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A New Dream

There's a new solution to the congestion around our major airports. It's a problem that is only going to get worse - but the solution has been staring us in the face since 1945.

by Richard Noble


Shoreham, this is Golf Oscar Foxtrot Lima Golf- request join!'

It's a late sunny Sunday in January 2000, and I am calling Shoreham Control Tower for permission to land . With all the radio traffic, it takes minutes to get the call in. Two thousand feet below and ten miles to the South of me there is mayhem as the daylight fades and the planes head home before it becomes Official Night.

'Golf Lima Golf, welcome to the madhouse- remain outside the zone and I'll call you at 16.10 '

Shoreham Tower is clearly feeling the strain.

I turn round to fly a series of oblong circuits and wait for my call. It's the end of brilliant bright day and I begin to wonder just what we have started back there at Farnborough some 30 miles to the North West of Shoreham. Ever since I was a kid, I loved aeroplanes. I built many in balsa, some with glow engines. Most ended in a pile of debris but some flew really well. It was Ken Norris, designer of Donald Campbell's record breaking Bluebird car and boat who pushed me into flying.

'Look Richard , if you're going to drive that Land Speed record car you need more personal discipline. Flying is what you need . Why don't you learn to fly at our club in Bournemouth and get your licence?'

That was 18 years ago.

Five years on we had a new plant, our own aircraft design called the ARV Super2 and 127 people working on the Isle of Wight, off the south coast of England. Super2s were coming off the line every week and the quality was good -but the backers were not committed enough to stay the course. We hit a minor engine problem, there was no more money and 117 people lost their jobs. Over the Channel the French were after the same market - their Government gave the manufacturers orders for 75 aircraft to get started. We are not so good at these things in Britain and the ARV Super2 is now going back into production -but not in the UK: in the USA.

RN and AG in front of the thrustSSC
Richard Noble and Andy Green in front of the ThrustSSC

Photo - ThrustSSC

As I flew my holding pattern over Shoreham I remembered back 30 months when the ThrustSSC team ran for the sound barrier in Black Rock Desert. Andy Green, our totally committed F4 and Tornado pilot was behind the wheel of our 110,000hp car -the most powerful car man has ever driven. As Andy approached the measured mile at an impossibly fast speed -the media crowd fell silent. The stronger people muttered a prayer. Strangely we never got the supersonic double bang at the midpoint of the course - but 10 miles away it was like a double thunderclap. A billion people watched on television the book sold 60,000 copies in hardback and we had 58 million hits on our website. That was important because it was the web followers and the ThrustSSC Mach One Club supporters who bought enough merchandise to turn our dream into reality.

The ThrustSSC -the first car to break the sound barrier

Photo - ThrustSSC

One of the great sadnesses of record breaking is that a huge team effort is needed to make it happen.. All that effort creates a World beating car  -huge global interest and a piece of paper. And then, in a second, it's all over. There is no useful purpose for anyone in the team any more and its time to move on.

This new exciting chapter in my life came from our friends at Dell Computer. I was in Barcelona to present the ThrustSSC story at their European Sales Conference. The conference had gone well and we were having dinner. They wanted to know how we were going to follow ThrustSSC. I explained that I wanted to go back into aviation but had no focus. The Dell people had the focus.

'Richard, listen to us. We manufacture in Ireland and sell in Europe. We are having real problems moving our sales and marketing people around by airline. They are never where we want them, they have to leave meetings early to catch planes -and the planes are always late. Our people came up with a cost for all this wasted time and opportunity - about $10m a year in Europe.'

Painting of F1
Noble's latest dream: Artist's impression of the Farnborough F1

Photo - Farnborough Aircraft

'Isn't that what the executive jets were designed for?'

'Too costly - and because they are jets with fast approach speeds and slow acceleration to take off, they need the same long runways and airports as the airliners. And remember with all the congestion the airliners always get the departure slots in preference to the exec jets so there is going to come a time soon when its quicker by airliner'.

