TORNADO - The Team with the Comedy Flying Cow


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21/6/01 - Annealed the chassis welding, side bars and weapon motor cradle and mounts. Got the Extreme info through from Mentorn (who are cutting it fine, as always). Finished a good chunk of the removable spikes and the chassis bottoming feet. Ordered some more kart chains from Dartford Karting. Armour arrived from Vantico - it looks excellent!

22/6/01 - Kart chains arrived from Dartford Karting - that's seriously good service! Sorted all the tickets for Extreme out. Bryan sorted a load of bits out at work - drilled the spare disc, pulleys and motor shafts. Started drilling the top and bottom armour. Worked on the foam donuts to put in the wheels - the tyres are very hard indeed to stuff, but they are just possible. Made up four wheels plus two spares with wet tyres ready for Extreme.

23/6/01 - Tickets arrived in the post from Mentorn, and we sent those out to people as required. We cleaned the stand and trolley ready for painting, made the spike and weapon guards, hardened all the spikes, toughened the disc teeth, plus drilled and test fitted all the armour. Dave continued working on the electronics - we now have complete speed controllers and almost complete control/decoder boards. You can see our new LED diagnostics board (top right below) - this tells us at a glance what is happening in the controller.

24/6/01 - Cleaned the chassis, spike/disc guards, trolley, side bars, weapon mounts and weapon motor cradle, and then painted all this lot!

Andrew went and took a chunk out of his arm with the angle grinder brush ... while cleaning the spike guards! Assembled the first disc completely, finished the spare disc teeth, plus finished the spare wheel tubes and keys. Drilled, tapped and countersunk the spare disc.

Dave finished building the electronics and got it all working on the bench.
This was the first really late night before Extreme - we left Daves at about 2.45am! Even after I managed to bridge a spanner across two of the batteries and make some big sparks(!), all the electronics worked from the transmitter at their first fitting, with no smoke at all!

25/6/01 - Stickers arrived from Applied Lettering. Handed out the rest of the Extreme tickets. Labelled up the new side armour in the evening, and finished off a few details.

Bryan finished building the spare disc. Completed building Tornado up. You can see the optical sensor directed onto the weapon motor pulley; this allows us to reduce the current limit if the motor gets stalled.

With Daves electronics now complete, we performed the first test, at about 10.30pm! Our usual truckstop testing site was by now full of trucks, so we had to use a small strip of concrete near a roundabout on the old A1. Driving under car headlights we managed to prove that the weapon seems to work - it threw some old kart tyres about 10 metres into the air, and sent a plastic bottle flying.

We caught the concrete quite a few times, making sparks and clouds of dust, plus an unscheduled trip onto the grass showed we have a robotic lawnmower - when we tried to get back on the concrete we sent a big chunk flying towards Dave, rounding off the teeth a little. The disc is very well balanced indeed - nothing needs to be done to balance it! We found a problem with the chassis bottoming feet - they are only held in with one bolt, and when the robot turns, they unscrew! We will have to do something about that before we leave - we decided to pack tomorrow and head down to Extreme (Earls Court) on Wednesday, rather than rush around tonight and be ready to leave tomorrow evening.

26/6/01 - Sorted out the chassis bottoming feet problem by adding another bolt so they cannot spin and unscrew. Finished the final few spares, and packed the 101 ready to leave for Extreme tomorrow. We finished at about quarter past midnight...

27/6/01 - The first day of Robot Wars Extreme filming at Earls Court in London. It was a very early start for us, not helped by the fact that we had a big thunderstorm in the early hours of the morning and none of us got much sleep. We met up with Bryan at South Mimms services, where he was catching up on some sleep on one of the stretchers in the back of the 101! We got to Earls Court early, before even the car parks were open, and had to kill a bit of time. When finally we got into the grounds of Earls Court we still had to wait, as they crew hadn't arrived and we couldn't be let in. Once we got in and unloaded, it was clear that a few things were different from the Series 4 filming. The pits area was very small, it was only possible to get round two sides of the benches (so working on the robot often required someone to be standing on the bench!), and some poor sods had to share benches that were barely big enough for one robot as it was. We weighted in at 97kg and were ready to fight by 10.30am.

