13 December 2011
Richard Noble's Bloodhound Project diary
Late again! Very late again! Apologies! I last updated in August and Nick Chapman has just sent me a third email prod. Tonight (December 5th) is a very good night – first of all I am up to date with work (it doesn't happen very often) and second, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy appear to be settling their differences and pulling together to provide real leadership in Euroland.
On Friday 9th, David Cameron let loose the veto and now Britain is in a Eurocategory of one. We all hope that however the cards are dealt, this strange result will encourage greater stability and easier trading conditions as we fight our way through the Bloodhound build. But Europe is going to take many years of austerity to sort.
Bloodhound is growing fast on a wide number of fronts – and as we all know growth is painful particularly when the Bloodhound team is committed to remaining small. All the extra earnings have to go to the engineering team - we have to get Bloodhound SSC built and get the car onto its wheels for roll out in December 2012. At the moment we are OK and on track but it's not looking as good as we would prefer, we haven't been able to expand the engineering team as fast as we would like partly because of finance, but particularly because it's been difficult to find skilled engineers. Mark Chapman will tell you that to find a good mechanical engineer he has to review 60 applicants. I was amazed by this until Tim Routsis of Cosworth explained his problem – to get a good apprentice he has to interview 80. Apparently the Red Bull people are suffering as well, so even winning Formula1 doesn't give you a pass for the easy ride.
But this doesn't hide the sheer scale of the Bloodhound need – we have to have more engineers as soon as we can to drive through the workload; it's ironic that we are dedicated to creating a new generation of engineers and yet, small as we are, we are suffering from the national shortage. We hope to get over much of this with design and make contracts where third party contractors design and manufacture Bloodhound parts.
But things are happening on a truly massive scale – the Bloodhound Education team now have 4,800 schools signed (that's thought to be around 1.8m school kids) and in October we launched the Bloodhound Education Centre in Bristol with a huge launch in conjunction with our friends and landlords S&B Academy. This is an experiment – the idea is to create a local centre where schools can visit to learn about Bloodhound. A huge effort has been put in by Steve Lewis and Holly Papadopoulos to get it started. One of the key elements of this is 3D printing where it will be possible to reproduce scaled parts of Bloodhound in 3D plastic to see how it all works. And we are off to a good start – the schools and colleges are coming.
Andy Green has just returned from a 10 days visit to South Africa on an IMechE tour where the reception has been dramatic in terms of enthusiasm and numbers. Andy reports that the Hakskeen Pan causeway road has been deleted and 2/3rds of the 24 million square metres have had stones removed. The Northern Cape Government have been executing daily miracles on a biblical scale. They now are calling for the first operational planning meeting on December 13 and Martyn Davidson is on his way to represent us.
Dave Rowley meanwhile has taken a life changing decision and moved to South Africa to start promoting Bloodhound education. This coincided with Andy Green's tour and already Dave is swamped with work. The South African response to all this is extremely encouraging.
One aspect of all this is very noticeable, over the last months the Bloodhound team have settled down into a mature and steady organisation pushing hard to get Bloodhound onto its wheels in December and the education development progressing strongly. Andy and I were discussing this last night following the December Engineering Design Meeting – the organisation is getting very strong, cohesive and very steady.
In Bristol, the design team has been pushing on steadily – the rear subframe design is now complete and more drawings are appearing for manufacture. We have finalised the aero shape of the Bloodhound nose following a massive CFD programme, according to Ron Ayers, we now have the aero work sorted and the car defined with the exception of the winglets which is the next task. It's been a long, long drawn out aero programme using advanced software and huge computing resource. Every month I have been asking 'Are we nearly there yet?' And the answer has always been 'Give it another month!'. But now we have got there, we have used the best resource available, we know what we are doing and with all this advanced modelling we have tested all the variations and tremendously reduced risk.
Conor and I were at an amazing meeting recently with our composites sponsors Advanced Composites Group where after 18 months of elaborate discussion the Managing Director said the magic words – 'We'll just go ahead and do it!' The emotion in situations like this is extraordinarily tangible – after all the fight, the gamble, the persuasion, the endless hopeful suggestions and internal promises, the big man just says yes! Stuart Allan our composites designer started immediately and has spearheaded a huge advance in the composites engineering – we'll be seeing the first parts very soon.
In November, the Royal Academy of Engineers triumphantly announced the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering complete with a full house of political endorsement. £1m for teams of up to three awarded every two years and starting in Spring 2013. Assuming a 5% return then, there must have been a capital investment of £10m plus in order to cover the cost of the award and the huge costs of entry evaluation and the promotion. A cynic would of course ask the question – does this really help the shortage of quality engineers?