A really great idea was borne-an unbelievable opportunity began to emerge like a butterfly from a chrysallis. There must be hundreds of companies like Dell- all concerned about this extraordinary wastage of executive resource. I remember from my own business travelling days the extraordinary love /hate relationship with the airlines - love them for the ability to travel widely- hate them for the delays, poor customer relations and the sheer inefficiency and stress which I suppose must come with any form of centralised travel in a non-centralised World. For 15 years I had specialised as a corporate motivational speaker- and now I started asking questions. Everywhere I went the answer was always the same -there has to be an alternative to airline travel...

'Golf Oscar Foxtrot Lima Golf ?'  Shoreham is calling me. 'Golf Lima Golf' 'Golf Lima Golf, track South to the Worthing Pier and take up the hold at 1600ft'.

Still no room at Shoreham, but at least we are getting nearer. The sun is low, the sea is like a mirror and the lights are coming on in Worthing. We take up another oblong circuit with the easterly turn over the pier.

I went back to see the Dell people four months later with the first drawings. There are 7807 active airports in North America, Europe and Scandiavia. The executive jets need at least 5,000 ft runways, which means they can only access less than 2000 airports. 80% of the airfields are too small. Many date from World War 2 and are only used by the private pilots at weekends. The airports are well distributed and in England you are never more than 20 minutes drive from your nearest. In the US there are 4852 airfields - mostly underused.

Farnborough F1
The Farnborough F1: Take-off configuration

Photo - Farnborough Aircraft

This represents the most tremendous distributed travel resource. The answer to Dell and other's travel problems has been staring us in the face since WW2. In Europe and N America airline travel will grow around 50% in 7 years. Already congestion has brought the airliner average speeds down to 300knots on routes of up to 1000miles. The rate of travel demand has outstripped the ability to create new airfields. By 2005 the Dell sales people will be spending very long periods in airport terminals. Airport shopping will be a growth industry.

The American Business Travel Association states that 97% of all business travel is in groups of one to three people, so we propose to build a new six seat aircraft that will fly faster than the airliners, but from the small airfields, operating as high performance taxis and costing only $1 per mile. It will be so quiet that local people won't notice them and it will make very big money for its operators. On a 490 mile route it will enable travel twice as fast as by airline. And you travel when you want.

The Dell people were so enthusiastic that they backed the project with hardware and gave us a great start in life. That was two years ago and now with 20 people working we start to build the first Farnborough F1 plane this year.

If we are right and if 5% of all business travellers in Europe and the US want to use this service- then there could be a demand for 13,000 planes. That's probably the largest production since World War 2 and a $26Bn business!

'Golf- Lima Golf , join left base for runway 03-call final.'

'Roger Lima Golf.'

Landing checks, mixture rich, fuel pump on ,carb heat selected , power back, full flap, prop to fine and we turn final towards the shoreline. Its getting dark and more yellow street lights are on.

Computer simulation of the F1

Photo - Farnborough Aircraft

'Golf Lima Golf- Final to land.'

'Golf Lima Golf- cleared to land runway 03, wind five knots at 360'

'Cleared to land - Golf Lima Golf' The tyres kiss the tarmac and I taxi up to Shoreham's beautiful prewar terminal.

Given a lot of luck and a great team, we might just..just be able to pull this off, and just like ThrustSSC, we'll do it live on the internet. What an opportunity! What an experience! What a challenge ! The website is operational and we fly the F1 in 2002.


Richard Noble
The man himself: Richard Noble

Photo - Farnborough Aircraft

Richard Noble specialises in managing demanding high profile/high technology projects. He held the landspeed record for 13 years (1983-1996)in the Thrust2 and led the ThrustSSC team which broke the sound barrier and currently holds the record. He is currently CEO of Farnborough Aircraft and the driving force behind the F1.

Follow Farnborough F1 on its website: www. Farnborough-Aircraft.com

You can see the ThrustSSC Archive at: www.ThrustSSC.com and get the book/video from Richard Noble:

Thrust book: 320 pages in hardback with contributions from Andy Green and ThrustSSC team members (£20 plus p&p) ThrustSSC video: 90 min BBC video Supersonic Dreams PAL (£15 plus p&p)

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