New Team Trying To Break Land-Speed Record

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A team of more than a dozen men have been spending their weekends on a 39,000-horsepower dream: to shatter the world land-speed record of 763 mph with a former jet plane on wheels.

"The British have held the record for 20 years,"said Ed Shadle, a retired IBM computer technician."It's about time that a couple of boys from Pierce County bring it back to America."

Shadle, 61, is the co-owner and driver of the vehicle; the other owner is Keith Zanghi, 48, a Boeing plant manager. They've already invested $100,000 toward their dream, working out of a friend's hangar in west-central Washington.

The current speed record of 763 mph was set by a vehicle driven by Andy Green, a British pilot, in northern Nevada's Black Rock Desert 1997. It was the first time a vehicle on the ground had broken the speed of sound, which is around 750 mph.

Unmanned, rocket-propelled sleds on rails have reached far higher speeds, however. In April, Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico claimed a speed record for rail vehicles of about 6,400 mph.

Along with about a dozen teammates, Shadle and Zanghi are hoping to reach 800 mph in the slender, custom-painted former Lockheed F-104 Starfighter that they bought from a surplus aircraft dealer in Belfast, Maine for $25,000.

Their team, North American Eagle, plans to install a test engine this September and run low-speed tests at an old B-52 runway in Moses Lake two months later. The team hopes to make its bid for the land-speed record in the fall of 2004 at the Black Rock Desert about 100 miles north of Reno or at Cold Lake in Alberta, Canada.

"If we're lucky,"Drumheller said,"we'll be part of history."

Members of North American Eagle get together every Saturday or Sunday morning with tools, doughnuts and an ice-chest full of beer to work on the project. Team members include an ejection specialist who worked on NASA space missions, a jet engine mechanic, a computer technician, a former B-52 mechanic, an auto body specialist, a machinist and an engineer. All are volunteers.

The group says it still needs $500,000 to finish the vehicle and another $500,000 to hold the record-breaking session, which would require a camp for a 30-member crew for a month.

Some sponsors have provided parts and services. A shop at Fort St. John in British Columbia is working on the engine. Another shop, in Abbotsford, B.C., machined the solid aluminum wheels. A shop in Port Angeles is building a magnetic braking system.

On its Web site, the team asks for potential sponsors to provide everything from on-board computers to portable toilets and toilet paper.

Few groups around the world are pursuing the land-speed record. Green recently retired his vehicle. The other American team in the running is a past record-holder, Spirit of America, based in Rio Vista, Calif.


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