Wednesday, July 29, 2009

British Steam Car Challenge - Edwards AFB, Base Camp Set-Up & Shake Down

British Steam Car Challenge vehicle with the outer skins off, getting readied for an assault on the world land speed record for a steam-powered vehicle. Image Credit: Don Wales, BSCC (2009)

British Steam Car Challenge - Edwards AFB, Base Camp Set-Up & Shake Down

When one thinks of aiming for and conquering a world record ... any world record, many people do not realize how much planning and effort is required to even attempt such a feat!

Take, for example, the assault of a world record for the land speed of a vehicle powered only with the gaseous state of water that had been heated to very high temperatures - STEAM! Through the use of a turbine, one is able to convert the pressure of steam to a usable power for propulsion.

There have been two recognized speed marks set by a vehicle powered through the conversion of steam pressure to wheels but only one has been officially recognized as the record. It was set in a turn-of-the-century (try the last century) Stanley Steamer by a gentleman named Fred Marriott back in 1906 at a blistering speed for such a thin, solid-rubber shod and sheet metal construct of a car, of 127.659 MPH. Yes, nearly 130 miles per hour in a car that looked like this:

World Speed Record Stanley Steamer, 1906. Image Credit: 1907 Scientific American

The officially unrecognized mark was set when a failed attempt to create a mass transportation bus powered through the conversion of steam pressure ended when a program sponsored by the state of California was ceased. The turbines that had been developed for this 1969 project manufactured by Barber-Nichols Engineering, found their way into a 1985 attempt to set a world speed record mark. This attempt run at the famed Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah state, was able to achieve a measured speed of 145.607, but this speed was never achieved under the auspicious of a sanctioning body like the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA).

The British Steam Car Challenge believes that to be successful, it must exceed the fastest measured speed and have it recognized by the FIA and at least one other recognized sanctioning body - that mark is faster than 145.607.

To become a measurable and recognized speed, a land speed record is the average speed of two passes made across a measured distance in opposing directions within 60 minutes of each other. The time of the two runs is then averaged to obtain the official recorded speed. This requirement was instituted in 1910 after the Stanley Steamer Racer record was established but is still recognized as the official land speed record. The BSCC effort, if successful, will conform to all aspects of the world land speed record in a way that no other record, sanctioned or otherwise, has been achieved.

Here are some reports from the record test site Base Camp located at Rogers Dry Lake Bed on the grounds of Edwards Air Force Base, California

This excerpted and edited from the diary section of the BSCC website -

Entry Date: 13th July 2009 – Edwards Air Force Base, California - From: Don Wales – Test Driver

What a first couple of days! We arrived mid afternoon on Saturday into over 100f dry heat! We got up earlier on Sunday to drive to another nearby dry lake called El Mirage and watched a SCTA sanctioned race event, which is a smaller event than Bonneville but the entrants will be going to Bonneville in August. It was great to soak up the atmosphere and to get us in the mood for our coming event.

Map of Southern California showing the quickest driving route from downtown Los Angeles to Edwards AFB. Image Credit: Google Maps

Today we were up at 4.30 and in the cars for 5.00am for the trip to Edwards AFB. Its 30 miles away to the base, we arrived before sunrise but it took a long time to get access due to the strict security. We then drove the remaining 6 miles to where our main pit station is and made ready the tents and equipment. An excellent English breakfast was cooked by Rob!

This was the first time that I had seen the car since our April tests. It now has the sponsor’s logos on it and drivers names!

BSCC car unpacked - This was the first time that I had seen the car since our April tests. It now has the sponsor’s logos on it and drivers names! Image and Caption Credit: Don Wales, BSCC (2009)

It turned out that a sensor in one of the gas tanks had failed during shipment, so the technicians had to strip it out and replace it! This took most of the day. The temperature was really cooking by midday well over 100f and its forecast to get hotter over the next few days.

Ahhhh! Behold the desert of Southern California ... the Mojave Desert. Image Credit: Don Wales, BSCC (2009)

Our camp is positioned in the Southern corner of the base just away from the main runway. We get to see and hear all sorts of aircrafts taking off and landing during the day. Maybe we might get a closer look later! We have a nice concrete perimeter track to work on which then leads onto the lake bed course. However, we have to be escorted onto the lake so I have yet to drive on it!

