Some people set audacious goals in life, like climbing Mount Everest. A couple of guys from Washington state have their sights on moving...

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SPANAWAY, Pierce County — Some people set audacious goals in life, like climbing Mount Everest. A couple of guys from Washington state have their sights on moving faster than anyone has ever gone before on land.

Ed Shadle, a retired IBM engineer, and Keith Zanghi, a Boeing manager, have spent tens of thousands of dollars, hours and brain cells in their quest over the last decade.

They now have most of the requirements in place to break the world land-speed record: A restored Lockheed fighter jet with the right aerodynamics. A 52,000-horsepower jet engine. A team of 35 engineers and mechanics. Three dozen sponsors pitching in equipment.

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Yesterday, the team took a small step ahead at a Spanaway airstrip. They revved up the jet engine to full throttle, and for the first time, nothing went wrong. Saturday, they will take their car, the North American Eagle, on the road to see how smoothly it runs at 50 or 100 or maybe even 300 mph. If all goes well on that airstrip in Toledo, Lewis County, and in further tests this summer, they will have an outside chance this fall to break the land-speed record of 763 mph.

The ultimate goal: 800 mph, faster than the speed of sound, fast enough to cover a mile in four seconds.

They still lack one all-important ingredient — money.

North American Eagle

56 feet

Width: 7.2 feet

13,500 pounds

52,000-horsepower jet engine

Fuel use:
160 gallons per minute

Ed Shadle, Keith Zanghi

To break the world land-speed record of 763 mph

The owners figure it could cost up to $1 million to house up to 80 crew and family members for a month on a long, flat stretch of dirt in the Black Rock Desert of Northern Nevada.

There are day jobs, permits, hazmat cleanup, security, a medical helicopter and international judging bodies to consider.

Why do it?

“Nobody’s ever done it before,” said Shadle, 63, the driver.

“The Brits have held the record 22 years, and they did it on U.S. soil. We figure it’s time for a few boys from Washington state to bring it back,” said Zanghi, 50.

Volunteer Jon Higley, a seventh-grade science teacher in Federal Way, put it this way: “Challenges can be stepping stones or stumbling blocks; it’s just a matter of how you view them.”

The group has already overcome some big challenges. Shadle and Zanghi had to scrap a prototype car they had worked on for years when the British team put the record beyond its capabilities in 1997. To compete, without their own hefty research and development budget, they tried a novel idea — converting an old fighter jet into a car.

They found a jet in 1998 at an aircraft surplus dealer in Maine. It had a badly dented fuselage with holes and graffiti on it. They brought it home, at a cost of $30,000. Ever since, they have been fixing it up.

The car now has 40 percent new aluminum panels on the body, at least 5,000 new rivets, and a red paint job done courtesy of students at Bates Technical College. Shadle and Zanghi used their contacts to find a loaner engine from a British Columbia supplier, and an expensive jet-engine starter on loan from a California company. They bought a trailer to haul it, and borrowed a semi-tractor.

A million things could go wrong.

The engine could break down. Bad weather could spoil ground conditions. A sponsor could back out. A catastrophe could strike, like the car flipping over, an axle breakdown, a failure of the braking system.

Or they could succeed, and have a place reserved in the Smithsonian. If that happens, how would they celebrate?

“I don’t know, we haven’t really thought about that yet,” Zanghi said.

Luke Timmerman: 206-515-5644

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