We believe the problem lies in the schools engagement and in particular the primary schools. Are we going to see a school win the £1m QE prize? Probably not. Will the prize be awarded for the most up to date innovative and disruptive engineering technology – we all hope so! (It's always so safe and comfortable for the prizegivers to reward the old performers). Could the money be better spent with a Bloodhound-like grass roots team working its way doggedly through hundreds of school presentations every year? We'll see - let's hope the Academy makes a big success of this and this really does influence the core of the problem - the national shortage of quality engineers. Let's hope they have this right!
And make no mistake they have to have it right – because the stakes are very high indeed. That Institution has a huge responsibility and this is no featherweight game. At Rolls-Royce they have to expand the company by 100% in order to cope with the massive order book - and they need a steady supply of very high quality engineers. As Bloodhound develops (we are now in 217 countries) we are beginning to get a perspective of what is going on in other countries - huge levels of STEM activity in Brazil, Turkey and in almost any country you care to name. The politicians realise that there are only three ways out of the financial mess – austerity, inflation or growth. Most would prefer the latter which is the least destructive and for that they need to export – and for export they need the engineers - and in large numbers.
At risk of labouring all this, Engineering UK have just announced their report which seems to follow the Bloodhound lead where we are putting considerable effort into the primary schools. Engineering UK are calling for parents to encourage their 8 year old children to study physics and mathematics and state that by the time they are at working age, UK will have needed two million additional engineers. And Bloodhound seems to be having a solid influence – at the University of West of England their engineering intake is increasing at a record 30% a year.
In October, I was privileged to be invited by Sheikha Moza bint Nasser to present at her World Innovation Summit in Doha. This most impressive event with 1200 invitees was held the in new Doha Conference Centre – a huge beautiful building seemingly as large as any of the London Railway stations. The organisation was absolutely faultless. I sat in for as many presentations as I could, but far from being a conference dweller I had a real problem on my hands. Richard Knight had produced the most outstanding video sponsored by CISCO and Promethean.
We had started developing the video with the confidence of a professional scriptwriter but the fire wasn't there and a furious Richard took it away and wrote it himself. We asked Neil Armstrong if he would give us a few words to complete the film and Neil very kindly responded. The script truly is a masterpiece but the weakness was the presenter – it had been written for a Steve Jobs, presenting and synching to the video playing on a large screen behind. I got up to present to the WISE Focus Group, simultaneously pressed the start buttons on the laptop and the iPhone timer - and only the laptop started! This left me with a very high stress presentation and it should have been better. But the effect on the audience was truly electrifying – there was huge interest and much excitement.
A number of people told me that Bloodhound was the most innovative presentation at the WISE conference which tended to focus on delivery of education to third World countries in innovative ways rather than innovation in education development for first world countries. We have been rerecording the presentation for web use and I hope you can get a chance to view it soon. Also coming next is a truly amazing video on the Falcon/Cosworth rocket installation. Richard showed us work in progress at the December team meeting and we were all staggered by the animation which reaches new levels of perfection.
This brings us to rocketry. Frankly it's taken a long time and a huge effort to get the rocket system fully integrated with the Cosworth engine and pump. We had no idea it would take as long as it has. There are always difficult moments in the development of anything radical when you suddenly have doubts and have to return to first principles. In our case it was the gear ratios. The Cosworth F1 engine has a very precise torque curve - get the ratios wrong and the engine may never reach max BHP, just like getting the propeller wrong on a high performance powerboat.
I remember Ken Norris designer of Donald Campbell's CN-7 Bluebird car had an appalling sleepless night before the big media unveiling of the car in 1960 and its first run at Goodwood. He had managed to convince himself that once started the car would run backwards! And run backwards in front of the World's media- a truly terrible situation! Fortunately for Ken, all was well and Campbell and the car motored forwards to great acclaim. Well, we are now at a point with the Falcon rocket where we have all the systems together and wired up – and it's a complex beast with a huge effort put in by Dan Jubb, John Davis, Jerry Bliss and the team at Cosworth.
The hybrid has been fired before in Mojave but then at 30% power and then with a pressure fed system driving the HTP into the catalyst pack. We now need to prove that the catalyst pack can take an 800psi load from the pump with cold (monopropellant) firings before progressing to the hybrid firing. Of course doing this in Britain creates certain tensions because of the noise (25x that of jumbo jet) but we believe we have found the ideal test site. There is no point in telling you where – you'll hear it anyway!
