We begin this month’s update with a celebration of 65 years since the iconic Bluebird K7 jet hydroplane of Donald Campbell CBE, was built in my Red Rose County of Lancashire by the main contractors, Samlesbury Engineering who were once located on the outskirts of Blackburn and Preston. 

For those of you returning from another planet and hence who may not be aware,  Bluebird K7, designed by the Norris Brothers, broke the Outright World Water Speed Record seven times from 1955 to 1964, commencing at 202mph on the freshwater of Ullswater in the Lake District all the way up to 276mph on the saltwater of Lake Dumbleyung in Australia for her final record. Donald remains the only person to hold both the Land and Water Speed Records in the same year (1964). 

When first built despite successful model tests on water and within wind tunnels, the craft when built full size disappointingly failed in its design function to hydroplane (rise up and skim along the surface of the water). Rectification required a major redesign by the Norris Brothers, primarily by way of cutting away parts of the rear hull to reduce aft buoyancy and taking the front spar that spanned the outrigger floats (termed sponsons) out of the main frame and relocating it on top of that frame with alteration of bodywork to suite. 

One of the downsides to this major redesign was that it made the airflow into the jet engine less favourable and reduced visibility from the cockpit. The design was also plagued by water ingestion into the jet engine (‘putting the fire out’ as Donald would say) that remained a problem throughout her life and indeed she completely sank at lake Mead in the USA within a year of being built. 

Despite these issues after 9 years of record breaking along with continued development, the craft was running at speeds that far exceeded her originally design requirement and as a result Donald effectively retired her. Two year later in 1966 as an attempt to promote interest in a rocket powered land speed car (Bluebird CN8 that was never built beyond a mock up), Donald brought Bluebird K7 out of retirement. 

The craft was then converted from her Metropolitan-Vickers ‘Beryl’ jet engine that she was built with and which had served her so well in obtaining all her records, to a lighter more powerful Bristol Siddeley ‘Orpheus’ jet engine, that resulted in a fatal attempt at bettering her last record on Coniston Water. This accident occurred on January 4th 1967. Of note and considering Donald was a deeply superstitious man, rather prophetically Orpheus was a legendary Greek hero who met his end killed by women, with his head being cast into the waters. 

Despite all the engineering and expense that had gone into building and developing the all metal Bluebird K7 her highest water speed record was bettered the same year that she crashed, by a wooden hull jet hydroplane called Hustler built by Rich Hallett for his friend and neighbour Lee Taylor in the USA at a speed of 285mph. 

Going back to when Bluebird K7 was first built she was unveiled by Lady Wavel Wakefield (who’s late husband had founded the Castrol Oil company) on 26th November 1954, having taken less than a year to build from scratch. 

The craft was then formerly handed over by Eric Rylands, Chairman of Samlesbury Engineering who were mainly building coach and bus bodies at that time. 

The company is also believed to have later engineered some of the parts used within Donald’s land speed record car, Bluebird CN7 and the company was a subsidiary of the Lancashire Aircraft Co who were at that time also specialising in aircraft wings. 

The factory has long since gone with some of the land it once occupied now being a golf driving range adjacent to the old Hall, with only the workshop door runners in the ground still able to be seen as a reminder of the buildings once there. However to the rear of Samlesbury Hall there is the massive site and aircraft runway of BAE Systems Samlesbury, that is accessed from the A59 so the area remains a hub for engineering excellence. 

To mark the anniversary local historian Steve Whalley invited Donald’s daughter and Ladies Outright World Water Speed Record breaker, Gina Campbell QSO, to unveil a commemorative plaque at Samlesbury Hall, adjacent to where the factory was once originally present. 

Gina gifted Bluebird K7 to the Ruskin Museum at Coniston within the Lake District in 2006, on behalf of the Campbell Family Heritage Trust and representatives from the Ruskin Museum were also in attendance as owners of the craft, along with members of the Bluebird Project tasked with rebuilding her (rather like the television program ‘Car SOS’). In addition members of the Speed Record Club, my wife Gill and myself representing Longbow along with the press were also invited to attend in amongst the public enthusiasts and supporters. There was also historic vehicle displays in the car park including military vehicles, Jaguar cars and buses / coaches of the period.   

We were also asked by Steve Whalley to return to the Hall a couple of days after the ceremony and give our first interview about our jet hydroplane Longbow which was to BBC Radio Lancashire. Many thanks to presenters of the programme John Gillmore and Nishma Hindocha for putting me at ease. 

Also there to give a talk on the radio was Gina and her partner Brian Eastham, an accomplished boat and motorcycle racer (thanks Brian for showing us the superb video of you riding around the Isle of Man racecourse on your Rob North triple Triumph and its glorious sound), Jim Noone water speed record breaker and driver of K777 (a loose replica of Bluebird K7) and local TT sidecar champion John Holden and his wife / fellow racer Fiona, along with singer entertainer Sophia Dady with her newly released Bluebird single and album. Fiona had made a remarkable recovery after breaking her neck in a horrific crash last year alongside her father who broke his leg on the famous TT mountain course.

Chatting to Gina at Samlesbury I showed her a photo of when two of my children (Jennifer and Robert) in their primary school uniforms, presented her with a bouquet of flowers in Donald’s racing colours back in 2007 at PDS Engineering in Nelson, Lancashire. That event was a similar press gathering to mark the rebuild of the Bluebird K7 hull frame that I had in part assisted with at the time. 