Our plan is to carry out more checks tomorrow and hopefully to get some steam going.

Early to bed again tonight!


Entry Date: 14th July 2009 – Edwards Air Force Base, California - From: Don Wales – Test Driver

Another early start we arrived to our base just as the sun rose over the mountains, it was beautiful. The air and visibility was really clear and we sensed that it was going to be hot.

After another superb breakfast cooked by Rob, I don't how he manages it!

I was able to drive the course in the hire car and lead a team of 'Fodders' to clear a large area of small stones. We ended up actually sweeping the lake bed but Stuart took it a little too far and turned up with a dustpan and brush! The task was too big for us and we will try again tomorrow but some industrial sized brushes! Image and Caption Credit: Don Wales, BSCC (2009)

The mechanics had another tough day. The car required a new load sensor and Chris Lack had to use the base facilities to adapt a faulty water filter, so we didn’t generate steam. However, these are just little gremlins that the car has encountered during transit and although rectifying the faults is time consuming it’s nothing fundamental and the team is optimistic of steam over Edwards tomorrow.

Every day takes us closer to the first firing up on US soil. Image and Caption Credit: Don Wales, BSCC (2009)


Entry Date: 15th July 2009 – Edwards Air Force Base, California - From: Don Wales – Test Driver

Third day on the lake bed and so far the hottest! It’s been hot but today was bloody hot! We got to our base camp just before sunrise and I was able to take a few snaps of the car being positioned.

After breakfast we took another trip over the 6 mile course and continued clearing the stones and foreign objects from the' gravel pit'.

This Fodding lark is becoming a bit of a habit. 3 miles of Pendine sands was a piece of cake compared to the 6 miles of Edwards. Finding 'shells' is common on both tracks!! Image and Caption Credit: Don Wales, BSCC (2009)

We got called back early because the car was going to be steamed up!

We all got dressed into our nice black protective gear to run through a complete fill of the car and then into steam as a static test. However, the car had other ideas! We expected problems and I am sure that there will still be more before we actually run the car.

On this occasion a new problem reared its ugly head! Whilst filling the gas tanks from the refueling rigs it turned out that the pressure inside the car's tanks was higher than that on the rigs, so the pump could not push the gas onto the car. This was due to the higher temperatures inside the tanks! Hopefully this will be fixed for tomorrow and we will try again.

So it was back to the lake bed for the Fodding team and more sweeping!

Our camp is on the southern side of Edward and its about 8 miles back to the main gate along some very straight roads with various speed limits on them. Needless to say that I was pulled over for speeding, doing 67 in a 55 limit! I guess the lake bed limit might have to be extended for the record attempt! Luckily I was let off with a caution!


Entry Date: 16th July 2009 – Edwards Air Force Base, California - From: Don Wales – Test Driver

Today we were well and truly fried and baked 111f! Too hot, but mad dogs and English men in the midday sun.... We carried on working well into the afternoon!

The car was ready for its first steam test after yesterday’s repairs. We wanted a test before it got too hot; we had a short burst of the' Dam Busters' theme tune to get us in the mood!

But after breakfast it refused to fire up. We found a blocked miser but fixed it, and then a refueling rig expired, so we had to change over rigs. Each time we restarted the refueling process we managed to get a little bit further into the process. However it was now getting too hot for the car. So in future we will have much earlier starts!

Once it was decided the car was not going to be fired up I organized a FOD crew. We have formed a very select team and it’s hard to join without knowing the special 'hand shake' and all the right terminology that Richard and I have made up whilst suffering heat stroke out in the middle of the lake bed!!!! However, we welcomed two new members to our select band today namely Lynne and Mike!! We have a lot more to do; generally the track is in good shape with the odd patch that needs attention to! We drove the whole 6 miles and on the way back managed to get the Dodge people carrier up to 100mph without any police cars chasing us today!

After lunch, which was another feast, we practiced turning the car around. This is vital for us to get the car refueled after its outward run and returned as quickly as possible. Image Credit: Don Wales, BSCC (2009)

By now it was really very very hot and I got a burn on the palm of my hand from the bodywork whilst climbing out of the car!

Tomorrow is another day, but the forecast is for more hot weather peaking on Sunday, oh joy!


