Railton Water Speed

Foreword by Richard Noble

Richard Noble
Richard Noble

Like so many of my generation I read avidly about the record breakers and the extraordinary achievements of the designers and drivers of the 1920’s 30’s and 40’s. In 1952 I was lucky enough to be given the start because living in Inverness, my Dad decided to take the family for a country drive along Loch Ness and there I saw John Cobb’s Crusader sitting on its transport pallet on Temple Pier at Drumnadrochit. I remember it vividly – the Castrol workshop, the Coles crane and a huge crowd on the road above – just gazing at this amazing red and silver craft which was eventually to peak at 225mph on water. There were models and pictures being exhibited in the shop windows in Inverness – there was massive interest.

Of course all this can lead to an obsession and led directly to Thrust1, Thrust2, Dieselmax and the ThrustSSC supersonic record – and of course BloodhoundSSC which is unfinished business as I write.

As we progressed through our own record projects – new technology began to become available to designers such as CAD, FEA and CFD which made ThrustSSC possible. These technologies give detailed analyses which made design much more of an exact mathematical art.

But how did these early designers cope without these magic tools? The conclusion I came to is that they had extraordinary integration with their projects and such a deep understanding of their materials and engineering, that had they had these wonderful IT tools, they may never have needed them. They could make their judgements with their slide rules and in their heads. And very quickly!

Richard Noble
Richard Noble unveils a plaque dedicated to his inspiration at a school built on the site of Cobb’s former home

Crusader crashed in September 1952 and John Cobb was killed. We all assumed that the tragedy was one of those awful accidents and the word went around that having lost his good friend the brilliant designer Reid Railton would never design a record breaker again.

In April 2018 the truly magnificent book Reid Railton Man of Speed was published by Evro and we discovered the rest of the Crusader story. Railton was deeply unhappy about the management of the Crusader project and decided to design the second generation record boat, working with his friend and fellow record breaker George Eyston. Everything he had learned from the Crusader project went into this new design which progressed as far as being incorporated into a wind tunnel model built in secret by NPL. And there, it seems it stopped because there were no funds available to build the full scale Crusader 2 boat.

Karl Ludvigsen’s magnificent two part book about Reid Railton which used much research provided by project historian Steve Holter who had access to material via Railton’s daughter Sally Joslin.

We can only guess the story of the model – but it might have been stored by George Eyston at his home in Winchester and when he died sold off with his estate. We believe it was sold to an antique dealer who may not have known what it was. Subsequently it was offered on eBay and it failed to sell. Steve Holter found it and photographed it for the Evro book and I was lucky enough to be able to buy it. This model is the distillation of all Railton’s experience and work and it’s a 1954 Old Master.

So what do you do with an Old Master? Well we have to see if it works! Len Newton has built the most beautiful museum quality 1/6th scale (6ft) jet powered model of Crusader 1 and is now getting started on the Crusader 2 model built from scans of the Railton wind tunnel model . Both are to the same scale and with identical jet power and weights – and that means we can race them at 100mph and see which performs best. My old friend Robin Richardson is willingly managing the admin, pulling the various strands together and keeping us on track.

If Railton was right then it’s likely that the wind tunnel model might have enabled a 350mph water speed record – and in the 1950’s.

This is engineering from beyond the grave. It’s a huge privilege to take part and an opportunity to promote and do homage to one of Britain’s greatest and most innovative designers – a man who never needed a computer.

Richard Noble OBE
February 2019