Pensioner sets his sights on an American land speed dream

Ed Shadle, 68, plans to break the British stranglehold on the the land speed record, which they have held for 25 years.

Most people in their late sixties begin to start taking life at a more sedate pace. At 68, though, Ed Shadle has different ideas. Speed envelops every aspect of the American's life. His hobbies, which include skiing and flying, are all fast-paced and even his pet dog is a retired racing greyhound. But all of those appear in complete slow motion compared to his overriding ambition - to break the overall land speed record next summer.
The Seattle-based Shadle describes the record, which has been held by the British for the past 25 years, as his Mount Everest, and knows time is against him if he wants to break it. A British team, Bloodhound SSC, is currently putting together an attempt to travel at 1,609kph, more than 381kph in excess of the current record, which stands at 1,228kph, set by the team behind Bloodhound with its creation, Thrust SSC.
"It's fun that we've got some rivals on this and it means we can't be sitting on our rumps," said Shadle, who worked for the IBM corporation for 30 years before chasing his land speed dream. "It means we need to get things done and my target is that we'll be able to go for the record next summer. We're in pretty good shape to break the record right now." The vehicle being used for the project, North American Eagle - so named for the combination of Canadians and Americans working on it - is complete and has already tested successfully at speeds around the 724kph mark.
All that stands in Shadle's way, which to date has been entirely run by volunteers and goodwill, is a cash injection to realise the record. "We've got a few struts to tighten here and there, and the odd few things to work on, but otherwise we're good to go," he said. "This project has been done using a lot of people's goodwill and through an impressive team of volunteers but, to break a record, you need hard cash.
"You have to get the FIA over to make the record official, you have to pay for the site to break the record and the equipment required being on site. All in all, we're looking at about US$250,000 to $300,000 (Dh918,275 to Dh 1,101,930), and to get that we're looking at a mixture of small sponsors, although I'd be happy if just one guy dipped into his pockets and paid for the whole lot. You certainly wouldn't see me complaining."
Recent problems with the American economy have made the money harder to come by, although Shadle is confident that someone will fall in love with the team's project and get on board. "The appeal is easy, really," he said. "We've put 11 years of our lives into this and we're passionate about it. We've got some truly world-class volunteers on this and these are normal people doing extraordinary things. A lot of amazing guys from Boeing - some of the finest experts in North America, in fact. And these people have done this away from their day jobs. They've done it simply because they love the project. So what's not to love from a sponsor's point of view."
Shadle struggles to explain his passion for land speed records or why any sane person would want to travel at such ferocious speeds. "I find it hard to put into words," he said. "Andy Green [the pilot for Thrust and Bloodhound] said to me that it's a bit like trying to explain what eating chocolate is like to a person who's never eaten chocolate." The part-time nature of the project makes it all the more remarkable that Shadle is on the verge of a place in the record books.
He first decided he wanted to go for the record shortly after Richard Noble's Thrust team shattered the previous record in 1997. Shadle promptly bought a Lockhead F-104 jet, using the engine and the fuselage of the aircraft to build North American Eagle. Shadle's role within the record-breaking attempt is as the overall project manager and the driver of the vehicle. He genuinely insists he has no fears of the potential perils of travelling in excess of the sound barrier.
"Our most recent test was at El Mirage in southern California and we travelled in the mid-450s [724kph], which wasn't a problem," he said, "and aiming for the 1,287kph mark shouldn't be either. If anything, the vehicle gets smoother the faster you go - it's a bit like driving a big old Cadillac." Although the El Mirage test ran smoothly, it was not without its problems. The relatively short 5.5km course left little time to get up to speed or braking, with Shadle eventually coming to a standstill with 46m to spare from a lake.
"It was a bit close, but I like to tell people I calculated it perfectly," he said. "As for going faster, it doesn't really hold any fears for me. Well, at least I can say that now. I may feel differently when it comes to breaking the record." The ultimate aim of the project is to break the record but also to travel in excess of 1,287kph, which Shadle knows is easily achievable. "That target's not a problem for us, but the first one is for the record then we can think about going or 800 or 900mph [1,287kph or 1,448kph] an hour depending on what sort of shape we're in," he added.
No matter how fast Shadle eventually goes, he has no immediate plans to slow down.

Sign up to:

* Please select one