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Thrust SSC team to build 1000 mph 'Bloodhound' car

Drayson fixes comeback gig to boost UK Sci/Tech

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But perhaps that's OK. According to Mr Noble, a policeman recently told him: "My son wanted to study media at University, and he was so taken with the Thrust SSC project that he switched courses and is now an engineer.”

At least one young life straightened out, then, by Mr Noble's example - though Noble himself didn't go to university at all, preferring "to get on with life". Wing Commander Green has a first in mathematics, however, and Lord Drayson holds a PhD in Robotics. (Though he actually made his fortune as a regular business executive, by a management buyout at Trebor the sweets maker and later by selling his pharma'n'medtech company Powderject. There has since been some question as to whether Powderject's vaccines actually work, and the eponymous injection device has not reached the market.)

So what do we think of the Bloodhound SSC effort, then? A praiseworthy attempt to get the nation's youth to actually do some work at school and university, acquiring the tech education that will make Blighty a wealthy powerhouse in future - rather than a nation of Nathan Barleys and Nick Leesons?

Still, you might say this is all a rather strange way of going about it. A hugely involved attempt to win a "competition" with no competitors other than oneself, laden with allusions to technological white elephants like the Bloodhound, Concorde and Lightning, led by men whose personal careers have included very little in the way of engineering ... what message does that send?

An intelligent child with a good Maths GCSE might look at all this and conclude that the way to success, riches and fame is not a career as an engineer (a real one, not an MCSE). Rather, the nipper might think, it's better to buy and sell companies or become a fighter pilot.

Just how all this sexes up science and engineering isn't totally clear - and just how much useful spinoff technology would come from a 1,000 mph car is equally obscure. After all, there are already land craft which go a hell of a lot faster, being unburdened by FIA rules and the need to carry unnecessary pilots. Frankly, if the government has some cash and clout to spare for boosting technology through wacky projects, there seem like a lot of better things they could push - and perhaps some more inspiring glorious failures from the past they could mention.

How about an airship, for instance (obviously we would speak of the R100 rather than the R101)? How about some kind of nifty plane-copter combo (Fairey Rotodyne)? How about a space or hypersonics project of some kind?

And how about giving the attention and the OBEs to the scientists and engineers who actually make it happen, rather than pilots and businessmen?

Just a thought. ®

Bootnotes

*Named after the Bloodhound 2 surface-to-air rocket/ramjet missile. The Bloodhound was surely, as Mr Noble says, an "incredible" weapon. Anyone like your correspondent who has had the privilege of blowing up old Gosling boosters from Bloodhounds could testify to its remarkable power. Missiles like this, it was thought, would render manned fighters obsolete by the end of the 1950s.

In reality they didn't live up to their hype, and we are now several generations of manned fighters further on.

**It's hard not to love the Concorde. It's also hard not to see it now as something of a technical and commercial dead end. As for the Lightning, it certainly had its good points - but it never really became able to stay airborne for long, and was never fitted with any credible sensors or weapons. Some former Lightning pilots remain in the RAF at senior levels - though they lack some credibility among their juniors. (Sample quote, overheard, by an RAF Harrier pilot: "How would you know, sir? You only ever went up for twenty minutes"). And yes, everyone knows about the U-2 intercepts.

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