Desert workers key to land-speed record

02 June 2013 - 02:14 By SUTHENTIRA GOVENDER
British Royal Air Force Wing Commander Andy Green and current holder of the World Land Speed Record helps clear stones from Hakskeen Pan, 200km from Upington on July 24, 2012 in the Northern Cape, South Africa. Green will lead the Bloodhound SSC team in their attempt to break the land speed record. A team of 300 previously unemployed people funded by the Northern Cape government cleared stones from the 10 million square metres of desert race track to prepare for the 2014 attempt. (
British Royal Air Force Wing Commander Andy Green and current holder of the World Land Speed Record helps clear stones from Hakskeen Pan, 200km from Upington on July 24, 2012 in the Northern Cape, South Africa. Green will lead the Bloodhound SSC team in their attempt to break the land speed record. A team of 300 previously unemployed people funded by the Northern Cape government cleared stones from the 10 million square metres of desert race track to prepare for the 2014 attempt. (
Image: Emile Hendricks/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images

It will take fewer than 55 seconds to break the world land-speed record, but hours of back-breaking work to prepare the strip on the Hakskeen pan for the bid.

About 300 workers in this remote part of the Northern Cape have been doing the groundwork, literally, for the 2015 record attempt.

They have cleared 6000 tons of stones and other debris from the 20km desert track north of Upington.

"What they have done is extraordinary," said Andy Green, a pilot in the British Royal Air Force, who will use a jet-powered car in his attempt to travel at 1650km/h.

Speaking on YouTube this week, Green said: "Without these people we couldn't have done this. I'm enormously proud and impressed by what they are doing. These guys are making it happen."

Green said the 300 workers would be the "real heroes" if he was successful.

The labourers, from the Mier region tucked between Namibia and Botswana, are using shovels, wheelbarrows and their bare hands to remove stones and debris from the pan.

Even a stone the size of a pea could damage the vehicle - the Bloodhound SSC (supersonic car) - in which Green hopes to cover the length of four and a half soccer pitches every second.

The Bloodhound is powered by a jet engine as well as a hybrid rocket motor, and will carry 16 cameras so the world can watch the event.

Thirty engineers are putting the vehicle together in the UK, ready for testing on the track in May next year.

The workers will have finished clearing the speed track by September, and will continue to maintain it with the help of a laser scanner.

But for most of the workers, employment and a steady wage are more important than the record attempt.

Matriculants, pensioners and all ages in between earn about R1700 a month for their efforts.

Maria Snyders, 53, who has removed more than 20 tons of stones in two years on her own, said she did not mind the hard work, but that picking up the stones often left her hands bruised and sore.

Site manager Aubrey Mouton said the weather posed the biggest challenge.

"In the winter mornings the temperature has been below zero, and in summer we have been working in temperatures that reached 45ºC ... but no one can afford to sit at home when there is an opportunity to earn something," said Mouton.

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