In a world full of financial difficulty, it's important to get across to people the absolute need for change. The fact that the old business models are no longer working means that you have to change and try new ideas and ways of doing business. The important point is to change now and when the better times come, your business will be lifted with the rising tide, leaving those who didn't change with their cashflow at low tide levels.
I have often been asked for a description of the Bloodhound business so we came up with one: There are a number of key points to this – because we are financed by sponsorships and public donation, the company can take risk without upsetting traditional stakeholders like banks, venture capitalists, private shareholders etc. These are people and organisations that don't tend to have a history of innovation and so can become very worried by the risk levels that Bloodhound has to routinely live with. The public donation is incredibly important – public funding comes in at the rate of £300,000+ per annum and that demonstrates to would-be sponsors that the public are behind the project and that it is doing a worthwhile job, thus helping them make their decision to support the programme.
Public donation and merchandise sales are the critical leverage for the sponsorships.
The sponsorships are all about innovative and high profile applications of sponsors products. So often companies come up with new products, are then delighted to find a customer with a first application and then dismayed to find that the customer has no intention of promoting the application. With Bloodhound, we are an open project – and everything is public and that's deliberate – both for education and also for our sponsors. We make all the applications public!
As a NASA journalist explained 'Richard you have invented a perpetual financial machine!'
Over the last months we have been working with The Manufacturer magazine which intends to give regular coverage to Conor La Grue and his huge programme to get all the parts made. The Manufacturer team are hosting small dinners around the country and the ones I have been to have been fascinating. The Manufacturers are busy, very busy and wondering what happens next because the banks are not being particularly helpful (it doesn't help if you are about to lose a fortune to dodgy Euro debt) and finding new skills for expansion is a massive problem. At the dinners, no one can remember times quite like this. Key to the Bloodhound build programme are the Design and Make deals where we are inviting companies to detail design and manufacture Bloodhound parts ... and a number of companies are stepping forward.
Back on the education front, we are seeing a new development. At a presentation recently I was asked whether we could schedule the team to do an in depth education month in an entire county which would mean presenting Bloodhound to some 12,000 school kids.
This is a completely new approach and very quickly we had sponsors showing interest in doing the same with another seven counties. At a recent lunch in London I was asked whether the Bloodhound Education Team could spend a month in Poland! We are starting to see an amazing trend developing and I quote from a letter from a college principal: It's important to understand that none of this could be achieved without the help and support of our volunteer ambassadors who not only support the project at exhibitions but also have been trained to present Bloodhound in schools – and we need another 200! It's just a contribution of 24 working hours per annum.
If this is for you please contact Jonathan Ellis immediately.
It's clear now that to meet demand we need to double up the education and logistics team and finance another show car.
The pressures have also been showing on our brilliant logistics sponsors G&J Lockwood – the rapid expansion of Bloodhound has caught us all out and the huge logistics commitment has started to affect Graham Lockwood's business – tying up his transport trucks and drivers on an ever increasing scale. Fortunately our good friends Rossetts Commercials, who kindly sponsor our Mercedes Sprinter event van have come forward with the loan of a large Mercedes tractor unit ,which will release Graham's trucks for more profitable work.
The articulated truck is now on the road 3-4 days out of five and it's getting recognition on the roads as more and people study the Bloodhound project. We are looking for logistics donors who can have their personal or corporate name on the Bloodhound trailer for two years- which will be very helpful in offsetting costs.
My old friend Craig Breedlove is now active again – planning a huge twin J-79 powered jet car for 2013. As usual Craig will produce the most beautiful vehicle and his performance will demonstrate whether the Bloodhound team got the rocket and jet concept right in order to reduce intake drag! Let's hope it travels in a straight line this time, Craig !!
Bloodhound is not going to conveniently back off for Christmas - the pace is very tough now; there is a massive workload and we will be running rocket tests over the holiday as we play catch up with the rocket programme. It's also a good opportunity to think through the next project stages and to replan where necessary.
I am really proud to be a part of this team; it's pulling together really well and tremendous things are happening. The Bloodhound car is a masterpiece of advanced engineering - and it's going to be on its wheels in December 2012. We increased our 2010 turnover by 65% in very difficult trading conditions and we need to increase by another 40%+ for 2013.
Happy Christmas to all our 1K Club members supporters and friends who got us this far. It's been a very tough long haul requiring tremendous levels of personal and corporate commitment. We are on the growth curve now, much of the engineering and almost all of the research is behind us and we are going to learn a great deal from 2012. But 40% is going to be Hell's tough.
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