A LOT OF HARD WORK has gone into developing the systems that will allow Quicksilver to function safely and efficiently on the water. Systems to measure the performance and safety parameters of the boat while it is in motion, and control systems which offer functionality and weight-saving advantages, are key features of the craft. In the latter case, for example, instead of mechanical linkages carrying the driver’s control inputs from the steering wheel, throttle pedal and brake pedal in the cockpit to the rudders, engine and water-brake, his inputs are delivered electronically.

     The use of electronics offers enormous benefits in terms of weight-saving, efficiency (because moving parts are reduced to an absolute minimum), ease of incorporation into the hull, and – by far the most important of all – safety. The driver has full command of the craft’s controls at all times during normal operation, but if an emergency situation arises – such as an on-board fire – electronic systems can respond automatically to effect remedial action.

     Furthermore – in the case of the steering system, for example – the driver benefits from much greater accuracy in his control inputs than cumbersome, often complicated, mechanical linkages afford.

     Systems of this kind are commonplace in many types of transportation – from airliners and submarines to Formula 1 cars – but in the history of the World Water Speed Record they have not been used before, because it is over 35 years since the last record-holding boat was built. Technology has moved on a long way since then, of course, so a key to the design and construction of Quicksilver is the incorporation of modern technology to make a safer, better, faster boat.

MOST OF THE major elements of Quicksilver’s steering system have been undergoing workshop tests, as pictured above. Quicksilver has two rudders which operate in unison, but permit the driver to control the boat to a safe standstill if one rudder gets damaged during a run.

     Much of the credit for work undertaken on Quicksilver’s steering system to date goes to Robert Atkinson, who joined the team in 2002. Robert – like several other members of the squad – is no stranger to speed records, having been part of Richard Noble’s ThrustSSC team which broke the World Land Speed Record, “going supersonic” into the bargain, in 1997.

     Robert’s efforts on the boat’s steering system are being augmented by Simon Connell, who is the team’s on-board systems software specialist.

BACK IN THE days when Quicksilver’s Rolls-Royce Spey engine powered a Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer bomber, it had two hydraulic pumps which drove the aircraft’s ailerons, elevators, rudder and so forth, and facilitated fuel delivery and other functions. There was, in addition, a heavy, high-output, three-phase alternator and constant-speed hydraulic drive on the engine to generate electrical power for the aircraft.

     In order to save weight, Quicksilver’s designers elected not to have any hydraulic systems on the boat at all, thereby allowing the hydraulic pumps to be removed from the engine. They then developed a system which replaces the three-phase alternator and hydraulic drive with a much lighter, more compact, alternator driven by a purpose-made power generation system, 24-volt DC. This is pictured above.

     Quicksilver’s alternator is of a type usually fitted to lorries. There is already a battery, of aircraft specification, aboard Quicksilver which will function in combination with the alternator. In addition, individual nicad-type batteries will be installed on each of the craft’s controls to create a third tier of safety.

     Much of the credit for Quicksilver’s innovative power-generation system goes to Dr. John Challans, who joined the team in 2004. Thanks, too, are due to power-transmission specialist Optibelt for providing expertise and hardware relating to pulley/belt-drive system technology, and also to Greenway Pepper Precision Engineering for machining mounting parts, and to Glebe Engineering for manufacturing a special high-precision splined shaft for use within the alternator-drive assembly.

Black boxes and brightly-coloured clusters of wiring bedecking workbenches, undergoing tests and almost ready to go into waterproof compartments within Quicksilver’s hull. But behind this obvious evidence of the boat’s sophisticated electronics lie hundreds of man-hours of plotting and programming.

     The plotting was the endless debate about how the boat needs to function and how that should be achieved, while the programming was the encryption of all that into software language that the craft’s on-board systems can understand and respond to.

     Preparations for full-power static engine tests are ongoing and will soon be concluded. The electronic systems aboard Quicksilver are vital to the safe conduct of those tests and to the operation of the boat on the water. Most importantly, they allow dozens of aspects of the craft’s performance to be monitored, providing advance warning of things which might otherwise be problematical if overlooked.

     Temperatures, pressures, RPM, vibration, motion and positional data, and other information is gathered in real time, processed almost instantaneously, and – when necessary – responded to, either by the driver, or in the case of certain emergency situations, automatically.

     Data can also be stored on-board for downloading after a run, or transmitted to the shore by means of telemetry.

     Working on the craft’s instrumentation and data-storage system are five Quicksilver team members: Robert Atkinson, Simon Connell, Dr. John Challans, propulsion system specialist Graham Pool and engineering project manager Ray Freeman.

     Ray, who joined the team at the beginning of 2007, has spent a large proportion of his life working on the electronic systems of much bigger vessels – the warships and submarines of the Royal Navy.

     Among the companies supporting the development of the electronic control and power-distribution systems aboard Quicksilver are IS-Rayfast, Kaliber and HepcoMotion.