Robots were running everywhere. It was a mad rush to be ready to compete, and no one was ready. Whenever asked, people would always say they needed just five more minutes to rebuild a part, or clear a drivetrain. But it was never just five minutes, it was an environment of pure stress. A stress to build a better robot than every other team, to not fail in fixing the robot, and to not become exhausted, despite the grueling three day schedule. Brandyn loved every last minute of it. The whole thing was a feeling of adrenaline that he couldn’t find anywhere else, driving a competitive spirit. What he didn’t know is what lay just across the aisle.
Early in the morning of the day that the robot matches were scheduled to begin, someone from Bethel High School, another team in their school district, came up to Brandyn, asking if he could help them with their robot. This wasn’t all that unusual, he had started to develop a reputation for helping them out when they needed it. As he glanced at his watch, he was a tad surprised as there was only 20 minutes before the opening ceremonies, which didn’t leave a lot of time. Brandyn set down the wrench his hand, stood up, and quickly followed the messenger back to their pit area. What he found was more than a little worrying. As it turned out, Bethel had put together a great robot, but had done little in the way of trying to get it programmed. They were in the first round, immediately after the opening ceremonies, and at this rate, they wouldn’t even be able to move.
When Brandyn walked up, he saw a sea of people, all scrambling to get the robot ready. They were on the clock, and nowhere near ready. He immediately went up to the robot, with people stepping to the sides to give him space. He worked backwards, trying to understand how the robot had been wired electrically, it would be crucial to get the programming to work. He didn’t waste any time, as there was none to spare. With what he believed to be a good understanding, he went straight to work programming the robot. By the time he finished though, there was less than 10 minutes for Bethel to get their robot moved out onto the field. Unfortunately, that left little time for any level of double checking the work.
As the team lifted the robot onto the cart, Brandyn got ready to leave. His work was finished, though only time would tell the results. That’s where Keith came in. He had been mentoring the Bethel team, and had seen what Brandyn had done getting everything together for them to be able to participate. Keith was impressed to say nonetheless, so he stopped Brandyn on his way out. Keith thanked him for the help, they would have never been on the field otherwise, and offered Brandyn a chance to come out and see the car. Brandyn didn’t give it much of a second thought at the time, there was still a lot to do, but it certainly seemed like an interesting offer.
A few weeks went by, and little thought to the offer that Keith had left with Brandyn, until one day, his father suggested that they go see the car. Having little else to do on that particular Saturday, they jumped in the car and went for what was a surprisingly short drive. As they turned down the road to a small private airstrip, there appeared to be a random assortment of cars, all lined up along the far chainlink fence. The closer they got, the clearer a small, brown hanger on the edge of the field became. The garage door was propped open, and though the shadows seemed to play tricks on his eyes, there seemed to be a jet fighter inside. But it was no trick. With the truck coming to a stop, they climbed out, and began walking towards the hanger. The closer they got, the more the deep red outline of what appeared to be an aircraft, rose from the confined space. It was a majestic sight to behold. One of raw power, unmatched in its ability. Brandyn couldn’t get enough of it.
When Keith saw them approaching, he started to wave, and then walked up to welcome them. Keith seemed rather excited to see them, eagerly shaking their hands, and waving them to follow him around the car, he was going to give them a tour. What Brandyn didn’t know at the time was that when going to see the Eagle, you had to be given a tour around the car, to hear about its history and the technology, which could take up to an hour. It would be well worth it though.
Keith started the tour at the cockpit, which was laid out just the way that Brandyn imagined a fighter jet would be. For as new as the outside of the car looked, the interior had a certain “old-fashioned” quality to it. That’s when Keith started to explain about the rich history of the car, how it had been flown during the height of the cold war, alongside some of the greatest aircraft ever developed.
From there, they moved back to the data section of the vehicle, which is where the contrast really started to come alive. Where the cockpit had an older feeling to it, the electronics bay was all modern, with computers and sensors galore. In some ways, it was a geek’s paradise, and Brandyn felt right at home. What amazed him though was how that station was in fact pulling data in from sensors all across the car, so it could then be used to make decisions. It was almost difficult to take it all in, to understand everything that this car was really doing.
The farther back that they walked along the car, the cooler that it became. The sight of giant, silver wheels caught Brandyn’s eye, and immediately piqued his interest. He learned that because of the forces exerted on the wheels on high speeds, they couldn’t use normal wheels, they would simply explode. So instead, several years ago, they had begun to design and manufacture their own wheels made purely of aluminum, each of which cost in excess of $20,000. These wheels would be able to withstand forces far in excess of what they would be running at, even when breaking the sound barrier.
What appeared to be almost a giant, yellow belt, was wrapped around a disk next to the wheel. Knowing what was underneath almost took Brandyn’s breath away. Similar to the wheels, normal brake rotors would disintegrate at high speeds, so an alternative was needed. That alternative was presented by a friend and sponsor of the team, Jerry Lamb. He was an expert in rare earth magnets, and how they could be used on the car. He suggested a brake rotor containing an array of these magnets. This rotor when put in close contact to the aluminum wheel, would slow it down. Since aluminum is a non-ferrous metal, containing no iron, so ordinary magnets would normally have no effect on them. But at high speeds, these magnets would generate eddy currents when in close proximity to the wheel, bringing the car to a gentle stop. It was especially convenient since the brakes would never wear out, they didn’t contact the wheel at all.
Only a few feet back from the wheels was the real show though. The engine sat within the rear fuselage, tail feathers displayed, as if ready to be fired right then and there. It was almost a little intimating when you thought about the force and fire that came out of the back of it. Keith explained that originally, the engine had been a far lower power, but it had been rebuilt after some of the turbine blades had been torn loose. It was an unfortunate side effect of the engine having sat for so many years without use, but in some ways, had been a good thing. The team had hauled the engine north to Canada, where they had rebuilt the hot section with S&S Turbine Services, giving it significantly more power than it ever did before. That extra little bit of thrust is what they believed would let them break the record. The rebuild also meant that the engine would never suffer from the previous issue again, as it was essentially brand new. In some ways, it seemed crazy to Brandyn, but it was awesome more than anything else in his mind.
By the time they finished up the tour, it had taken close to an hour, though it certainly had not felt like it to Brandyn after having seen so much. That’s when he had the chance to finally meet Ed. What Brandyn didn’t know at the time was that Keith had told Ed about what he had done with the robot, and they had decided they wanted to recruit him to the team. So Ed asked Brandyn if he had seen the website at all, which of course he had, though it certainly didn’t do the car justice. Ed followed that question to ask what he thought of it, to which Brandyn responded, “It sucks.” This elicited a hearty laugh from Ed, with which he offered Brandyn a chance to join the team. It wasn’t much of a question though, Brandyn was already hooked.
Brandyn spent the next three months studying and rebuilding the website. The whole intention was to design something that properly showed people what was special about the project. It was that special element of doing something amazing that made Brandyn fall in love with it from the start, and which he planned to share with the world. In truth, there really was a science to the idea of going faster than the speed of sound, that’s what made the whole project possible. Understanding that is sometimes difficult to grasp without seeing the car in person, which is what made the undertaking so much more difficult. The entire website had to be about the car, the project, and the technology that made it possible. At the same time, it had to be simple and user friendly. By the end of that three months, Brandyn had brought together a website that would end up marking the beginning of a new digital era for the project.