Friday, July 10, 2009

Black Rock Desert - Day 4

It's the final day of this week of testing of the North American Eagle here in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. The goal for today is to try to get the vehicle up to 500mph. The team also plans to do its first turn-around. Everyone is hopeful. The stretch of desert that the Eagle is going to run on today is much harder than where they ran the first two days.

It takes more than an hour to tow the vehicle from the hanger at the 3 mile mark out to the new start line at the 12 mile mark. Once it finally gets there, I've got to get into at least one photo.

The first run is absolutely flawless. Ed gets the Eagle up into the mid 300mph range. Everything looks great. The only issues are that the desert is still a bit soft, the nitrogen charge in the front suspension is gone, so the vehicle is riding on the front springs only, and as a result the dust deflectors below the vehicle that help prevent dust from being sucked back into the intake ports have begun to come apart. There's some initial talk about just practicing turning the vehicle for a return run, but as the wind dies down, Ed decides to do it for real.

I loan a team member my video camera to record the entire turn around operation. In a real record attempt, the rules say that the vehicle must make a return run and pass back through the 1 mile timing strip within 60 minutes. It takes less than 40 minutes to turn the vehicle and get it prepped and ready to make its return run.

This time, Ed plans to go to after burners at the 2 mile mark, so Keith Zanghi and I go down to the 2 mile mark to watch. It's amazing how quickly the flare goes up, letting all workers and spectators know that the vehicle is ready to roll.

As we watch at the 2 mile mark, the Eagle flies past, but we see no after burner. This run looks to be about the same speed as the first run.

In reviewing this specific photo of mine afterward, the engine specialists are sure of what happened. Ed did indeed try to kick in the after burners. But they did not ignite. You can clearly see the cloud of fuel just beyond the tail cone in this image. It has not ignited. The question becomes, why not? What kept the afterburner from kicking in?

After the second run, Vicky Cruse climbs aboard and goes through the procedures for starting up the big jet engine. Once that's done, we head back to the base camp. It takes another hour before the vehicle makes it back to camp. In the meantime, we all have lunch and then, around 3pm, Vicky has to leave. She buckles in and the puts on an air show for us all before she heads back to California.

Her Edge 540 is truly an amazing plane, and we see why she was the 2007 US World Champion aerobatic pilot and remains one of the top aerobatic pilots in the world.

To complete the day of testing and training, Per Wimmer gets strapped into the Eagle, goes through the startup procedures, and then goes through an actual power-up. Afterwards, he reports that it was quite an experience.

I've got lots more to write about this week. I've also got lots of video. But the connection from out here in the desert is not nearly as fast as what I have at home, so I'll be posting more once I return and give my car a very well deserved trip through the car wash.


  1. Great job, Dave! Looks like you too some amazing pictures and had a good time. I bet you were HOT out there!

  2. Actually, the temperature wasn't too bad all week. The biggest issue was the wind, which fortunately also relented quite a bit after the first few days.