(Hires versions of some of these images are available in the Gallery.)
Our first fight was scheduled to be at 5pm against 3 Stegs to Heaven, as part of the All Stars championship. By lunchtime it was clear that things were not going to plan - out of 6 battles that had been scheduled, only the first 2 six robot american melees had taken place. The filming was falling way behind, and as the afternoon drew on it was looking less likely that we would get to fight that day. As we had supporters in the crowd who had come specifically to see us fight, we asked Mentorn if we could be put on that evening - Stinger were in a similar position and so the first round fights were re-jigged so we could fight each other. The fight went very well for us, we put some good damage in on Stinger's tyres and outside domes and won fairly convincingly. The new spinning disc weapon was proven! We spent the evening with the guys from Stinger, having a pizza and a few beers.

28/6/01 - Second day of Robot Wars Extreme filming - everything was falling really far behind by now, and Mentorn began cancelling events - the Challenge Belt which we were due to be taking part in tomorrow (Friday) was cancelled until the Series 5 filming in August. Mentorn decided today that they wanted us to fight 3 Stegs to Heaven in the All Stars as planned, so the Stinger fight would have to be put down as a grudge match - except we've never fought them on TV before... The fight against 3 Stegs went very well, despite their new spinning weapon - we pushed them around a lot, cut some good scrapes in their aluminimum armour, and broke both their wheel bearings(!), making them loose a chain on one side. We went through - the Steg guys have some improvements planned before Series 5. The photo below shows a little bit of damage to our front armour - and some paint from 3 Stegs!

By now Mentorn and the film crews were really messsing everyone around, leading to a lot of frayed tempers and crossed words from many of the teams, including ourselves. At one point we were ready to go into our second round fight (against Pussycat), and we were sent back and forth, up and down the backstage tunnel several times until we got fed up with being ordered about and had words!
The fight against Pussycat went our way very quickly - we managed to make a right mess of their lower (aluminium) armour, and knock one of their wheels off! Pussycat's blade did little visible damage to us (see picture below), however they caught the disc pulley and took a chunk off it. Pussycat, knowing they were beaten, went for Kilalot, their blade going straight through his front and jamming the pull start on his petrol engine. This caused a rather big fire, which Refbot failed to put out, and the quick thinking of his driver parking him over one of the arena CO2 jets has to be commended. But what great TV it made!
We had a look at Kilalot later, and he was rather charred... For those of you who've never seen him up close, he uses a pair of 4QD 300's driving 24V 400W Leeson motors that are about the size of a 3 litre pop bottle each. The 4QDs are still controlled by servos moving an RS contactless joystick! - remember he was built for Series 2, long before proper interfaces were available. The chassis is a widened Honda hydralic tracked wheelbarrow with the hydralic parts removed, while a petrol engine drives a hydralic pump that powers his weaponry. It was interesting to get really close up looks at all the house robots, and it's then you realise why most competitors don't have a chance against them - they're built an order of magnitude stronger! One interesting fact about Matilda's new tail disc - it's powered by one of Roger Plant's Litton motors...
The evening was taken up with Ian (Bigger Brother) Watts' pub trek - a large group of the roboteers headed across London trying to find the pub that the Bigger Brother team were already drinking at. In hindsight: never try to follow directions from Ian Watts. Thank goodness Karl from Stinger had brought a map along... We found them eventually, and by that time we needed a drink even more badly! Take a look at the photos on Storm's site from this evening out...

