Since Day One, people have said this project was just a little crazy. Perhaps that is a bit of an understatement, yet we couldn’t agree more. It is that very adventuring spirit that has pushed us to continue to go further, to do something few would ever consider to dare. It is in these moments that should bring this project to a halt, when the mission we have set ourselves so long ago comes under question, it instead finds new life. It is by the drive of so many committed individuals, who come together to do what some have called the impossible, we find strength.
When we set out to the Alvord Desert at the end of September, we had two missions in mind. The first was to have Jessi break the Women’s Land Speed Record of 512mph. The second was for Ed to set a new single engine record by exceeding 633mph. Racing faster than she ever had before, on Thursday (Sept. 29th), Jessi Combs ran with a maximum speed of 477.59mph. While we did not break the records we had hoped for, what we found was a reminder of why we love racing, the undeniable rush of adrenaline when things go right, despite the setbacks along the way.
From the first day of runs, the team encountered more obstacles than they had bargained for. With Ed climbing into the cockpit for a brief shakedown run, the Eagle immediately began to display issues in steering. Taking a day to go back to take care of the issues that had arisen, the team was back on the field the next day to run again. Pulling away from the start line, Ed once again discovered steering problems. While causing the same symptoms, this time the team discovered that it was due to a faulty part which needed to be replaced. The part was flown in overnight by John Richardson, a courageous friend of the team, who ended up with a crash landing on the pitch black desert floor. His plane was a total loss, but he walked away uninjured, informing search members that he had their needed part in hand. The team went to work early in the morning, installing the replacement so the runs could commence later that day. Having handled the steering complications, Ed was finally able to complete his shakedown run, traveling at over 382mph.
Moving into Thursday, it became Jessi’s turn to take the reins. That morning, she went out and drove a practice run of 328mph. Coming back from her first run of the day, she gave feedback to the team, making slight adjustments, preparing the car for the main speed event. Rolling the car out to the start line, a heavy dust storm rolled in, covering the car, and threatening to take Microsoft’s satellite dish away. With the dust finally settling down, the team set the car up at the start area. As the engine fired up, Jessi pulled away from the start line and quickly picked up speed, moving further out of sight at a very rapid speed.
Traveling at over 470mph, Jessi realized that the car had slowly drifted ever so slightly from the course. Going that fast, there are very few points of reference in which to judge such subtle motion. Realizing where she was and that she could not correct back to the course, she aborted the run. The combination of a couple of systems not functioning properly meant that the vehicle approached the edge of the course faster than anyone would have been comfortable with. Remaining calm and collected, Jessi brought the vehicle to a stop.
Making the runs special was the partnership with the Pegasus Mission, a Microsoft Research project. They enabled the team to stream live telemetry to fans as the vehicle raced across the empty desert. We were able to share over 500 million points of telemetry out to over 4,500 people on Jessi’s first run alone. A special thanks to Matt Long and Mark Nichols from Microsoft Research who made all of this possible by their dedication to the project.
While we may not have achieved the speeds that we had hoped for, there is no doubt of how proud we are of both Ed and Jessi for what they have achieved. Jessi continues to inspire others with her work. She is not after just setting records, but also breaking down barriers in racing, showing the world that “girls can do anything they set their minds to”. Ed and the team have devoted years to the project, building things they would have dreamt up when they began. It’s inspiring individuals like Ed Shadle, Jessi Combs, John Richardson, Mark Nichols, and Matt Long, pushing the boundaries of speed and technology, that remind us what this project is about. From the beginning, this has been about daring to push to the very edge of what is possible, and that is exactly what we intend to do.
Photo Credit: Eric Wittler, Mike Cecil (More available in the Gallery)