In the beginning, we thought this might be a bit of an anti-climax. It's nine years, more or less to the day, since the Bloodhound SSC team announced its intention to set a "limit of known technology" land speed record of 1,000mph. They were aiming, back then, at 2011-12 yet here they were at last, years late, running their 18-metre orange and blue creation down the runway of Cornwall Airport. At just 20 per cent of the planned record speed, it travelled only a bit faster than the landing speed of the bucket-and-spade Airbuses that had been arriving all morning.
That was before the 4,000 people - all of them sponsors, or financial supporters, or friends on this first day - showed up, along with the big interview screen, the burger vans and the hospitality tents. It was also before the man in the cockpit, Wing Commander Andy Green ("I'm a driver - this is a race car") explained that today's two runs were about the most technically exacting the car would ever do. Why? Because on Newquay's 1.6-mile runway (closed for this exercise for just an hour) doing 200mph was a considerable challenge. Luckily, he said, the car had proven remarkably bug-free in early runs at less than half the speed.
Even on a 200mph run, he explained, there's a lot for the driver to do. On jet-only power, he has to be careful not to feed full noise straight away, but to wait for a decent flow into the air intake. Then it's maximum acceleration (with full reheat around 40mph) allowing the car to achieve its target 200mph in about eight seconds.
Trouble is, this all-digital car suffers both throttle and brake lag. It keeps accelerating for 2.5 seconds after you've lifted, using up another 400 metres of track, and the race-bred carbon brakes (which function best at 800C) take a similar time to heat from cold. So to get the job done you have to get off the throttle around 130mph - not minding that it keeps right on accelerating - and feather the brakes to warm them so they'll stop as intended. It's a skill test, he explained, but he was ready.
The crowd assembled in special areas, surprisingly close to the runway. The engine fired slowly and then the car rolled away, surprisingly quickly. Green did a slow, full circuit of the perimeter tracks before lining up on the main runway, pausing for only a few seconds to build up to full power (amid thunderous old-school jet noise). Then he let her go. After a few seconds he selected reheat, complete with a long, fierce-looking yellow trail of flame from the jet. Today, Green had only 9 tonnes of thrust to deploy, which sounds plenty, but to achieve 1,000mph he'll need 20 tonnes of combined jet and rocket thrust. After two noisy, full power passes, Green parked the car and submitted to the first of many interviews, already hoarse-voiced from all the talking he'd done before driving.
The crowd loved it all, and the car seemed packed with potential. It first achieved about 202mph, then 210mph in barely a third of the runway, building brake temperatures to the desired 800C and doing its stuff without complaint. "Today we ran for 21.5 minutes and turned this car, designed for two minute record runs, into a drag racer," he said. "It took all that without any complaint. We couldn't have hoped for better."
Green talked a lot more - he always does. One of his best quips came in answer to a daft question about visibility from the cockpit, which seemed restricted. "It's fine," he told the questioner, "all I have to do is look straight ahead... You only look sideways if you're likely to be overtaken - but that's never going be a problem in this car."