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Video: How to communicate at 1000mph
Normally I’d urge you to read the words first and then watch the vid, but in this instance do it the other way round. Go and watch the video above, then come back and read this.
Done that? Good. Now, let me assure you that there was no CGI trickery involved. That fighter plane was flying that low. It was doing so next to a helicopter and just above a pair of Jags. Sometimes towards them at a closing speed of 500mph, sometimes in the same direction at a speed dangerously close to falling-out-of-the-sky mph.
Last November, Bloodhound - the British-built rocket machine aiming to become the first car to crack 1000mph in the hands of Wing Commander Andy Green - conducted a vital communications test at Hakskeen Pan in South Africa, the aim being to make sure the team could get live data off something moving very fast across the alkali playa (its not a salt flat, fact fans).
I was there, watching slack-jawed from the sidelines and wondering where on earth in this empty place they’d found to lock the health and safety man away. You can read about what I was up to out there in issue 266 of Top Gear magazine, on sale Wednesday 28 January.
So what looks like the ultimate in larking about with planes, helicopters and cars actually served a vital purpose, because when the Bloodhound team do start trying to break records at the end of this year, they want to be able to live-stream it around the world so we can all watch it. Tricky, when you consider Hakskeen is about 200 miles from the nearest broadband or 3G signal.
In order to overcome that, one of Bloodhound’s partners, Emcom, has built a line of masts from the nearest major town, Upington, bringing the necessary signal strength to the pan. Think of the investment that’s required. Bloodhound’s engineers also need to check that the operations guys on the sidelines can speak clearly to driver Andy Green.
To check it’s all working Bloodhound’s head of IT, Sarah Covell, jumped in the back of an L-39 fighter, pulled out her phone and flew around the pan, using a speed test app to check the signal strength. Might sound simple, but a Jag XF loaded with data kit took care of the more complex calculations.