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18 December 2012

Going places

As a child I lived, for a while, on open plains at opposite sides of the planet where (like all my schoolmates) I was fascinated by glimpses of how transport might be in our future. The P1127 (an experimental VSTOL aircraft which would later become the Harrier); the Belvedere (a twin rotor helicopter, already ageing and soon to be swept away by the Chinook); and, most exciting of all, something which we heard but never saw.
This gave rise to one of my earliest serious data gathering and analysis projects: a notebook in which I religiously recorded details of everything mechanical that moved and, with particular attention to detail, rocket test firings. The date, time and direction for every roaring launch, every thud of a concrete warhead returned to earth, went into my little book. After a while, though I didn’t yet know the term “data analysis”, I was able to tell my friends with fair accuracy when the next launch was likely to be, how long the flight would take and where the impact would probably be.
These rockets had mysterious names like Honest John, Thor, Thunderbird, and Bloodhound. Fifty-or-so years on, another rocket bears the Bloodhound name but without the warlike aura. This one aims to transport a human being, not an explosive charge, in an attempt upon both the land and low level aviation speed records at 1·4 times the sea level speed of sound. At the same time, it is generating data and methods for spin off into wider scientific and technological theatres and scientific computing is at its heart. [more]

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