John Hollenhorst reporting
There were fireworks, excitement, and awesome speed this week on top of a mesa in Southern Utah. And it's all in a day's work for Utah's most unusual business.
We were lucky enough to get a rare inside look.
Very few Utahns are aware of the goings-on at the Hurricane Mesa Test Track. Yet it's a unique business, where extreme speed is the whole idea...and the Gee-Whiz factor is very high.
It's hidden away on top of a mesa that looms over the town of Hurricane, partly to keep the work under wraps.
RADIO: "Unit two, Dave, Bleachers, you ready?" "Dave, Bleachers is ready."
If you like speed, beyond the limits of extreme drag racing...
RADIO: "You have a green light for launch."
...then the next thirteen seconds are for you.
"THREE, TWO, ONE, FIRE!"
KSL Photographer Bob Greenwell grabbed the scene. 20 "official" cameras recorded the same launch from different angles. The rocket-sled ran just a mile before hitting a top speed of 762 miles an hour! That's just a hair below Mach One, the speed of sound.
Dick Higgins Manager, Hurricane Mesa Test Track: "We could have been either side of the sound barrier. We were point-nine-nine-six-mach."
The sled carried the front end of a fighter jet and ejected a mannequin pilot. But details of the test and who paid for it are secret.
Dick Higgins Manager, Hurricane Mesa Test Track: "We were testing an escape system, doing some very new technology evluation....
Reporter: "But you can't tell me who it was done for?"
Dick Higgins Manager, Hurricane Mesa Test Track: "No, I cannot. I'm sorry."
Veteran manager Dick Higgins says the thrill never wears off.
Dick Higgins Manager, Hurricane Mesa Test Track: "The little boy in me comes out. I haven't quite got used to, never will. And I been doing this for 42 years. Heh, heh."
In the old days, it was an even bigger thrill. They used to run the sled right up to the edge of the mesa and eject the mannequin over the cliff.
Dick Higgins Manager, Hurricane Mesa Test Track: "So the parachute could fully develop, and they could get a full system evaluation."
The two-mile test track was originally built by the Air Force. It's now owned by Goodrich, the former tire company. Paying customers are government agencies, private businesses, foreign governments. They have a need for speed, sometimes beyond the sound barrier.
Missile tests. Automobile crash tests. And much more. All of it, guaranteed to get the adrenalin going.
Dick Higgins Manager, Hurricane Mesa Test Track: "You can probably tell that by the grin on my face."
The only other private facility like it in the world is in England.
The Hurricane Mesa Test Track fires off about 20 rocket-sleds a year. They'd like to pick up the pace, so to speak, and do even more launches.