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Racing to the finish: Airbus innovation provides a competitive advantage for ORACLE TEAM USA

10 May 2016 Feature story

ORACLE TEAM USA is completing the design of a state-of-the-art catamaran to be used in defending its championship title at the 35th America’s Cup competition – fully leveraging the expertise and resources of Airbus as this sailing squad’s Official Innovation Partner. 

The productive cooperation between ORACLE TEAM USA and Airbus – which began in 2014 – benefits from the similarities between sailing and flying. Approximately 30 Airbus engineers specialising in areas such as flight physics and structure are closely involved to support ORACLE TEAM USA, in addition to the two Airbus engineers based full-time with ORACLE TEAM USA in Bermuda. 

Powered by a 20-metre-tall wingsail, America’s Cup-class catamarans glide above water on hydrofoils, which are lift-generating surfaces that run vertically from the craft’s hulls. Their carbon-fibre design employs similar aerodynamics and structural loading calculations as the wings of an Airbus jetliner. 

The similarities between sailing and flying extend even further, according to ORACLE TEAM USA Project Engineer Ian “Fresh” Burns. “Our structures, test processes, instrumentation and hydraulic systems are all influenced by Airbus aircraft design,” he explained. “We are effectively using controls that adjust the lift of the foils under the boat, just as a sidestick governs the flight control surfaces of Airbus aircraft.” 

ORACLE TEAM USA General Manager Grant Simmer said the partnership with Airbus has been an excellent learning experience. “It’s like a treasure trove of everything we do, but at a much higher level. Drawing upon it to improve our boat’s performance is a great challenge for us.”  

Added Burns: “In the sailing world, engineers have to be masters of many trades because the teams are so small. Having access to these hugely experienced and passionate experts, with their own view of things, brings us a big advantage.” 

 

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