NEGATIVE GRAVITY

by

Ernst Mach was right, Einstein was right….

SSC is fifty feet off of its white line that serves as the guide down the desert, a perilous conundrum reminiscent of the fate that claimed Glen Leasher… it is very easy to get disoriented in the desert, and Green is following the wrong white line… Green is fighting this vehicle, something that was designed as a model of stability in supersonic chaos and the car is blown off course by fifty feet… “I’ll say that was fast… 450, chute out, yes, everything is wonderful.”

Danny Jo goes into a singular trance, in tune with the manifold harmonics of the jet engines and the sound of molecules compressing into a pane of glass to be punctured like this was Vienna in 1868… he hears the singing of the angels, dancing on the proverbial pins… the desert exhales… it is like some bodacious, preternatural breath of relief, a post-coital moan of exultation worthy of tantric monks and snow leopards.

The blind hippie reaches for his sock, wiggles his toes again, and smiles.

Ron Ayer’s approach to Mach 1 – use a ton of weight and downforce and just suck that baby onto the playa – proved to be the correct one. Poetically, on October 15th, 1997, one day after the 50th anniversary of Chuck Yeager’s supersonic flight, Andy Green recorded speeds of 759 and 766 mph, which translated to Mach numbers of 1.01 and 1.05, establishing a supersonic LSR of 763 mph. “The car becomes unstable at around Mach 0.85 as the airflow starts to go supersonic underneath the vehicle and requires very rapid, precise steering inputs to keep it on the white guide line,” Green clarified afterward, ironically using the present tense to describe his benchmark performance. “The car becomes slightly more stable above Mach 0.9 and can then be steered fairly accurately through the measured mile. The shockwaves formed visible moisture on the front of the car, which could be seen from the cockpit and which moved back along the body as the car accelerated.” Green continued to describe how Thrust SSC exquisitely but firmly punctured a hole in the sound barrier. “The car then remains reasonably stable as it accelerates through Mach 1, with the rate of acceleration dropping off as the vehicle generates the huge shockwaves which cause the sonic boom.” BOOM. Mach 1 was no longer theoretical. The bigger hammer method prevailed.

Noble, Green, Ayers, et. al, achieved their technological imperative – designed a race car that wouldn’t disintegrate as it punched a hole in the sound barrier – convincingly. Art Arfons put the magnitude of this achievement in perspective: “Everybody has been bragging – me included – that we’ll go out there and go supersonic when we really couldn’t,” he said. “This guy did it. This has got to be the living end.”

Arfons nailed it: It is the end of an era and it all transpired at the end of the century, during the waning moments of the millennium. Regardless of the heroics and foibles of Sir Malcolm, John Cobb, Craig Breedlove, and Art Arfons, future historians will regard Richard Noble’s and Andy Green’s feat as the last epic gesture of the fossil fuel age, because. . . hot rodding is over – the gearheads have reached the Holy Grail.

After Mach 1, what else is there?

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