Mon, Dec 7, 2009
Infinity: Published errors of fact I wish I could
are some corrections of published errors about Infinity
that I wish I could correct.
"Infinity crashed at 250 mph". Vic's and my
estimate, after studying the newsreel film we obtained, plus Vic's
measurements, plus our experience with Untouchable, is that it happened
rock-bottom minimum of 440mph, and more likely at 460 to 470mph. Also,
Magazine article published at the time quoted an eyewitness as
speed at possibly 470 mph. This person might have been one of the
possibly even Joe Petrali, himself...(I only saw this article for the
time this summer)....
"There was an explosion and fire". There was no
explosion, in the sense of the engine exploding, or fuel tank
the big cloud of white salt thrown up could have looked like an
explosion, to a
bystander. And we saw no flames when we arrived at the crash site...
"The engine cost $12,500". Vic told me that it
cost $125, plus expenses.
"There might have been a compressor stall". The
jet powerplant engineer I talked to up at Boeing, who was extremely
with compressor stalls, said that the usual stall is an extremely loud
event...I didn't hear any such loud noise, and also, the very bright
afterburner flame remained constant and stable until just before the
"Glenn might have been unconscious during part of
the last run". I believe he was conscious throughout, and also that he
shut off the afterburner, just before the crash.
"Infinity was built by a firm in Berkeley". Romeo and his team built
Infinity, with the body and parachutes built by outside craftsmen hired
specific jobs. All of the final assembly was done in Oakland.
"The metal parachute compartment covers seen in
photos from the first trip were certainly the final configuration of
car". We had completely given up on jettisonable chute covers by the
second trip. Instead, we had very clever four-piece canvas covers
Dan Abbot of Security Parachutes. These were bolted to the car, and
hopefully, durable enough for many chute deployments...
"The parachutes were recovered, still in their
packs, after the crash". Chute packs were never used, with the chutes
packed directly in their metal compartments, and after the crash, the
still attached to the frame, were both wrapped transversely around the
frame and engine.
"Chassis problems were discovered during the one run
the team made during the first trip to Bonneville". There were no
with the chassis, just badly unbalanced wheels, which we had been
been high-speed balanced....I never saw Romeo make any changes to the
between the two trips....
"The car yawed to the left, then crashed". The
car curved to the right, then abruptly flipped left.
"Art Arfons was very angry at the Infinity team,
who dumped the remains of their crashed car near the entrance to the
track". Our team was utterly betrayed by someone on the Bonneville
team, after we had been assured that everything would be cleaned up and
properly disposed of at the local waste dump. We offered strongly to do
thorough cleanup, ourselves, but it was made very clear to us that that
not be allowed. We were especially worried, of course, about any sharp
fragments on the track, possibly causing future accidents....I, myself,
discover what had been done until July, 2009, 46 years later.....
* * *
Tue, Dec 8, 2009
Infinity; Final question: "What is your latest
theory on what happened at Bonneville?"
I want to thank you very much for letting me have my
say about Infinity's story as I
experienced it, and for acting as a catalyst, causing me to think about
try to resolve things that perhaps I had avoided all this time....
Anyway, the following
theory is speculation, and subject to revision if new facts appear, but
final theory, as of today....
believe that when we arrived at Bonneville on the second
trip, Infinity, the machine, was fully capable, with no alteration
of breaking John Cobb's Land Speed Record.
I believe that Romeo and Glenn wrongly believed
that the LSR timing was done in a short drag strip-type speed trap just
beginning of the measured mile, and that whatever speed was measured on
single pass, would be the record, if it exceeded the old speed record
however much or little.
explains Romeo's utterances and his and Glenn's entire
approach to the problem.
this approach makes a lot of sense,
especially as speeds go higher and higher, and the danger grows and
Romeo's idea may in fact become the norm, someday, say, in the range of
Dan Abbot's explanation, however, I believe Glenn
finally understood exactly what setting a new LSR entailed, and finally
understood what Vic had been telling him all along.
he was shaken to the core, Glenn, with very great
courage, devised a plan of his own, to accommodate both what the LSR
required, and what Romeo believed needed to be done, to set a record.
the last run, he backed off farther than ever, and ran at
the mile marker as hard as possible, in order to arrive there at the highest possible speed, and hoping
then to be
able to coast through the mile, averaging sufficiently above Cobb's
believe Glenn ran into a torque-steering problem which
only appeared at very high afterburner pressures, which caused him to
gently to the right, because the engine was pressing down on the right
the car, increasing the size of the tire contact patches, causing
rolling resistance on the right side...
tried to figure out this new phenomenon, while keeping
the afterburner full on.
the curve to the right tightened and the required
centripetal force to hold the curve increased, the car tilted up on its
left wheels, running quite a distance, balanced in that way. After
overloaded left front bearings failed, and Glenn abruptly closed the
the afterburner was shut off, the rightward torque
tending to hold the right side down with a lot of force (enough in Art
case to burst tires, as you pointed out, Sam) abruptly disappeared, and
executed a vicious snap-roll to the left, slamming into the salt,
and with the body being blown apart by 400+mph winds.
Glenn held the afterburner on so long, he put himself
into a box, with no easy way out. This is much like a thing that causes
airplane crashes, where pilots try to fly over high mountain ranges by
following a narrow valley, then they
experience carburetor icing, lose power, can't climb high enough
ahead, and are hemmed-in to left and right....
last chance, I think, was to maybe just deploy the
chutes, regardless of the afterburner flame, simultaneously closing the
that's the end of my story, Sam. I hope you have
great success with your book, and I'm sorry I've been so slow and so