Airmen keep their feet on the ground to help build new supersonic car

Aircraft technicians from 71 (Inspection and Repair) Squadron at RAF Wittering work on the Bloodhound hyper-car in advance of its record-breaking land-speed run. Wing Commander Andy Green. EMN-150317-161841001
Aircraft technicians from 71 (Inspection and Repair) Squadron at RAF Wittering work on the Bloodhound hyper-car in advance of its record-breaking land-speed run. Wing Commander Andy Green. EMN-150317-161841001
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Supersonic aircraft technicians have temporarily traded the sky for land as they work on a hyper-car that could break the land-speed record.

The team of four men from 71 (Inspection and Repair) Squadron, based at RAF Wittering, have been asked to help with the construction of the floor of the supersonic Blodhound car.

They are also working on the distinctive fin sitting atop the mighty jet engine that, combined with a cluster of hybrid rockets, should power the vehicle to record breaking speeds.

Experienced repair technician Sergeant Matt Bradley is the senior non-commissioned officer leading the 71 (IR) team at the Avonmouth facility near Bristol, where the Bloodhound is currently under construction.

He said: “What a privilege to be selected to represent 71(IR) Sqn and the RAF on such a high profile project. It’s kind of surreal; I’m working alongside some of the leading engineers in their fields, with such diverse backgrounds, from Formula 1, to aerospace, to rockets. It’s mind boggling.”

Sgt Bradley added: “This is state of the art engineering and, to a degree, unchartered territory - who wouldn’t want to be a part of it?”

The squadron’s principal role at RAF Wittering is to repair damage on UK fixed wing military aircraft in deployed locations. The squadron has its own designers, who devise repair solutions in circumstances where conventional fixes may not be effective.

The 71 (IR) Squadron team is working alongside a detachment from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. These are the Army’s engineers, and bring a wealth of experience and skill to Bloodhound.

The hypercar is designed to reach speeds in excess of 1,000mph. The Bloodhound is powered by a Rolls-Royce Eurojet EJ200 jet engine and three Nammo hybrid rocket motors. As it has more in common with a fighter aircraft than any automobile, the skills required by the Bloodhound Project are an exact match with those employed on 71(IR) Sqn every day.

Former Casterton Business and Enterprise College pupil and Rutland County College student Squadron Leader Andrew Wilson is the commanding officer of 71 (IR) Squadron. He said; “I’m very pleased that the RAF, and 71(IR) Sqn in particular, is able to contribute to this exciting project.”

“To perform structural repairs on supersonic aircraft, which is what the RAF Airframe Technicians of 71(IR) Sqn do on a daily basis, you need to have the highest level of hand skills. It is easy to translate the same need for exceptional standards to helping assemble a supersonic car.”

Wittering’s connections with Bloodhound do not stop there. Wing Commander Andy Green, who will drive the supersonic vehicle during its record breaking run, was a Harrier pilot at the base while the famous jump jet was still active.

Wing Commander Green is in no doubt about the engineering challenges ahead of the 71 Squadron experts. He said: “The tail fin is going to be the hardest working aerodynamic device in the history of aviation and will need to be very precisely made, using a very special set of skills. I’m therefore delighted that the Royal Air Force will be providing those skills through 71 Squadron.”

Group Captain Damian Alexander is the station commander at RAF Wittering. He said: “It is a great honour for 71 (IR) Squadron, and RAF Wittering, to contribute to Bloodhound. 71 Squadron has an enviable record for engineering excellence and I am convinced the team will give their all to the project.”

“The primary aim of the Bloodhound Project is to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. Opportunities of this kind do not come along very often; Bloodhound is a showcase for British engineering talent, a talent which quite rightly includes the skills of the armed forces and, in particular, the Royal Air Force.”

This weekend marks a special landmark for RAF Wittering as the base returns to weekend flying operations.

Instructors from one of the training squadrons stationed there, Cambridge University Air Squadron, will take to the skies for continuation training. The pilots primarily give introductory flying experience to cadets from the Air Training Corps and the Combined Cadet Force.

Continuation training is an absolute requirement for the instructors who, despite being volunteers, are required to maintain the highest levels of airmanship. Enough instructors must be ready to meet higher demand in the school holidays and summer months; hence the requirement for weekend flying.

Flying is not expected to begin until 8.30am. Although it may continue until 5.30pm, only a limited number of Grob Tutor aircraft will be flying. Call 01780 417470 with any questions.