I remarked to Gina that my children in that photo were now adults with their respective partners and how long ago that all now seemed with the boat having been at Newcastle undergoing rebuild away from what many will say is her spiritual home of Coniston for the past 18 years. Gina also spoke of Donald Campbell’s mascot teddy bear, Mr. Whoppit who had survived the accident in 1967 and who now resides with Gina and from that conversation the photo below shows his twin brother caught on camera helping out with the rebuild of K7 in those days:

A couple of the chaps attending the celebrations at Samlesbury Hall were expert model maker Fred Harris and his friend Rich Marsh who had brought a couple of Bluebird K7 models to go with others on display for people to appreciate. 

Fred and Rich had previously come to visit us earlier in the month to see Longbow under construction at my cottage workshop and had kindly brought their superb fully working models of Sir Malcolm Campbell’s, (Donald’s father) record breaking boats, Blue Bird K3 and Blue Bird K4 (until Donald renamed her Bluebird K4 when he took her over after Malcolm’s death), then Donald’s own boat Bluebird K7 and the current record holder’s boat Spirit of Australia driven by Ken Warby MBE. 

After chatting about the models and Longbow we made the short trip to Fleetwood model boating lakes to see them in action although the weather was against us on this occasion with gusty winds and resultant choppy waves on the larger of the two model lakes making it unsuitable to run the models at speed on that stretch of water. We did however manage a couple of short runs on the more sheltered smaller lake which once used to have a pole in the middle for running model boats on a line round and round at speed before the advent of radio control that we are accustomed to these days. The sound of these scale gas turbines is fantastic especially when you consider they are running at a speed of around 150,000 rpm!

On a somewhat larger 1:1 scale the jet hydroplane Spirit of Australia II driven by our good friend Dave Warby featured along with his team in a superb Australian documentary by the ’60 Minutes’ news programme as they followed Dave testing his boat at Blowering Dam, New South Wales. Whilst the challenges of running for the Outright World Water Speed Record of 317mph set by Dave’s father Ken, for which he received his MBE were laid bare, the humour between father and son is great to watch within this documentary. The runs showing Dave’s mascot of Elvis on the dashboard of the boat as he listens to rock music blaring out in the cockpit whilst doing 250 mph, being 50mph more than Donald’s first record in Bluebird K7, is pure gold. If Donald is looking down on that I am sure he is having a right chuckle:

Unfortunately Dave managed to contract a serious waterborne infection (oh the irony) into the wound of his finger that he is having corrective surgery for and as a result was hospitalized whilst they arrived at the best type of antibiotics and treatment to contain and resolve the situation. Hopefully he is now on the right side of it and everyone at our little project send him our best wishes for a speedy recovery. On a more positive note Dave says that as a result of the television exposure further sponsors have come on board with his venture, which shows what a great marketing platform it is for companies and people to support.

Back with Longbow and this month Steve Dawber one of our design engineers and myself made a visit to one of our sponsors, WEC Group at Darwen in order to discuss with their Kris Mercer various metalwork aspects of the build that they are kindly able to come on board with and support. At the meeting we discovered that one of their welding / fabrication apprentices, Tyler Atkins was ranked within the top 10 welders in the world representing the UK welders at the World Skills Tournament in Russia and we are extremely fortunate to have himself as part of the WEC Group on board with the project:

Another company to join us as a sponsor this November is Accu Components that manufacture a wide range of precision engineering equipment and you can find out more details about the company and their products from the link on our sponsors page, in addition to their excellent YouTube videos online.

This month engineering and aeronautical lecturers Rob Lewis and Mark Stephens from our educational partner Blackpool & the Fylde College came to visit us. They brought with them components that the college had manufactured for the twin Rolls Royce Viper jet engines from the BAC Strikemaster military aircraft that are to power Longbow.

The Strikemaster, is a light attack aircraft that was manufactured at BAE Systems, Warton, Lancashire, with a 146 of them being built from 1967, the year of Campbell’s accident on Coniston Water (which was part of Lancashire back then), through to 1984 and you can therefore see a common thread of the Red Rose County’s involvement with jet engines, jet hydroplanes and water speed records.     

Also this month Steve (Hanson) and myself managed to form the scarf joints for the plywood sheeting to the underside of Longbow’s hull along with getting them drilled and dry fixed into place ready for setting with stainless steel screws supplied by our sponsor Avon Stainless Fasteners and WEST SYSTEM Epoxy kindly supplied by our sponsor for the build through to completion, Wessex Resins:

That is it for this month’s update folks. We make no apology for this update being primarily focussed on the celebration of the iconic Bluebird K7, her brave pilot Donald Campbell CBE and his daughter Gina Campbell QSO, who along with her cousin Don Wales (grandson of Sir Malcolm Campbell) have broken speed records for the benefit of the Country, as this legendary speed obsessed family along with the Warbys are our inspiration for building Longbow. 

As always we thank you so very much for tuning in, if you have not done so already, please take a moment to like our Facebook page and we hope to see you again towards the end of December for the next instalment of building our jet hydroplane Longbow, that with good fortune will hopefully lead to a British attempt upon the Outright World Water Speed Record. 

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