Great Britain's world-class aircraft
industry needed to extend its engineering expertise by intensifying
apprentice training programmes. Within the great names of British
aviation was the Saunders-Roe Company who produced advanced aeroplanes
from their base at Cowes
on the Isle of Wight. There, the apprenticeship scheme was extended
and a residential centre was established in order to attract
candidates from the mainland.
residential nature of the training at Saunders-Roe engendered a
'college' culture, which, combined with the innovative spirit, which
prevailed at the time, created a very remarkable environment for
encouraging engineering achievement.
engineers dispersed all over the world and made a significant and
valuable contribution to aviation. Some of the names that were trained
at the Saunders-Roe Training College include former Chief Executive of
GKN Aerospace, Chris Gustar; and John Ackroyd, designer of Thrust
2, which secured the world's land speed record.
Company was absorbed into Westland Aircraft in 1965 as part of the
consolidation of the British helicopter group. If you are an
ex-apprentice of the Saunders-Roe scheme, see this website: www.saroapprentices.co.uk
Noble sold his TR6 car for cash to fund his self built, crude
THRUST1 jet car- the first pure jet car designed and built in England.
Thrust 1's first test run nearly killed him when the car rolled. His
wife, Sally, thought she had lost him forever. But Richard was
surprised that he did not panic and was determined to get on and build
Thrust2 as soon as possible. He then decided to place an advert:
"Wanted 650 mph car designer".
advert found John Ackroyd and by 1978 they started building the car.
In 1980 Thrust2 created 6 new British
records including the Flying Mile of 248.87 mph. Overcoming
various design, sponsor and location problems, Thrust2 eventually took
the world record averaging 633.468mph, with a peak speed of 650.88mph.
This record was held for 14 years, the second longest, for a land
speed record, of all time.
McGlashen has just announced his intention to go for the 900mph
record. Currently the fastest Australian,
with a record of 642mph with the Aussie Invader 2, McGlashen is
working a deal with SpaceDev, the same company that was integral in
the recently successful SpaceShipOne shot last June. This image is of
his concept car designed by
John "Ackers" Ackroyd of the Isle of Wight.
McGlashan is looking to drive the fastest car on Earth - strangely
enough, synthetic rubber and laughing gas could be the ticket.
After seeing X-Prize winner SpaceShipOne, McGlashan, "The fastest
Aussie on Earth," wondered if rocket motors could propel him up
to speeds of 1,609 km/h. So he called up SpaceDev, the company who
provided the rocket motor technology for the world's first
private-sector astronaut mission. He also enlisted the help of John
"Ackers" Ackroyd, the designer of 1983's
land-speed-record-breaking car Thrust 2. They came up a wingless
rocket-powered jet fighter on wheels.
INVADER . COM
INVADER 2 (1989 - 1997)
holder of the Australian Land
Speed Record set at Lake Gairdner SA
at 802 km/hr
- 18,000 lbs thrust
- 36,000 horsepower
- Max speed 608 mph
SSC and THRUST 3
design for Thrust 3 - on the drawing board as part of the project from
the very earliest days - was shelved when Thrust 2 was deemed good
enough to get the job done. Whether or not it ever gets built will
depend largely on the efforts of Rosco McGlashan and Craig Breedlove
with their jet cars. Until then, sponsorship money is likely to stay
very firmly in company accounts.
Richard and John got the world record with Thrust 2, although they
wanted to build another car and looked at a number of ways of doing
it. But they were worried by a number of things. One was the question
of what actually happened underneath the car. They thought Thrust 2
could have gone about Mach 0.1, (about seven miles / eleven km an
hour) faster, before the front of the car would start lifting.
Obviously, the margin of safety was too small at that speed.
and Richard kept talking, and kept seeing each other for a while
exchanging ideas, but it just wasn't going to gel. Then John had
to do some design work for Richard Branson's and the round the world
balloon project, leaving Thrust 3 in mid-air.
INVADER WLSR ROCKET CAR
Invader World Land Speed Challenge team headed by the 'Fastest Aussie
on Earth', Rosco McGlashan OAM, are building their new Land Speed
featuring 300,000 horses of LOX / JP5 rocket power.
unique design by project engineers and designers Dr Ian Sutherland and
John Akroyd shows that Aussie Invader 5R (R for rocket) will be much
larger than the jet powered Aussie Invader 2 and 3 Land Speed Record
accommodate the fuel cells required it is being built at over 55 feet
and almost 10 feet in tailfin height.