29/6/01 - Third day of Robot Wars Extreme filming - things were so far behind now that Mentorn were forced to cancel yet more events, including the Melee we were due to compete in on Saturday (tomorrow). Our first fight of the day was our semi final fight against our old adversaries, Chaos 2! This was the first time we were to come up against them with the new weapon, and only the second time on TV - it was time for revenge! We pushed Chaos all over the place, taking chunks out of his covers and aluminium sides. Although George got a few flips in, we kept going, and Chaos started to fade, Georges flipper loosing power and failing to return properly. At one point we pushed Chaos into a CPZ, but then we got pushed onto the side of the arena and attacked by the house robots! It was a good test of our new titanium laminated armour, as Shunt's axe barely marked it; see the picture on the left below. We were knocked off the side by Refbot and the fight continued; then Chaos 2 lost drive on one side and the fight was effectively over. Although it went to the judges, they ruled that because we had pushed Chaos into the CPZ that the house robots should have attached Chaos 2 and not us, so we won and were through to the final! Chaos 2 was a bit of a mess - we managed to hit their gas bottle (but not punture it), and we broke one of their wheel bearings, which is what caused them to loose the chain. When George lifted the flipper on the bench, it returned fine - Ian and George took Chaos 2 back to Ipswich for repairs.

The final was against Razer, and was the first time we have fought them. It proved to be the most boring battle we have ever been in, because Razer got hold of us almost instantly, and in a very unsportsmanlike way, refused to let go of us properly. The crowd were almost silent throughout, and although it may have looked different on TV, Razers beak was always at least 2cm inside our armour. We lost drive on one side as they cut our chain, and then on the other side as (just our luck) the drive pin on the motor pinion came out! There was nothing we could do, so we lost the final. The weapon kept going though, as Shunt found out as he pushed us into the pit. The damage was not huge, but enough to force us to completely strip Tornado so we could weld in another section of chassis. It took us most of the rest of the day to get it all fixed again, and we began rebuilding the chassis as filming ended for the day. Razer didn't get away free either - they bent their crushing arm, and had their robot stripped down as they searched for a weapon control problem, which they traced to an overheating solenoid.
The evening was spent finding food - we went to what has to be one of the most authentic chinese restaurants in Bayswater, along with Ed from Storm.

30/6/01 - Fourth day of Robot Wars Extreme filming. We got to Earls Court as early as we could to build Tornado up to go to Robots@War (Wilsons Day). Before we left Earls Court, we were told that we had been given a place in the World Championships to be filmed on Sunday (1st). We had already decided to leave most of our tools etc at Earls Court and take only one car down to Croydon, just in case we were asked! See our Robots@War 2001 event report. We left before the end of Wilsons Day to get back to Earls Court before the end of Saturdays filming.

