The takeoff track, and the dirt ramp upon which it rested, were slanted skyward at a 22� angle for the test. But the track will now be tilted to 56�, "almost straight up and down," as Knievel puts it, for his canyon jump. This will give him a higher trajectory, rather like that of a V-2 rocket across the English Channel—and more time for his parachute to open in case he has to bail out.
Knievel never expected old X-1 and its estimated 1,300 pounds of thrust to reach the other side. Getting all the way across the canyon is a job for one of two new X-2s, capable, he says, of 5,000 pounds of thrust. The X-2 will exceed 200 mph before reaching the end of the 108-foot runway, which means that Knievel will be squeezed by a force of some four Gs at top acceleration. The steepest, fastest drop on any roller coaster would not be more than two Gs, he says. "If it comes to an abrupt halt at that speed, it will jerk my insides right out my mouth."
The old X-1 had hardly hit the water when Knievel said, "I may go all the way to those power lines," pointing to some barely visible poles at least a mile beyond the canyon's far rim.
If Knievel makes the jump—and survives—much credit will be due his head project engineer, rocket expert Robert C. Truax. Knievel says of Truax, "I was told by Jim Lovell that he was the best rocket man in the world." Not a bad reference. "Well," says Truax, "I practically founded NASA." He says he told Knievel, "If you make it I want a $10,000 bonus. And if you don't I get nothing, but you get a headstone." Knievel raised the figure to $25,000. He would be wise to raise it every day until the jump.
A reasonable person who stands at the edge of Snake River Canyon must conclude that there is no way for Knievel to survive what he has planned. He does have a drag chute that he will release behind the cycle when it starts to descend—and a shock absorber in the nose—but even at that, Truax says the chances for a safe landing would be slim. Knievel may have more raw courage than any man alive, and he knows motorcycles, but the Sky-Cycle no more resembles a motorcycle than a Saturn rocket does a DC-10. The Sky-Cycle does have wheels, but that is where the similarity ends. It is fired from its ramp like a rocket. There are no controls—no steering, no accelerator, just handlebars to hold on to—and Knievel will be at the mercy of a steam-powered flying object. Steam? Robert Truax says, "Most of the ships in the U.S. Navy are powered by steam. It is the most reliable form of power because there is no ignition."
But that was all that Truax would say about steam, or about anything without Knievel's permission. And Knievel, when asked about the model X-2 Sky-Cycle, said, "It's classified information. When I bring it here it'll be under armed guard, just like a missile being hauled across the U.S."
Knievel seems convinced that the world is waiting on his every move. The night before the test jump he said he "called 200 publishers across the country" to tell them about it. "I didn't want to hurt their feelings," he said, "but now it's too late for them to come. I've got too much wrapped up in this thing to have it ruined by the wrong kind of publicity." And he spoke of a "tremendous fight" he'd had with the networks. "No TV people allowed," he kept saying. "If I see a TV camera I'll throw the guy right off the edge of the canyon."
A month before the Sky-Cycle test, while jumping over 13 cars and trucks at the Wisconsin International Raceway, Knievel bruised his back and kidneys and broke his left hand. The throttle on his motorcycle had come off in midair; nothing like that had ever happened to him before, he said, and at Twin Falls there were moments when he held his head in hands that looked like those of an oldtime baseball catcher. "Yes," Linda Knievel said, "sometimes he does have pain."
The Sky-Cycle was at the bottom of the Snake River now, and Evel Knievel said, "When I go up on that ramp and look back at my wife and Kelly and Robbie and Tracy, my kids, my mother and dad and grandparents, and when I think of my Ferraris, my Caddies, my airplanes, my $200,000 home, my businesses, and then I look out at that canyon and realize I have to go across it and maybe lose it all, well.... But I've gotta jump that canyon because I gave my word. And just before I hit that canyon wall I'll spit at that son of a gun. That's the way I want to go."