Invader Rocket Car
NOVA: Tell us, John, what is your official title on this
ACKROYD: Well, I'm not a believer in titles. I'm a believer in
what people do. If I had a title, it would probably be
NOVA: Okay. And what exactly as Engineer, are you doing on this
ACKROYD: Well, engineering starts with—the real background
for the project starts with making the machinery, the flying machine.
And the next job is to launch the flying machine. And the third job is
to bring it and the people back safely.
NOVA: And you're involved in all three of those processes?
NOVA: Can you explain for us—What is a De Rozier system?
A De Rozier system is a mixture between a gas balloon and a hot air
balloon. In other words on a long flight, every day in the heat of the
sun, the gas expands, becomes comparatively lighter, and the balloon
wants to go up. Every night, the gas contracts, becomes comparatively
more dense and the balloon wants to go down. And the way to iron out
these ups and downs is to warm the air beneath the helium to gain
extra lift at night. And that is basically the De Rozier system. It's
a very old system, used by De Rozier, way back in the last century
and, unfortunately, he used it with hydrogen, which was all he had,
and it was an explosive mix and poor De Rozier became, I think, the
first man to lose his life in a balloon. But we use helium, which is a
nice, inert, safe gas.
Is it a double balloon system, then?
ACKROYD: It is a compound balloon system. A double balloon
system would, perhaps apply more to the Earthwinds type of system,
which had a helium balloon on top and an air ballast balloon
underneath. What we've got is a helium balloon in a bottle over the
top of a hot air cone and the hot air cone heats the helium, which
gives it extra lift at the cost of fuel.
And what do you mean, "at the cost of fuel"?
ACKROYD: Well, it means that to fly a De Rozier balloon, you
have to carry a penalty and that penalty is propane in our case, which
heats the air, which heats the helium, which keeps the balloon up.
NOVA: Which means that you will have a heavier payload?
ACKROYD: We're carrying a higher payload, yes. We're carrying
fuel. And that is what this test program we're now entering into is
very much about. How much fuel will we need to carry? How fast will we
be burning it? Will we have fuel left over that we can use for
ballast? Will we burn a bit out of each tank or will be burn a
complete tank empty and drop it? So that will give us the formula on
how best to use our fuel. And, in fact, we may be able to learn that
we can use fuel for ballast as well as lift. So it can work a double
NOVA: Do you think this system has a better chance of success
than Fossett's solo system? I understand he's using a De Rozier and
there are obviously different variables because he's flying solo and
he's flying at a lower altitude. From your perspective, which De
Rozier has a better chance?
Well, really, the three major systems that are currently being
investigated—in fact, there's four—the De Rozier is one and this
seems the middle of the road system. It worked well on the Atlantic
balloon race. It seems at the moment to be the fashionable solution,
though there are other things around. One can use a super pressure
balloon, which keeps a constant pressure altitude, but if you burst
that balloon, you're in big trouble. And we saw an actual super
pressure envelope burst with the Earthwinds project, but, fortunately,
that was a ballast balloon and not the lift balloon. For a lift
balloon to burst is a serious problem. So I just hate the situation.
So we're going with De Rozier, the same as Steve
The big difference between ours and Steve's is that he's going to fly
a low altitude attempt and we'll fly a higher jet stream altitude.
There are three altitudes which one could attempt this 'round the
world. There's the very, very high Odyssey-type balloon, which goes
way up to 100,000 feet—fantastic height, and will then fly with jet
streams or upper altitude streams going in the opposite direction from
jet stream flights, which go from west to east. They would go in the
opposite direction and they would slowly descend, hopefully circling
the world as they go. This is a very extreme, innovative kind of
attempt and to come back to ours, it's the middle of the road.
We will try to fly with the jet stream. We've done it before, we've
got a lot of experience in it and it seems to me that that is the
rapid fast way around the world. Above the air in the fastest streams
with the technology we already know.
is a low-altitude attempt and so he will be flying a simpler system
and simple is always good. He will have to use oxygen a lot more so it
will be uncomfortable and he will have to combat the weather, rather
than fly above it. And I think that will be very adventurous. I think
he'll have a lot of hard weather situations to get 'round, but he's a
very determined, accomplished, capable man and I wouldn't ever
underestimate his ability to go a long way at low altitude.
NOVA: What do you know of the fourth group?
ACKROYD: At the moment, there are no super pressure attempts
that I know of underway, really. Julian Knott was proposing one some
time ago, and in fact, he made a very long distance flight in
Australia with one, which was a pumpkin-shaped super pressure balloon.
But it seems to have died a bit of a natural death, maybe because of
the high risk involved.
