Toward a New Land Speed Record: A Day in the Life of the North American Eagle “Turbojet Car”
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adjustments. The process repeated a few times. It was clear there was a problem—we were later informed that the fuel pumps were malfunctioning. The team got to work to fix this issue, but by mid-afternoon the Eagle had not been able to fully start up.
The Eagle has a number of sponsors (including Intel, Lenovo, and Olympus); some provide financial support, but most donate in-kind by outfitting the car with technology. In contrast, their main competitors, the Bloodhound project, have strong financial support from a number of academic and corporate sponsors.
Shadle, a retired IBM field engineer, estimated that he and Zanghi have put at least a few hundred thousand dollars of their own money into the project over the years. Many of the team members, including Zanghi, work for Boeing alongside their involvement with the Eagle. “We’re weekend warriors, so to speak. We all have full-time jobs or part-time job combinations and what not,” said Jon Higley, the project’s crew lead, webmaster, and chief information officer and educational affairs director.
Over the past decade, the crew and their families have invested uncountable nights, weekends, and money from their own pockets into building, testing, and running the Eagle. Why? For the love of the sport, they said. “There is no purse. It’s purely the satisfaction and gratification of having achieved a long-term goal through engineering and science application,” Higley said.
And they keep coming back. Shadle’s wife, Elaine, has long called the Eagle Ed’s “red-headed girlfriend.” “I almost divorced him over this,” she said, half laughing, as she watched him power up the Eagle for the fifth time that day.
The team never did get the Eagle fully motored up that Saturday. “That’s what testing is for,” Zanghi said. They would go back to the hanger, take out the engine, spend a few nights during the week fixing the fuel pumps, and be back at the Spanaway Airport the following weekend. (For an account of an earlier test session, see Luke’s article in the Seattle Times from 2005.)
“A lot of this is a labor of love,” Shadle said. If everything goes according to plan, the North American Eagle team will be traveling to the Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California in June to test the car at speeds in the mid-500 mph range. “We need to make sure we’re safe before we can go faster than that. Once we know we can go 550 to 600, and everything is smooth and very controllable, then we can look at going much faster,” Shadle said.
Once they run successfully at 600 mph, the team will go for the speed record—before the end of this year, Shadle hopes. “Of course it all hinges on two things we have very little control over—one is revenue, and the other is Mother Nature. We deal with it as we go. It’s a matter of problem solving all the way,” he said. “You discover problems like this that we’re experiencing today and you figure it out and you fix it, and then you move on to something else.”