters might end up being beamed live to the nation!

8am: suddenly the media were coming through the museum doors – hundreds of them! Our space in the Wellcome filled up – and still they came until the place was overcrowded. Lord Drayson climbed on to the presenters soapbox – I was amazed at his speech – this wasn't just another Minister making qualified encouraging statements and choosing his words – Paul Drayson was really going for it - stating our case in the most enthusiastic language. He spoke for 12 minutes setting the scene and the tempo. This was quite something!

Andy Green, now labelled by Richard Knight as the Worlds fastest Mathematician, did a superb job – very focussed and speaking very clearly and concisely. He was followed by Ben Evans our CFD aerodynamicist with media star genes who took the journos through the aerodynamics and complexities of CFD with the ease passion and enthusiasm of an excited veteran presenter. Now we were moving away from safe ground – and onto education. Kate Bellingham our BET ambassador was in her element and right back in the Tomorrow's World studio – her sheer professionalism was outstanding. She interviewed Samantha and the kids who had been working on a primary BLOODHOUND programme in Lancashire. One of the 6-year-olds explained that his prototype car had failed to satisfy and the power had to be boosted by adding another rubber band ! He is obviously headed in our direction !!!

Andy Green and Richard ArmstrongBy this stage the journos had been on their feet for the better part of an hour – they had to – we hadn't provided chairs! I was worried: if they were getting restless, our next speaker Annie Berresford might get a tough reception. Annie had just joined the project and I had no idea what to expect. I needn't have been concerned for we had yet another star. Hers was a very passionate and personal performance-and absolutely flawless. The audience was absolutely still with rapt attention right until the end.

The launch wrapped and immediately press, TV, radio and web teams all wanted words and pictures. Andy was mobbed by a party of school kids. It seemed everyone in a BLOODHOUND shirt was being interviewed. The feedback was fantastic – everything we'd hoped it would be. The BLOODHOUND Project really has struck a chord.

This feeling was confirmed a few days later when the Science Museum informed us that circa 9,000 people had visited our mini-exhibition during the five days we were there – an incredible number. After all the months of secrecy the team were delighted to meet the public and chat openly about the project. The public reception was outstanding and exceeded anything we had ever experienced.

For most of us the event had started two months earlier and with such a small team the extra workload had been massive, with sleep a highly desirable option. Together as a team we had carried off a very high risk press launch in very difficult times. As John Piper said 'We've got one Hell of a team here!'

The results were amazing – the part completed website ran 350,000 pages, the YouTube videos ran 138,000 viewings and the value of the conventional exposure was measured at £2m AVE. The first BLOODHOUND 1K club member joined within seconds of the website going live and donated £250.

John Piper was absolutely right.

Now we have to build the BLOODHOUND SSC.

Richard Noble

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