Blast and the Hand of Fate by John Ackroyd
Terrace, Low Fell, Gateshead,
& Wear, NE9 6DE United Kingdom
Tel: 044(0) 191 230 4414
Fax: 044(0) 191 487 5359
the team that wants to launch out of the Swiss Alps?
ACKROYD: That is the Piccard attempt, sponsored by the Swiss
watch maker, Breitling,
and that is another De Rozier balloon and, as far as I know, it's
similar in concept to Steve Fossett's.
NOVA: Our mission, as you know, is science and technology. What
kinds of technical and educational background does one need to do what
I think you have to understand several fronts. One is the basic
physics of ballooning or aerostatics, which is based on things like
Boyles' law and expansion of gases and change of gas with temperature
and pressure and also, of course, there was—apart from the physics
of it—there is the technical aspect of building a balloon itself
which is materials testing, welding, what are the best materials, what
are the solar properties of retaining and transmitting heat.
on top of that, then, there is the general engineering for building a
capsule, which is basically firmer dynamics, we're going to run
engines, we're going to gain heat, we're going to pressurize the
capsule, it comes into survival systems, life support systems,
floatation systems, and keeping the pilots alive, keeping the burners
and engines—pressurization engines running, and, of course, there's
a huge natural geographic element here because we will be really
fighting the elements. Mother Nature—one would need a good
understanding of the geography of the world, which I think would be
interesting to people.
this flight, we'll be flying across all sorts of countries. We're
flying in the air. The air is an interesting medium in its own right.
It changes temperature, it changes pressure, it's subject to weather,
it's subject to moving air streams, which, once again, I think is a
very educational element and we learn an enormous amount, just being
associated with it. We're learning about the world we live in.
NOVA: You've been involved in another global ballooning
attempt, of course, and Richard and Per's past record-breaking
flights. What do you see as the largest limiting factor—the biggest
obstacle—to these flights?
Well, really, I think you can't miss the biggest concern. The concerns
of all these projects are man, machine and the elements. You have to
have the crew right, you have to have the machine right, you also have
to have the elements right as well. Because without all three being
right, both in concept, and in detail, you won't succeed. And without
the right people and the right flying machine, you cannot succeed. But
even if you have the right people and the right flying machine, you
may not succeed if the elements stack against you. So I think you
can't ignore 'em.
NOVA: With this project, as with all others, when you're
working on designing a system from scratch, do you begin with drawings
or do you start with a system that already exists? Where do you begin?
Well, I think, really, as an engineer, one is not really an inventor.
And I think we haven't invented a system here. All of it is really
development of previous ideas. It's very difficult to come up with
something that hasn't been thought of before. But new materials are
developed and new knowledge is developed, but it is based on old, well
proven ideas and I think this particular attempt is very much the
development of existing technology, rather than new technology.
you're finding new things in the existing technology. For example, an
around the world balloon flight has never been done before. We're
starting from the basic fact that no manned balloon has ever flown in
the jet stream for more than—what is it—five days? And so, to go
beyond that, there are some unknown variables.
ACKROYD: There certainly are, but—I mean, very much what
we're doing is building upon the foundations we have and taking them
further. And with that step, a lot of work with this one has gone into
the balloon because the balloon itself is the key to extending the
duration. The capsule is very much the same technology, but just a
little bigger and a little better equipped to make the longer flight
more bearable. But really, the balloon technology is what we've been
concentrating on for two reasons. One is that we will still only be
able to carry a limited amount of fuel so we have to be more efficient
with our fuel burn to make it 'round the world. And I think Leon (Eversfield,
the Special Projects Engineer for Virgin Global
Challenger) will tell you about the efforts that have gone
into this balloon to make it more fuel efficient to give it that range
to give it the safety, durability and range that we're looking for.
Blast and the Hand of Fate by John Ackroyd
Terrace, Low Fell, Gateshead,
& Wear, NE9 6DE United Kingdom
Tel: 044(0) 191 230 4414
Fax: 044(0) 191 487 5359
How do you calculate the amount of lift needed for a system like this?