1/7/01 - Fifth and final day of Robot Wars Extreme filming. We intended to get in early to remove all the charity event parts and refit the spinning disc and proper armour, but I overslept because for some reason the phone in my hotel room stopped working and I missed my wake up call... We still got in soon enough to do what we needed to though, and we were ready for our first round World Championship fight (a four way Melee) just before lunch. We were to be against Panzer Mk2 from America (a very powerful pushing robot with a lifter), Philipper from Belgium (with two lifters and a self-righter) and Yebo Robo from South Africa (with an axe and chain lifter). Ourselves and Panzer were ready and went out into the arena, and waited. And waited. Yebo Robo was having problems, so the fight was postponed until after lunch! Yebo Robo was fixed over lunch, and once everyone was back out again, the fight commenced. I say out rather than in position, because both Philipper and Yebo Robo did not get to their start points! We had already realised that Panzer were going to be the difficult opposition, so we went straight for them. We soon found how difficult - they are the first robot that we have failed to push, and once they got their lifter underneath us, they could push us around at will. We managed to make a real mess of their side bars with our disc, but we could feel the battle slipping away from us ... until Philipper sneaked up behind Panzer and turned them over! Panzer's self righter failed, so we proceeded to have some fun. There was not a lot we could do to Philipper, but as it wasn't that quick, we pushed it about as best we could. Yebo Robo finally got going, and moved out into the middle of the arena - so we pushed them straight down the now open pit! It was a fun fight, which we won but only with the help of the Belgians, and in which we experienced our only interference problems at the whole event - I think some robots have a bit to learn about suppression!
This put us into the semi finals of the World Championships, and as two US robots and two UK robots had made it through, we were grouped to ensure a UK vs US final. So we had to fight Razer again... By now all the disc teeth were well past their best, so to give us half a chance, we changed to the charity event weapon! We also changed back to the Hawker batteries, having run the Kiels for all the other battles and noticed a drop in speed and manouverability. The fight was much closer this time, and we managed to push them about a bit, while they got a few good nips in on us. The turning point came when I opened the pit using the tyre at the end of the arena - and Razers beak got stuck in our top armour. What else could they do but hold us above it? We lost to them again, but we didn't mind this time, as the fight was so much more exciting! Plus we were still going, and were able to drive out of the arena on our own once the pit was raised. Razer were a bit less lucky, burning out their pump motor! They had a spare though, and were able to repair it to compete in the final.
We noticed that Tornado was quite a bit quicker in this fight, which might be down to changing the batteries from Keils to Hawkers, or maybe due to not having a powered weapon. We have some research to do - watch this space, we will report back.
Other interesting battles of the day included the World Championship first round Melee including Chaos 2 - George drove straight into the pit! He later admitted that he was trying to show off and flip his opponent into the pit - but he completely missed! Whoops! We also saw Hypnodisc get beaten by a German robot - they had a magnet come off from a motor, and lost drive. It looked like their batteries were dying too, as their disc had no power towards the end. If you think Pussycat weren't on form, then we know why - if you bumped into Dave Gribble then you also met Isobel Adams (from Wild Thing), if you catch my drift...
So what was so bad about Extreme (or rather the Earls Court filming) that everyone was getting so fed up with? I'm not going to write a dissertaion about it, but lots of little things went wrong and combined to make the experence a lot less fun than Series 4. There was way less space than was required - both for the teams (see my comments about the pits on 27/6) and the backstage film crews. The US and UK crews were continually fighting over a 10m square area in front of the "entrance" to the back of the stage, and the robots and roboteers were being shunted about all over the shop so little bits could be filmed here and little bits there. Most fights were to be shown on both the US and UK versions of the show - which meant many of the interviews happened twice with different presenters. The US lot seemed to be very keen on retakes... Some of the time there were no tea and coffee facilities available for the roboteers - however Mentorn made very sure that the crew never went without. Over zealous security guards prevented roboteers eating and drinking in the pits - yet certain members of the crew continued to eat and drink where they pleased. The hotel that the UK roboteers were put up in was not anything special - the US teams and the crew were put up in a different hotel nearer to Earls Court. There was lots of sponsor advertising visible - some of it blatant (especially from the american teams) - and we saw no attempt made to prevent it. There were no TV monitors showing the arena action - they were removed because everyone in the pits was watching them! All these things we could have put up with, but the things that really got to us were the ridiculous overrunning (we had, like many teams, people coming to see us fight at specific times), and being rushed by the crew to fix the robot (the question "How soon can you be ready?" being asked every 10 minutes) and then being made to wait for another few hours after busting our guts to be ready. We feel that Mentorn treat the roboteers as if they are not important - we may not be the celebrities, but the robots are the stars of the show, and Mentorn really need to realise this! I take part in Robot Wars because it's enjoyable. Except the Earls Court filming wasn't enjoyable - that's what I'm trying to get at.
But our experiences were not all bad. This was the first Mentorn event to feature an appearance fee - we picked up a cheque for 500 before we left. But also by making the World Champs we got a share of the $50,000 prize fund - we won $3500, which when combined with the appearance fee will pay for most of what extra Tornado has cost since Series 4. We must say a big THANK YOU to Derek Foxwell for putting up with us, and Alex Sunderland, without whom there would be no Robot Wars. We know how hard you work Alex, and even if Mentorn don't, us roboteers appreciate what you do and thank you for it. The temperature in the pits and backstage was bareable, pleasant even (unlike at Series 4), the food provided was excellent, and while we were actually fighting we had great fun making great TV! Plus of course, there were as many gorgeous female crew members as always - how do Mentorn manage it?

