Noble quest to bring young folk up to speed

Land speed legend Richard Noble is back – this time to break the 1,000mph barrier – and he hopes his bid will re-ignite interest in engineering and science among students

Full throttle: Richard Noble, whose team set the first supersonic land speed record in 1997. Photograph: Stefan Marjoram

Full throttle: Richard Noble, whose team set the first supersonic land speed record in 1997. Photograph: Stefan Marjoram

Wed, Mar 12, 2014, 01:00

Richard Noble set the 1982 land speed record at 627mph (1,009kmh), and followed that dramatic feat by organising the team which built Thrust SSC, the jet car that in 1997 took the world’s first supersonic land speed record, with RAF Wing Commander Andy Green at the wheel. Since then, land speed record-setting has been something of a quiet world.

Somehow, though, you just knew this man wouldn’t let things stay quiet for long. Noble and Green are now back, and this time they are planning to push a car to 1,000mph (1,609kmh) on land for the first time ever. Dubbed Bloodhound SSC, the car is currently being built and is scheduled to begin test runs next year on the vast, flat Hakskeen Pan in South Africa’s Northern Cape.

I caught up with Noble recently at the RIAC National Classic Car Show at the RDS, and asked him why, after all the years of hard work, was he back at the land speed record coalface again.

“It’s frankly the most exciting thing you can do on God’s earth – there’s no doubt about it,” he replied. “If you love the technology and the subject and the teamwork, it’s obsessive, absolutely obsessive. We also felt that if the Americans were going to come back, which they have failed to do in the end, but if they were going to come back and essentially buy themselves a supersonic record, we thought we ought to give them a good run for their money.”

If that all sounds like so much Bentley Boy bravado, it shouldn’t. The idea behind Bloodhound is to pull a future generation of engineers, mathematicians and scientists along in its 1,000mph wake. Noble wants this project to be equal parts inspiration and derring-do, to act like a modern-day Apollo programme and plant the ideals of engineering and science in the minds of today’s school children.

Hard grind
“The fundamental difficulty is that with education, as long as you’re just giving the kids – and remember we’re in the game world at the moment – if you’re giving them just a conventional classroom-type education without anything to really excite them, it’s a pretty hard grind.

“You’re asking them to more or less learn by rote. If you’ve got something, though, which is inspiring and interesting, then you can change all that. The interesting thing is that not every family has a lunar module or a fighter jet on the driveway. But pretty much every family has got a car, and because they’ve got a car, they know what it is, and then this is just an extension of that. It really works.”