ACKROYD: Well, basically, the system is very, very simple but
the refinement is where the trick lies, as always. And simply, one
cubic meter of helium, very approximately, lifts one kilogram of
weight. So if we can work out how much we have to lift, the weight of
the capsule, the fuel, the people, the ballast, the food, the water,
and the balloon envelope, itself, then we can work out how big the
balloon has to be to lift this load. And our load is approximately ten
tons and we have approximately just over a million cubic feet of
And Leon, I'm sure, will explain in greater detail the niceties of
this, which, as we've said, depend on the temperature and the flying
environment, a bit. And we always have an ability to expand because,
as the balloon goes up, so, the air around it gets thinner and the
balloon will expand. So we don't take off with a full balloon. If we
are going up into an atmosphere which is only a third as dense as down
here on earth, we will only fill the balloon one third. Because as it
goes up, the air will get thinner and fill the other two thirds of the
balloon. So the balloon, in actual fact changes in its shape as it
What kinds of
communications equipment will be on board?
ACKROYD: Well, I think the first thing to address is why we
even carry it. And, of course, this is one of the big safety
breakthroughs from the old balloonists who would disappear into the
blue and no one would really know where they'd gone. But
communications is a really vital part of our safety systems because we
can tell where the balloon is, how they're dealing with it and—in
the reverse way, also through communications—they can be fed
information about the weather, what to expect and, if all goes wrong,
we can also, through the same communications, we can alert the search
and rescue systems. So really, it keeps track of the balloon, it gives
them weather information, and, in the final analysis, we can find them
through their Sarsat and locator beacons.
NOVA: So they will have Sarsat and locator beacons?
ACKROYD: Yes, they will be carrying locator beacons, they will
be carrying radios for talking, Inmarsats for location, GPS for
location, and full communications, as one would find upon an airliner.
NOVA: What is a load cell? And why is a load cell critical to
ACKROYD: Well, on our capsule, we have several load cells. Now
a load cell is an instrument which measures load. And this is done by
the deflection of a metal element and the change of electric current
with that deflection, which really is allied to a strain gauge which
also measures the change of current when a thin filament is put under
load. We are using the load cells, which will give us a load
read-out—electrically, it is an electrical read-out, which is then
calibrated in load but really is reading in millivolts but calibrated
we have the capsule, at launch, anchored to the launch pad with six
load cells. And as the balloon is filled it will pick up the weight of
the capsule. And when it is filled beyond that state, it will actually
have what is known as free lift. And the free lift is what will
accelerate the balloon up to its float altitude. And the free lift
will be measured by the tie-down load cells. And when we get to
somewhere between ten to fourteen percent of our all-up weight, a
little electrical explosive guillotine will be fired and that will
separate the capsule and the balloon is irreversibly away. So the load
cells, at tie-down, tell us when to cut the cutters and launch the
There are two irreversible steps at launch. One is when you start
pumping helium, you're then committed to a launch. And when you fire
the cutters, you're committed to a flight. So those are two very
crucial elements. And one of them is dictated by the load cells.
NOVA: The load cells are, as you say, electrical, so right on
the piece of equipment, you get this electrical
ACKROYD: No, we have a cable which leads away from the load
cell. It just looks like a little pancake. These are pancake-type load
cells. And there's an electric cable that goes away to a read out.
Very much like any other temperature probe or other remote read out so
we have a remote read out. And similarly, all the fuel tanks which are
disposed about the capsule—there are six fuel tanks, and each one of
those fuel tanks is suspended on a load cell. Because that will tell
us the weight of fuel consumed, and that way we can know how much fuel
we've burned, and also, we know how much weight we have residually
with the capsule. So we know how much weight we're flying and we know
how much fuel we've burned.
NOVA: So that is a read-out that, presumably, the pilots will
be able to access.
ACKROYD: That will be read out in the capsule, and the launch
load read out, which is a free lift at launch, will be read by
somebody remote from the capsule. In fact, probably, the crew will
have it in the door and they will simply observe it because it will be
their decision to fly and they will be able to read their free lift
and say, "Okay, fire the cutters." They can then disconnect
it and throw it away. They don't need it anymore.
NOVA: Okay, is there anything that you feel that we haven't
ACKROYD: Yes. That's Leon's share. (laughter)
for the Record: Thrust 2 (ISBN: 0907485014)
Biggleswade, BE, UK
Description: UK: CHW Roles & Associates, 1984. Soft
cover. 1st Edition. 72 pages. A fascinating insight
into this land speed record breaking British design!.
Bookseller Inventory # 0924H677913
Description: Kingston, Surrey, Roles, 1984. The story behind
the building of Thrust 2 World Land Speed Record holder,
written by the designer. Foreword by Richard Noble, Driver.
In white illustrated laminated wrappers, 210x150mm, 72pp, 18
photo plates in colour and b&w. circuit diagrams,
charts, adverts etc. VG+ copy signed by author/designer.
Bookseller Inventory # 5144
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taste for adventure
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