The group bought a surplus craft hangared in Belfast.

SPANAWAY, Wash. (AP) – It used to be a jet plane. Now a team of Pierce County men eager to break the world land-speed record is building it into a three-wheeled, 39,000-horsepower vehicle with solid aluminum wheels designed for desert surfaces.

“The British have held the record for 20 years,” said Ed Shadle, a retired IBM computer technician who lives in Spanaway. “It’s about time that a couple of boys from Pierce County bring it back to America.”

Shadle, 61, is co-owner and driver of the vehicle. The other owner is Keith Zanghi, 48, a Boeing plant manager based in Frederickson. They’ve already invested $100,000 toward their dream of surpassing the world record of 763 miles per hour.

Along with about a dozen teammates, they’re hoping to reach the 800-mph milestone, well beyond the speed of sound.

Their team, North American Eagle, plans to install a test engine in a Spanaway hangar this September and run low-speed tests at an old B-52 runway in Moses Lake two months later, The News Tribune reported Wednesday.

Few groups around the world are pursuing the land-speed record. The British record-holder, Andy Green, recently retired his vehicle. Two American teams in the running include a past record-holder, Spirit of America, based in Rio Vista, Calif., and the Pierce County team.

Members of North American Eagle get together every Saturday or Sunday morning, gathering with tools, doughnuts and an ice-chest full of beer in a hangar at the end of the taxiways of Shady Acres Airport in Spanaway.

There’s Marty Schenk, who learned to fly with Shadle and lets the team to use his hangar next to his house as the project’s garage.

There’s Bill Eckberg, a Boeing jet engine mechanic. He came to the hangar one day because the team wanted to emblazon the 56-foot vehicle with eagles using the glow-in-the-dark paint Eckberg sells as a side business.

“I think this is a worthwhile project,” Eckberg said. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe they could do it.”

Ed Drumheller, an ejection specialist who worked on NASA programs including the Gemini, Mercury and Apollo space projects, works on the vehicle’s parachutes.

Other team members include a computer technician, a former B-52 mechanic, an auto body specialist, a machinist and an engineer. All members are volunteers from Pierce and King counties.

Shadle and Zanghi, partners from an earlier superfast-vehicle project, got their idea to re-engineer a fighter jet in 1997 as they were wondering what they needed to break the world land-speed record.

They paid $25,000 for a junked Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, sitting in a surplus aircraft dealer’s hangar in Belfast, Maine. It was used at Edwards Air Force Base in California in the J-79 testing program from 1958 to 1964. Then it flew as a chase plane with the rocket-powered X-15, part of a project launched by the Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1954 for manned spaceflight.

The group still needs $500,000 to finish the vehicle and another $500,000 to hold the record-breaking session, which would require a camp for a 30-member crew for a month.

The vehicle’s major parts were made by General Electric and Lockheed, but no monetary support has come from major corporations.

“If we had 10 minutes with any CEO, we can sell this thing,” Zanghi said. “It’s getting to those people that we’ve found difficult.”

Some sponsors have provided parts and services. A shop at Fort St. John in British Columbia is working on the engine. Another shop, in Abbotsford, B.C., machined the aluminum wheels. A shop in Port Angeles is building a magnetic braking system.

On its Web site, the team asks for potential sponsors to provide everything from on-board computers to portable toilets and toilet paper.

The team plans to make its bid for the land-speed record in the fall of 2004 at Black Rock Desert north of Reno, Nev., or at Cold Lake in Alberta, Canada.

“If we’re lucky,” Drumheller said, “we’ll be part of history.”

On the Net: North American Eagle:

AP-ES-06-18-03 1618EDT

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.