Looking back on Thrust2by Rob Widdows on 4th October 2013
If the BBC was to make a situation comedy based on the activities of Mr Richard Noble it would surely be called Absolutely Fantastic, or 'Ab Fan'. In Noble's world pretty much everything is 'absolutely fantastic' and this gives you a major clue as to his extraordinary achievements.
Today is the 30th anniversary of perhaps his greatest to date. On October 4, 1983 he brought the World Land Speed record back to Great Britain. To achieve this had long been a personal obsession and it truly was... well, absolutely fantastic. I should know, I was there, and it was into my microphone that he uttered the now immortal phrase "for Britain and the hell of it," in response to my question 'why did you do this?'
Last night, on BBC Television, the documentary coverage of Noble and his team in the Black Rock desert in Nevada was shown yet again. I wish I had a penny for every time this has been aired. I even saw it playing on a TV in a shop window in Shanghai a few years ago.
It was a beautiful day in the desert and the morning air was thick with anticipation. John Ackroyd, the man who designed Noble's Thrust2 jet-powered car, was moved to describe conditions for a record run as perfect. And that, coming from him, had been rare during the previous few weeks. There had been setbacks, among them engine gremlins, a lack of power, wet weather and the irritating problems that go with trying to drive a car across a desert at more than 600mph. So, as Noble released the brakes, unleashed the power, and headed for the horizon there was an almost tangible tension in the air. Through the measured mile he streaked, leaving behind him a huge cloud of dust through which we saw the parachute safely deploy. The speed was good but the record is measured over two runs, so back he came, faster this time, going through the mile at an average of just over 633mph and clinching a new world record.
"Absolutely fantastic," he enthused, grinning from ear to ear and jumping up and down on the hot desert. " From zero to 300 the car was sliding around a lot under power, that kept me busy, then from 300 to 500 was a bit boring, like a Sunday drive, but then it got pretty exciting. Towards 600 you get a sonic wave over the nose and the cockpit, like a fierce white fog, and that's amazing, you see every detail as if in slow motion because you've trained for this for years. Then, when you slow down from peak speed, it feels like you're going to drive straight down into the centre of the earth. The de-acceleration is brutal, the g-forces unbelievable, but then once you're down to 400 it feels like you can get out and walk."
Absolutely fantastic, a hell of an achievement by a small and dedicated team of talented people who never gave any thought to giving up. Tomorrow this team, collectively known as Thrusters, will be re-united with Thrust 2 in Coventry where they will celebrate their anniversary with a slap-up lunch and a few glasses of champagne. Sadly, I cannot be there tomorrow, but Noble and his Thrusters will be very much in my mind. And, you can be sure, the tiny community of Gerlach in the Black Rock desert will drink a toast to the crazy Brits who rode into town and rode away with a world record.
Cheers Thrusters! And on we go with Bloodhound. Absolutely fantastic!