As Ed slammed the phone down, those same feelings of disparity began to rise in his throat. The North American Eagle project was supposed to be a fresh start, a break from what had been done before. So why did it feel like all of the same problems were still there? The project could never even get off the ground if he didn’t find an F–104 air-frame. He didn’t want to buy an intact plane; they would just end up tearing it apart. Though it wasn’t like he could afford it anyway.
Coming back to the phone conversation that had just ended, Ed began to wonder whether it would even be possible to get the plane that they were in such desperate need of. There certainly wasn’t a lack of individuals willing to sell him a fully intact plane, but he knew it just wouldn’t be possible.
His thoughts quickly came to a halt as his wife, Elaine, walked into his office. It wasn’t so much an office as it was a collection of odds and ends, including a pool table, that had found their home in this room because they had nowhere else to go. It didn’t take a mind reader to tell that Ed was upset, but Elaine could read him better than most. She knew what was going through his head, the self-doubt, the frustration. And it wasn’t as though she was overly fond the idea of Ed building a supersonic car, that he himself would in turn drive. It should basically be the definition of dangerous. But if anyone could do it, it would be Ed. So she seized upon the moment, and encouraged him, despite the doubts that welled up.
It did not take long before Ed and Keith came back together to discuss what they were going to do. They certainly talked over the phone more than enough, but this was too important for a mere phone call. This would define what, if anything they could do. For all his efforts, Ed had little to show in the way of an actual fuselage. As committed as he was to using an F–104 fuselage, it simply did not seem at all possible. It was coming down to alternatives now. They couldn’t settle on another aircraft frame that might fit their needs. And building from scratch, while solving their current predicament, did little to fix the problems that had plagued them for so long. In reality, despite sitting down for several hours, they made little headway, walking away far more disappointed than when they had started. Things were looking very bleak indeed.
Then one day, Ed got a phone call. A call that would change the entire reality of the project. A man in Maine had an F–104 that had been used to create props. He said it was in rather poor condition, but that didn’t matter much to Ed. At a price of $25,000, it was in his price range, and exactly what he wanted. In some ways, he was nearly in shock, realizing that maybe, just maybe, the pieces would fall into place, as they should. By the time the call had ended, he was excited. No, that wasn’t the way to describe it. Ed was ecstatic, almost to the point of being giddy. He immediately called Keith on the phone to give him the great news.
The entire flight back from California, he and Keith had busied themselves putting together plans for what they would do. They had big ambitions, and if they sat on them, they would almost certainly never happen. The thought of building an entirely new car from scratch was definitely thought of, but they knew all of the trouble that had caused on their previous project. So building a car from scratch was immediately discarded. Instead using a proven design would be more befitting, and make for a lot less work on their part.
The true dilemma became what would they use as a base for their work. There wasn’t exactly a long history of thrust powered cars, and certainly none that had gone supersonic. Until now that is. So instead, they turned to another avenue that held far more promise to them, aircraft. In some ways, it was kind of nuts, and made perfect sense at the same time. Planes had been traveling faster than the speed of sound for decades without issue, and there were countless designs to choose from. Ed was in some ways having a difficult time wrapping his head around the idea that they would take an airplane and turn it into a car. It seemed contrary to what mankind had worked on for so long, the thought of being able to cruise through the clouds. While it did take them some time to settle down on a design, they eventually chose the Lockheed F–104 Starfighter. It was a light-weight, supersonic fighter that had been popular through the cold war era, with a history of being reliable. It would be the perfect fit for what they needed.
As they stood in the bone chilling weather, early in the morning, the excitement was running high. After having paid for the fuselage, Ed had arranged for it to be shipped across the country, from Maine to Washington, on a flatbed truck. None of them had seen it in person yet, but it was due to arrive at any time. As Ed surveyed everyone that had shown up, it was clear that it would take every single one of them to make this happen. Lost in his thoughts, he almost missed the truck as it made the final turns to Spanaway Airport, were it not for someone having loudly declared its arrival.
Described as being in poor condition had perhaps been somewhat generous. What stood before Ed as the semi pulled in was once perhaps an F–104, but held little resemblance to its former glory days. From the graffiti that littered nearly every surface, to the pieces ready to fall away, it was a sad sight. Somewhere in the background, Keith’s girlfriend could be muttering under her breath, wondering what they had gotten into. It was the same thought for everyone that was there that day. But to Ed, it would be a canvas upon which something new and beautiful would be built. And it was Elaine, standing at his side, encouraging him to press on. She may have wished the day would never come, and certainly not like this, but she couldn’t ignore that look in his eye.
Though everyone in attendance saw the mess that had landed in their laps, none of them questioned what they were going to do with it. They had a clear goal in mind, to break the World Land Speed Record. This wasn’t just some arbitrary goal; it would be their redemption. How they were going to get there, there was no telling. But with Ed at the helm, the project had become a reality, no longer just dreaming.
Months went by, with many of them spent stripping down the fuselage, trying to get the car down to the bare basics. They had a long way to go, but they needed to get to what was underneath first. It’s what they never expected to find that really surprised them.
One day, while chipping away at the paint, Ed came across a serial number of the actual aircraft. With it having traded so many hands, they had little in the way of an accurate history of the aircraft, but this would be a great start. The serial number was #1051. Knowing that the serial number would give them a look into what this aircraft was before, Ed sent it to a contact at Davis-Montham Air Force Base. What he got back became the true surprise. The tail number of the aircraft had been FG–763, with FG standing for Fighter Group. That’s when it hit him. The Land Speed Record was 763 MPH. It seemed quite the coincidence, something that would later be coined “divine intervention”.
Armed with the tail number, Ed shared it out to the world via the website. A few weeks went by, and he didn’t think much of it, until one day, he got an email. An employee of NASA Dryden, Tony Landis, had become an avid follower of the project. When he saw the tail number, he looked through their records and found a breadth of information. The plane had in fact been stationed at Edwards Air Force Base in California for most of its life. While it had never seen combat, it had served another purpose. That F–104 had acted as a chase plane for some of the greatest experimental aircraft out of Edwards, including the X–15 and the SR–71. The list of pilots included some of the greatest icons of aviation history, of which Ed could barely believe. It was nothing if not special to Ed, because of its rich history.
Finding the serial number and discovering the deep history of the aircraft was something else, but Ed saw it as being something more. It was almost fate in some way, that they would be using plane 0763 to break Speed Record of 763 MPH. They would end up making history of their own. 763 was no longer just a number, it would be their salvation.