Entry Date: 17th July 2009 – Edwards Air Force Base, California - From: Don Wales – Test Driver

At last, the car is steaming and we are all baking 114 f today with hotter forecast again for tomorrow - oh joy! It has been our most successful to date.

We successfully carried out two static steam runs which provided Jerry with a lot of information to sort out for tomorrow!

The early indications are that the car is producing more steam due to the altitude at Edward’s and the high temperatures, it means that there is a bit more power and hopefully a bit more mph once we get running!

We also carried out another foreign object check but it was so hot that we could only managed an hour, however we did clear the worst bit and got going a lot quicker. Just another 5 miles of stretch to go. We also watched a V2 bomber fly around a bit!!


Entry Date: 20th July 2009 – Edwards Air Force Base, California
- From: Don Wales – Test Driver

It was the team’s day off on Sunday, so I went to visit the Mojave Air and Space port where Voyager took off for the first non stop flight around the world. The airfield is used as storage for unwanted civil aircraft both airworthy and for scrap. Again it was a very hot day!

We welcomed cameraman Joe from the BBC who has come over on a fact finding mission to make sure that they don't miss anything for a documentary that they are producing. Our Principle Driver Charles Burnett III also joined us.

Well Joe got the full disappointment of a day with the steam car! It took Joe and Charles over two hours to get clearance through the security check point. When we eventually got to the base camp it was clear that there had been some rain overnight with damp patches clearly visible. I was worried that the track might be soggy.

Base camp awning garage out in the Mojave Desert at Edwards AFB. Image Credit: Don Wales, BSCC (2009)

So we were late starting and the day was hotting up nicely! We went into our static test program, but it became too hot. We had problems with the air valves, and getting the air onto the car and then the inverter began overheating. Hopefully tomorrow we will be able to redo these tests and get back to the plan of running the car on the track mid week.

That meant more fodding in the mid morning heat and an inspection of any water damage. Luckily the track is still very dry. This is partly due to a nice hot wind that has started up, so I now know what a roasted turkey feels like in a fan assisted oven! Joe joined us in our merry band! Jerry and I marked out a piece of track with a GPS ready for the first proper runs on the lakebed.

We were also treated to various aircraft coming in very close to us as we are now very close to the main runway.

The reason that this mail is later than usual is because I had tried to get clearance to send a picture of the refueling aircraft coming into land!, but unfortunately the clearance was not given so the picture cannot be used.

The weather forecast warns of more hot weather to come in this freakish blip so we need to take extra care and precautions for both the team and the car. As a result dry ice has been ordered to help keep the car cool and enable us to test for a bit longer during the mornings.


Entry Date: 21st July 2009 – Edwards Air Force Base, California - From: Don Wales – Test Driver

Mixed news today! The heat is relentless, everything is hot to touch and that includes race suits and team fire protection overalls, ouch!

We had our usual early start and got into our first test very early. Image and Caption Credit: Don Wales, BSCC (2009)

We got into our first test very early, but this was stopped after the steam blew over the Steam deflector, which had not been fastened down properly! The deflector is there to push the steam up into the air and away from scalding anyone.

So we had another go but it takes nearly another hour to reset everything and the heat is increasing. We had installed our dry ice around the inverters, however further modifications were needed to improve airflow. These took another couple of hours!

So I thought 'FOD' but we were denied access to the lake bed and our runway because of a test going on from the base! So no Fodding today!

Generally the car seems to work in three's and the next test was the third of the day, but it was getting towards midday and mighty hot. So if the car worked on this occasion it would work out on the lake bed in the severe hot conditions. Success we had a very good 90 second burn and I was able to perform a throttle test. The throttle test was not a complete success and another was planned after lunch.

Rob performed his usual magic and we set up again, but it was now too hot. This time the rigs let us down, fuel in the pumps was vapourising! We were pushing our luck with the temperatures and will have to work earlier on the attempt days. Tomorrow is another throttle test!!


Entry Date: 22nd July 2009 – Edwards Air Force Base, California - From: Don Wales – Test Driver

My family has often told me that I am accident prone and clumsy. Well today I cannot be blamed for all the breakages! The count so far today is two boilers and one broom. The boilers were in the car during our static test before breakfast to establish the throttle position. This time we hoped that the wheels would at least move, and move they did for a whole two revolutions whilst I applied the throttle. The test was declared a success but we needed one more test to open the throttle fully.

