The man behind Thrust and Bloodhound on who has inspired his career
13 April 2010

Richard Noble OBE claimed the world land speed record for Britain in 1983 in Thrust II and was the man responsible for Thrust SSC, in which fighter pilot Andy Green broke the sound barrier to claim the title in 1997.

His latest project, Bloodhound SSC will aim to break the 1000mph barrier in the summer of 2011, with Green again at the controls.

The man responsible for bringing the land speed crown back to Blighty 27 years ago and keeping it here ever since, Noble piloted his first world record machine, Thrust II to Mach 0.85 (633.5mph). Its jet engine was being pushed to within an inch of its life and on its fastest 650mph one-way run, Thrust was calculated to be just 7mph from taking off.

"Because Thrust II was very wide and 'draggy' and had quite a big parachute on it, it would decelerate at up to 6g - so you'd lose 130mph per second. It's an extraordinary effect. You get something called a somatogravic illusion. The whole world twists and you're absolutely convinced you're heading straight down a mineshaft."

John Cobb

"I suppose my biggest hero has got to be John Cobb, the British racing driver who achieved one of the greatest land speed records of all time with the Railton-Mobil Special," says Richard.

Cobb drove the three-ton, 2500bhp Railton - powered by two supercharged Napier Lion aero engines - to a new record of 394.1mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1947, a speed that wasn't bettered until 1963, when Craig Breedlove's jet-powered Spirit of America went just 13mph faster.

"What I admired most about Cobb was his professionalism. He arranged things in such a way that it gave the designers enormous free rein when it came to creating a very advanced four-wheel-drive car.

"And, of course, John Cobb was a great driver. He wasn't there on some sort of personal high. He was there to do a job and he did exactly what he was told to do by the engineers. It's how these things should be done."

Ian Brook

Noble put his own very obvious gift for getting things done down to the time he worked for ICI, during his 20s and a man called Ian Brook. "I didn't know this guy particularly well, but he was my boss and I now feel very fortunate that he was," says Richard.

"I had an incredible job. I was part of a team of four, led by Ian, that developed a product called Crimplene, a polyester fibre used largely for lady's dresses. Between the four of us we built this industry up from 20 million to 100 million sales in four years.

"I've no idea what's happened to Ian, but he showed that a flat type of company structure really did work -how to achieve results through delegating responsibility rather than exercising authority. I learnt a very great deal from that guy which helped enormously when it came to setting up Thrust and Bloodhound."

Abraham Maslow

An abiding touchstone for Noble has been the work of the late American industrial psychologist Abraham Maslow, best known for the 'hierarchy of needs', which theorised human motivation and self actualisation, principles that have informed Noble's core idea about team building over the past 25 years where the group dynamic prevails and everyone can make a valuable contribution. With over 3500 schools now involved in the Bloodhound project, it seems likely Maslow would have approved.

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13 April 2010

Well, Richard Noble is one of my heroes. His book Thrust is one of my favourites and is re-read often enough to annoy my wife. The determination he showed in the early days of his record breaking career was amazing, although I must say that I think I could have designed a better car than Thrust 1 which was basically a few girders with Formula Ford nose and a fat Derwent jet engine bolted to the back. Good luck with Bloodhound, my name's on it.

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