They're ready to rip at around 800 mph
February 12, 2009 · Updated 1:54 PM
Land-speed record is on team’s radar
The speed of sound is roughly 760 mph.
Put another way, sound can cover about one mile in about five seconds.
For Bernard McVay and the rest of the crew behind the North American Eagle supersonic racing car, the speed of history hopefully will be about 800 mph.
Owner of McVay’s Mobile Welding in Bothell, McVay is one of a core group of about 30 people from all across the state working to break the world land-speed record set at 763 mph by a British team in October 1997.
It was the first time a land-based vehicle broke the sound barrier, McVay said, but he certainly hopes it won’t be the last.
“There is just a lot of things that have to come together to make this thing work,” McVay added.
Based at Shady Acres Airport near Spanaway, easily one of the most notable aspects of the Eagle team’s endeavor is that it is being made with no major corporate sponsors.
Under the direction of project manager, driver and car co-owner Ed Shadle, team members all are volunteers, and much of their equipment — and there is a lot of it, according to McVay — has been donated. Still, don’t look at the Eagle team as some amateur squad.
“It’s been 10 years in progress,” Shadle said, adding he and his primary partner probably have contributed about $150,000 each to building and testing the Eagle.
“We’re pretty sure we can do what we set out to do,” he added.
McVay said he became involved in the project after seeing the North American Eagle at a car show about five years ago.
Built up from the fuselage of an Air Force F-104 Starfighter, the Eagle is 56 feet long, powered by a 42,500-horsepower jet engine.
Further, at least in regard to the engine, that’s just the starter model, so to speak. McVay said the team has designed and constructed a 55,000-horsepower engine it will use when the time comes to go for the land-speed record. The smaller engine is being used to test the overall design of the American Eagle, that design including everything from the suspension to a unique, magnetic, frictionless breaking system that McVay said attracted attention from a space-shuttle contractor.
According to McVay, that breaking system may be one of the key innovations to come out of the Eagle project.
So far, in test runs, the Eagle has moved at speeds of about 400 mph. And even finding a long enough, straight enough and smooth enough spot to run the car for those so-called “low speed” tests can prove tough. Among other locations, the Eagle has run at the El Mirage Lake bed in Arizona, as well as the Black Rock Lake bed in Nevada.
According to Shadle, the next big test will come up sometime this spring at yet another dry lake bed in California. If all goes well, an attempt at the record might arrive in the fall.
For now, McVay said the team spends weekends working on the car in its hangar in Spanaway. He’s managed to talk a number of local businesses into participating in the project in one form or another, including Bothell’s Northwest Sports Divers, which provides high-pressure equipment for the Eagle team’s fire extinguishers.
Since the team works with large amounts of clearly flammable jet fuel, McVay said those fire extinguishers are mounted on pick-up trucks and each contains about 100 gallons of chemical foam. McVay ought to know about those extinguishers. Among his other duties to the team, he said he heads up the Eagle’s safety program.
Besides those regular trips to Spanaway, McVay visits local schools or community organizations talking about the Eagle and the engineering involved. Often traveling with him is a refurbished jet engine. McVay said at one point he ran into the parent of a student who listened to one of his talks. That student now is studying to work on jet engines himself. McVay said that experience alone convinced him his efforts are worthwhile. But he still wants that speed record broken and brought back to the U.S.
“It’s a technical challenge, it’s an engineering challenge and it’s about bringing pride to our country,” he said.