2/7/01 - Finally unpacked the 101 after Extreme, and tidied the garage a little as we did so. Dave filmed the damage still left from the World Championships.

We are all too tired to do anything robot related for a little while, so we're going to take a (very) short break.

3/7/01 - Posted some kart tyres to our mate Ed from Storm.

6/7/01 - We are gradually getting rid of the go-kart tyres - gave some to Dave Porton - good luck with the robot Dave! We've still got loads left though, so if you're interested, get in touch.

11/7/01 - Went and got more steel for the disc teeth and PTFE bar for the chassis bottoming feet.

13/7/01 - Prepared Tornado for the Robots@War Arena event. Fixed the damage to the chain guide and chain from Extreme, and packed our cars.

14-15/7/01 - Attended the two day Robots@War Arena event in Danson Park, Bexley - see our event report.

16/7/01 - Despite me giving Mentorn my bank details at Extreme, it's been 2 weeks now and we still haven't got our prize money. I had to ring and chase them for it - something that I really shouldn't have needed to do. Typical Mentorn efficiency! Spent the evening working on bits for Bryans 101 and sorting out the bits from the Arena event.

19-22/7/01 - Land Rover Enthusiast show at Billing. Got quite a few tools for the robot. Saw the Behemoth guys there too!

23/7/01 - Still no sign of our prize money from the World Championships. Time to chase Mentorn yet again... they said they'd look into it.

25/7/01 - Spent almost the whole evening tidying the garage after the Robots@War Arena event. The hot weather is not making working on the robot easy! Got together all the spinning disc parts used at Extreme so that Bryan can repair and refurbish them. Found a big bend in the chassis from the Arena event, that can only have been caused by good old Dantomkia!

Also finally our prize money from the World Championships has arrived - we won $3500 which works out to 2497.95. It will go a long way to covering this year's costs.

27/7/01 - For a while now we've been discussing an idea for another new weapon to use against my least favourite kind of opponent - hydralic crushers. We made the decision today to try and build the anti-crusher weapon - we don't have much time, but we're going to try. Thus spent much of the evening weighing all the parts of the spinning disc weapon we would remove to fit the anti-crusher one. Also started cutting the new top and bottom armour, as it needs to be laminated by Vantico as soon as possible.

28/7/01 - Finished cutting the new top and bottom armour, and got the laminate polycarbonate and titanium sheet ready for Bryan to hand to his father. Did a trip with Dave to the scrapyards in Peterborough to look for motors for the anti-crusher weapon - found the source of one of the car fan motors we bought way back in September 99, and bought another four of them. Bryan turned up just after we got back, and helped remove the plastic fans from and dismantle and clean the motors. He has managed to get the steel parts for two more discs machined, and is starting work on the aluminium - but first he is repairing the discs we used at Extreme. Spent the evening working on the weight budget for the new weapon - it is going to be very difficult to make in the weight we have left!

29/7/01 - Continued looking at the options for the anti-crusher weapon - it's all falling into place now. Started stripping Tornado down, and found a few problems - one of the intermediate gears has come loose, and there are a few more bends in the chassis that will need dealing with. Bryan delivered the armour parts to his father, and Dave started work on the battery tester.

30/7/01 - Got the details of the anti-crusher weapon weight budget sorted out. Ordered sprockets and pinions for the weapon. Finished stripping the chassis, and went over it carefully noting all the points that will require repair. Dave got the battery tester working - it uses one of our speed controllers driving the large UPS inductor. We'll be able to start testing batteries soon.

31/7/01 - Sprockets and pinions for the ACW arrived from Dartford Karting - speedy service as always! They look ideal and will give us a gear ratio of over 11:1 in a single stage.

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