First job for REME: Europe’s Largest Hybrid Rocket

Major Oli Morgan is the Team Leader for the Army’s involvement in the Bloodhound SuperSonic Car project.  As an Aircraft Engineering Officer in the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers, his technical background on Apache is used to good effect to provide the Bloodhound team with technical advice on Engineering Assurance. In addition to his engineering role, he is also responsible for recruiting each six-month attachment of personnel and managing the team on a day-to-day basis.

Bloodhound. MOD/Crown copyright - Sgt Adrian Harlen

Bloodhound. MOD/Crown copyright – Sgt Adrian Harlen

The interview

While the Bloodhound-Army contract was being developed, I took the decision to start the recruitment process to find the best possible REME candidates to fill four positions working with Bloodhound SSC to build a car capable of 1000 mph . It was essential that this selection be completed as soon as possible as there was a risk that contract negotiations would continue up to the proposed start date on 1 Sep 12.

I spent a long time reflecting on how the interviews should be conducted and who was to be on the interview panel. It was absolutely vital that potential candidates could be assessed by both senior Bloodhound engineers as well as REME officers. Also, to ensure that the process was transparent and fair, a marking scheme/range of competencies had to be agreed between both parties. I was very grateful for the support of Colonel Rod Williams (Army Chief Aircraft Engineer) and Mark Chapman (Bloodhound Chief Engineer) in the design of the interview format, which included trade competencies, team work, integrity and secondary skills.

On a warm day in July 2012 and after a brief tour around Training Schools in Arborfield, the joint Bloodhound-REME panel got down to the business of interviewing tradesmen for four posts on the build team. Thirty outstanding applicants were hosted in historic West Court Officers’ Mess.  Getting the hundred initial applications down to thirty was a real challenge as the standard was incredibly high.

The panel was made up of the Head of Manning (REME Corps Colonel – Ian Gibson), Col Rod Williams and from Bloodhound Mark Chapman plus Chris Dee (Chief Mechanic) and Martyn Davidson (Operations Manager).

The interview questions were designed to assess candidates competencies e.g. “can you give me an example when you demonstrated leading a team?” with particular emphasis on providing the interviewee the best opportunity to explain their key skills and why they felt they should be considered by the team.

Left to right: Chris Dee (Col Ian Gibson out of shot), Martyn Davidson, Mark Chapman, Col Rod Williams, Cfn Rob Fenn.

Left to right: Chris Dee (Col Ian Gibson out of shot), Martyn Davidson, Mark Chapman, Col Rod Williams, Cfn Rob Fenn.

I was very interested to hear what the Bloodhound team thought of the standard of REME Artificers (Fast track middle management) and our NCOs/tradesmen. They were very impressed by the breadth of interviewees’ experience, particularly in very challenging circumstances and the need to think laterally/creatively when faced with a plethora of technical issues. Also the ability to speak clearly and confidently in what must have been an intimidating experience.

Rocket trials begin

The four tradesmen selected were Avionics Warrant Officer (AQMS) Mark Edwin, Artificer Vehicles SSgt Neil Gallagher, Metalsmith LCpl Graham Sargeant and Vehicle Mechanic Cfn Rob Fenn. I had the honour of calling each of them in turn and listening to the woops and celebrations (and silent dancing) at the other end of a mobile phone!

Cfn Rob Fenn

Cfn Rob Fenn
Credit: Stefan Marjoram

I met up with the team met up for the first time at the start of September 2012 in Colerene to take over accommodation before moving off to the Bloodhound Technical Centre in Bristol for introductory meetings and welcomes. The first of which was a full Bloodhound team engineering meeting with around twenty of us being briefed on the project thus far – Craftsman Rob Fenn looked shocked when Wing Commander Andy Green sat down next to him and introduced himself.After the meeting the REME team were straight into the business of engineering and support to the rocket programme and deployed immediately to Cornwall. The main effort for the Bloodhound team during our very first month was to install the Rocket Trial test facility in Newquay Airport. This meant a busy period of assembly to structurally secure the test rig and its associated parts, including an emergency deluge gantry to soak the entire operation in the event of a leak of High Test Peroxide (HTP).

The rocket trial was held in front of the international press with more than 100,000 people watching online. I can vividly recall the sound of the control centre buzzing with a mix of nervous excitement and expectation before the Cosworth Engine started its run up routine. The noise of the engine alone was incredible – team members suggested turning the speaker sound down to be told the sound was coming from the other HAS and coming through the walls! Then start: Cosworth engine at 16,000 rpm – rocket ignition – the build up of sound and vibration and the ROAR of the hybrid rocket….then the cheers from the crowd!

High class Engineers

The first few months has seen a frantic level of work whilst integrating into a world leading team of engineers. I am pleased to report that the REME team have been well received and we have held our own.

Bloodhound team inspecting the rocket after firing. Credit Stefan Marjoram

Bloodhound team inspecting the rocket after firing. Credit Stefan Marjoram

Receiving positive feedback from our new colleagues has been immensely humbling and has dispelled any concerns that we may have been out of our depth.  Our technical skills have been put to good use with the opportunity to demonstrate the positive work ethic and initiative displayed by all service personnel.  We have also been grateful for the chance to publicly showcase wider REME capability to the civilian sector who appear eager to recruit high class engineers and managers.

One thought on “First job for REME: Europe’s Largest Hybrid Rocket

Comments are closed.