A dozen Airbus employees representing the three Airbus facilities in Mobile (production, engineering, defense & space) recently got an up close and personal visit to the training base for New York Yacht Club American Magic, the U.S. Challenger for sailing’s 36th America’s Cup set to be held in 2021.
American Magic named Airbus its innovation partner in October 2018. Airbus is allocating engineering resources and modeling expertise to assist in the design optimization of the future AC75 racing boat–a brand new, cutting-edge, high-tech craft. Why the collaboration? Optimizing design, engineering, data capture, analysis and simulation are common priorities to the Airbus and American Magic teams. Wings produce lift while sails generate thrust, but both cut through the air in a similar way. When the hull of American Magic lifts out of the water, aerodynamics become crucial to speed and stability as they “fly” across the water on foils shaped like the wings of Airbus aircraft.
The America’s Cup contenders have designed and built a half-size boat and are testing it on Pensacola Bay, about an hour east of Mobile. The team invited the employees down for the day where they received a tour of the training base from Terry Hutchinson, Skipper and Executive Director of American Magic. They also met with Airbus engineer Yves Le-Biannic, one of three dedicated Airbus engineers on the project, and had an overview of past test runs with James Lyne, the team’s coach. The session culminated with a chance to drive the boat on the team’s simulator.
Though weather prevented the boat from a test run on the day, the visitors were also allowed to board the boat in its onshore cradle to see first-hand the systems, design and engineering involved in making the boat “fly”.
Airbus team members first saw the similarities between aircraft and nautical design: “The development process and collaboration between the engineers, boat mechanics, and sailors trying new prototype designs and analyzing data to assist with finding an optimal solution definitely aligns with our job functions as engineers,” said Joshua Cochran, Cabin Version Engineer at the Engineering Center in Mobile. “We utilize a similar approach at Airbus with new designs by using customer feedback, new analysis and simulation methods, but ultimately engineering level testing to validate the proof of concept to optimize the final design.”
Stephen Quinlivan, Head of Jigs & Tools at the Mobile FAL, said, “Material selection and testing are critical in competitive sailing, much like in aerospace. Airbus engineers can learn a lot from their work. We should all watch this team closely to see how they compete. Our partnership with them is an incredible opportunity to grow competitively and technically.”
The visit also highlighted to them the importance of teamwork to the success of any project: “I was impressed by the great feedback loop between the entire team–from the sailors to the design team. In a complex project, it is critical to keep strong communication through all the parts involved, where everyone can speak their mind. This is something to keep in mind in our daily jobs. They work in a competitive environment as we do,” said Hugo Gomez-Tabanera, Structures Engineer at Airbus Defense & Space in Mobile. He added, “This kind of project shows that if we collaborate, keep an open mind and work hard, we can achieve incredible goals–like a flying boat!”
American Magic will continue testing in Pensacola over the next few months, and plan to launch its first full-size boat in the summer.