By Josh Giegel and Shervin Pishevar, Co-Founders, Hyperloop One
"A posse ad esse. Aut viam inveniam aut faciam."
In the early morning hours of May 12, a few dozen Hyperloop One engineers and execs squeezed into a makeshift control room in a trailer under the stars in the Nevada desert to watch transportation history in the making. Ever since we started the company three years ago, we've been aimed at this moment, the instant when we achieve controlled propulsion and levitation of a Hyperloop One vehicle in a vacuum environment.
Two minutes after midnight we finally hit that milestone, the debut of the first new mode of transportation since the Wright Brothers flew over the dunes near Kitty Hawk, N.C., on a chilly morning in December 1903. Back then, only a few locals bore witness to the moment. It would be five more years before the public got to see a Wright flyer. We’re not about to wait that long. We're sharing our Kitty Hawk moment today.
Everybody there (with a group watching live from the LA office) knew how big a deal this was. Josh, twisting a champagne bottle in his hands, emotion catching every word, spoke first to the group in that control room: "I quit my job in December 2014 to come here. My wife told me that if I could find a team of people just as committed to this as I was, we would do something nobody thought possible. This is to all of you, for the time you spent away from your families, your friends, your spouses, and kids. Thank you all for the sacrifices.”
“Josh,” said Shervin, “you made me cry. So did all of you. It was a crazy idea to try to do this when we started the company. We’ve been through hard times, and we’ve been through good times. The world won’t know for a little while what happened here in the deserts of Nevada tonight but we’ve all made history, and it will be recorded and we will change the world, and we will not give up."
Hyperloop One is now on the verge of the complete systems test at our DevLoop site in the desert north of Las Vegas. We’ve installed almost 1,000 feet of the linear motor in a 1,640-foot-long tube capable of reducing the air pressure down to the equivalent of 200,000 feet above sea level. Top speed will be around 250 mph. Today we’re also unveiling XP-1, the pod we’ll be using for those full systems tests over the next several months at DevLoop. XP-1 is comprised of a carbon fiber and aluminum aeroshell atop our levitating chassis, which is the business end of the vehicle, where all the performance comes from: suspension, lift, guidance and propulsion.
That May 12 test may have been short -- only 5.3 seconds, about half the duration of Orville’s first flight -- but we were only testing with 100 feet of the motor. The longer the motor, the faster we can go. Five seconds sure felt momentous that night. We were standing in the back, staring like everyone else at the video feed from inside the tube. The vacuum pump down had begun around 8 p.m. By 11:45, tube pressure was down to 100 pascals. The motor team ran some preliminary tests, edging the pod up and back a few feet at a time just to make sure the motor was working fine. We emailed the Hyperloop One team at 11:51 p.m. with the image of Orville’s first flight and a note that said, “Grab the kids, grab the dog, put the beer down, it's on!"
Just before midnight, DevLoop test engineer James D'Entremont (playing a younger version of NASA Houston flight control's Gene Krantz) started going through the system checks: Max runtime? Three. Max frequency? 43. Verify control boards are active. Verified. Pressure management, confirm ready test? Ready for test. Tube, confirm ready for test. Yeah, ready. Power electronics confirm ready for test. Ready for test. Motor team. Pod team. PRV. Controls. All ready. Awesome, said D'Entremont. Test director, can you confirm ready for test? Ready.
"Can you give me the tube pressure?" asked D'Entremont. Somewhere around 5-ish pascals. At this point, we’d achieved the fourth largest vacuum chamber in the world, and the biggest in private hands.
"Time of test, zero zero 2,” said D’Entremont, and gave the command to turn on the first thyristor, which delivers power to the stators that propel the pod.
"Fire in 5. 4. 3. 2, and 1.” There was a half-second delay. A clench in the throat. Then, sure enough, the sled shot off down the track, chased by the electromagnetic force from the stator. The wheel mounts rumbled along for a second, and then the rumbling stopped as the pod lifted off the track and glided for 3 seconds before coming to a halt on its own.
Hyperloop One's Kitty Hawk moment had arrived. The room erupted in applause, whoops, hugs, and high-fives. The whole group came back into the control room to watch one more run of the tape, share some words and reflect on what we'd accomplished.
History is made by people, not events, by hard work and persistence, and not by chance. Close to 200 Hyperloop One engineers, machinists, welders and fabricators collaborate to accomplish our Kitty Hawk moment. It was their determination that made the previously impossible possible. Getting here wasn’t easy. The road ahead won’t be any easier. But soon we will all be going farther and faster together.
There's a great quote from Charles Lindbergh about aviation's pioneering brothers: "In honoring the Wright Brothers, it is customary and proper to recognize their contribution to scientific progress. But I believe it is equally important to emphasize the qualities in their pioneering life and the character in man that such a life produced. The Wright Brothers balanced success with modesty, science with simplicity. At Kitty Hawk their intellects and senses worked in mutual support. They represented man in balance, and from that balance came wings to lift a world."
There will be a moment decades from now when folks from the Hyperloop One team will be in Vegas with their children or grandchildren, and they'll hop in a car and drive north – everyone in the car will be asking, “Where are we going? The only thing up here is Love’s Truck Stop.” Then you’ll see her, faint in the distance but clearer and more detailed as you approach. She’ll be standing proudly, a testament to the work of each person on the Hyperloop One team. The kids will look, and they’ll see a shape they’ve seen all over the world. “Is that a Hyperloop?” they’ll ask. No, it’s the Hyperloop, the original, the one from which the revolution began.