It normally takes two days to do one boiler change. However it looks like the team will do it one; this is a fabulous effort by all the mechanics. They are even considering changing an old boiler for a new one at the same time, as a precautionary measure which might save time later on. Image and Caption Credit: Don Wales, BSCC (2009)

Whilst we were having breakfast the puddle of water under the car had widened and it was suspected that a boiler had blown. On closer inspection two had given up. We will probably lose all of tomorrow but at least it will save time in the long run. So Fodding again! Hopefully Friday and Saturday will see the car on the lakebed prior to high speed runs next week!


Entry Date: 23rd July 2009 – Edwards Air Force Base, California - From: Don Wales – Test Driver

This morning was positively cold on the lake bed, a chilly breeze, ideal fodding weather!

The mechanics and technicians got going on replacing three boilers and all the plumbing that goes with them. Image and Caption Credit: Don Wales, BSCC (2009)

I organised or rather press ganged a merry team of Fodders. We managed a whole 4/10ths of a mile before breakfast a new record. We were treated to some great air displays from our American hosts. We were Fodding at the start of the main runway where it crosses our track and got to see take offs and landings at close hand.

We came in for a late breakfast and went straight back out again and achieved another 3/10ths! The midday temperature has dropped by a whooping 8-9 degrees F today was only 107 F almost woolly jumper weather!

The mechanical team worked late in to the night to get the car ready for static tests first thing tomorrow morning. It was a tremendous effort, well done!

We hope that the tests tomorrow will be successful and we can move onto the lakebed on Saturday for track and car evaluations.


Entry Date: 25th July 2009 – Edwards Air Force Base, California - From: Don Wales – Test Driver

We were up nice and early, the alarm was set for 4.00am and we were all on the base by 5.00am. All the equipment and the car were made ready for the short journey from our base to the lakebed and our runway.

We had made out a distance similar to Thorney Island where we ran in April to get some comparison data. We had a start team and a turnaround team to do two runs. The second run would be a coast down to find the rolling resistance of the track and I would get the car up to about 100mph.

The sunrise was spectacular and the teams set up their stations. The Edwards AFB fire crews came out and we went through an 'unconscious' extraction from the car, which I always look forward to...NOT!

The refueling process started and I got ready to be strapped into the car full of excitement. Richard was just doing up the seat belts when the run was stopped; the gas was taking too long to be pumped onto the car. So we returned back to our base and aborted the test. It turned out that the pump was partially blocked with a piece of masking tape! Image and Caption Credit: Don Wales, BSCC (2009)

We continued fodding (clearing the track of foreign object debris) and have now completed 2 1/2 miles.

So it was another day of record breakers luck! However, it was still a good day for practicing getting everything out onto the lakebed. We also had a lot of time with Charles getting him familiar with the car and start up procedures.

Monday is another day; the team will be fitting new gas pumps. The time keepers have also been penciled from Wednesday through to Tuesday. So we need a bit of good luck now!


Entry Date: 27th July 2009 – Edwards Air Force Base, California - From: Don Wales – Test Driver

Today (Monday) we had some excellent news, we took delivery of an FOD BOSS! (foreign object debris remover) This is a replacement for us manual operators. It’s a mechanical device that is pull behind a truck and scoops up all the FOD, its positively brilliant and is certainly faster than us! We can scrape a 30ft wide track in about 6 passes at 15mph. We now only have 2 more strips to do and will then walk it as a final check.

Unfortunately one of our team members Rob was taken ill and is currently in hospital awaiting tests, get better soon Rob, we need you back for our breakfasts!

The new gas pumps have now been fitted to the car and a successful static test was completed late today. So it’s back on the lakebed tomorrow early to repeat our Saturday schedule of tests but now with more track available we might get a decent head of steam up and see what we get!

So an early night tonight and up at 4.30am again! Image and Caption Credit: Don Wales, BSCC (2009)


... notes from The EDJE

TAGS: 145.607 MPH, Barber-Nichols Engineering, British Steam Car Challenge, BSCC, Charles Burnett III, Don Wales, Edwards Air Force Base, FIA, Fred Marriott, Mojave, Rogers Dry Lake, Stanley Steamer Racer, The EDJE

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