Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Black Rock Desert - Day 2

It's day two out here on the playa in the Black Rock Desert.

Things did not start off early again this morning. There was still a lot to do to prepare the Eagle for its first run. I watched, and later helped John Winchester pack the high speed parachute that would be used to slow the vehicle on a speed run.

As John was finishing his work, a small plane buzzed the base camp and then did some nifty maneuvers around the edge of the desert.

This turned out to be none other than Vicki Cruse, the 2007 US National Aerobatic Champion. She's here to see the North American Eagle and may actually make a run in the vehicle later this week. It turns out that the women's land speed record is a rather sedate 318 miles per hour. So she could actually set a new record in the Eagle if conditions permit.

Finally, after hours of preparation, they're finally ready to fire up the jet engine for the first time this week. They tow the vehicle out from its protective structure, position it out on the playa, and hook up the auxiliary power unit, or huffer cart, used to start the engine.

Ed goes through some last minute instructions, first with his direct support team, and then with all of the ground personnel, those of us out here working with the team or covering the event, and the collection of spectators. Although this first run will be at low speed, safety is still of utmost importance. People need to know what to do if the vehicle veers off course, there's a fire, or some other unexpected event.

Finally, Ed climbs aboard and gets buckled in.

The team goes through the final check list. It turns out that there are several problems at start up. First, during an initial engine start, the vehicle fails to switch over to the on board generator when the ground power is removed. Then, when it's time to start up for the actual run, the engine fails to start on the first two attempts. Then, on the third attempt, the low speed parachute canister opens and part of the chute comes out. The team initially calls for an engine shut down, but there's already a fire in the engine due to fuel pooling from the first two unsuccessful starts, so they continue to spool the engine up and then, once it's running, simply remove the parachute, which won't be needed for this run anyway.

I get to ride in one of the chase vehicles, and shoot video from the rear seat. I won't get to edit that video and post it until after I return from this trip (assuming the video camera survives the dust).

Speaking of surviving the dust, by the time the vehicle is returned to the shelter, the wind is howling at around 40mph. Everything is coated in a layer of tan dust. My cameras are a mess. My car is no longer green. I actually am a bit concerned that all of my photographic gear will make it through the week. Its all going to get a thorough cleaning tonight, and then I'm going to bed. The plan is to do another run early tomorrow morning, before the wind picks up.

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