Once, just once in my life, have I been honoured enough to have some of my work shown on the popular BBC program "Tomorrows world". With the programs reputation, I was obviously worried that something would go wrong somewhere.
The job involved the SA80 rifle, this is now standard issue for the UK army, but suffered from a problem at the start of production, they used to jam very often.
For some reason the MOD came to us for a soloution (A Reasearch Lab gets all kinds of jobs).
The problem was that the manufacturing plants were not used to the new European Specifications and were not geared up to produce parts to the high tolerances required by the new design. The breech was the most critical part of the design. At the end of the production line, whole rows of people were fiddling around with dial test indicators, they missed more flaws than they found. Many barrels were being passed as 'OK' when in fact they were flawed.
What was needed was a new way of testing the breech to make sure it was within tolerance.
Eventually we came up with the solution. We would design and build a bullet that had many strain gauges inside, a small processor would evaluate the measurements and then send a signal to a computer that would then give the operator a "PASS" or "FAIL" message. There were 6 measurements to take and the bullets are not that big, it was very hard to design the whole thing in such a small space.
All the operator would be required to do was load the bullet into the breech, close it, place a signal detector on the barrel, then wait 3 seconds for the message, eject the bullet, onto the next barrel.
Each Bullet was worth £100,000. We built six of them to start with.
After several months the bullets were finally ready. I sat in the Laboratory and found that for some reason they did not work. I took them apart and they worked fine. As soon as I put them back together again they stopped working. There was some sort of short going on somewhere.
I spent weeks trying to find the problem, but never really got to the bottom of it. Eventually under great pressure I managed to get one of the bullets to work.
This is the time Tomorrows World got hold of the story and said they would be interested in putting our bullet on the program. Of course we agreed as long as the MOD had no objections, which they did not.
The program went ahead and the bullet was given an official escort to the BBC studios for the show. The demonstration was flawless, everything went fine.
Afterwards we were having a drink at the bar in celebration. We had completely forgotten about the bullet and trusted the BBC to look after it for us.
Only later did we discover that during this celebration drink, someone stole the bullet.
I returned to the Lab and spent about a month trying to get another bullet to work, I never did. Eventually the project was scrapped and the bullets were never used.
I still to this day imagine this bullet, hanging on a chain around the neck of some unsuspecting woman, desperately trying to send its data to a receiving unit that no longer exists. A gift from a boyfriend who found it on a shelf at the BBC unguarded.
She has no idea that that bullet cost £100,000 to make, was on TV, and has a computer inside. To her its just a charm.
The SA80 rifle, still suffers the same problem.