British Bobsleigh use BAE Systems wind tunnel technology on Road to Sochi

Published 28 January 2014


A visit to one of the world’s leading testing sites for elite fighter jets could give Britain’s Bobsleigh medal hopefuls the edge over their competitors.

The Great Britain four-man bobsleigh team spent time in the wind tunnel facilities at the BAE Systems jet-building facility in Warton, Lancashire, as part of their preparations for the 2013/2014 World Cup season which culminates with the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on February 7.

Working with aerodynamic experts from BAE Systems and McLaren Applied Technologies – assembled as part of BAE System’s technology partnership with UK Sport – the team spent three days in July discovering how different sled set ups and crew positions affect wind resistance at speeds of well over 65mph (100kmph).

The team of experts, who are usually found testing the performance of fighter jets at wind speeds of over 200mph, looked in great detail at how kit worn by the team along with their racing position effected their aerodynamics on the track.

Team pilot John Jackson said the hundredths of seconds which could be shaved off their time by using this aerodynamic advice could be the difference between success and failure in the team’s bid for a podium finish

Speaking before he jetted out to the Games, he said: "When it comes to the Winter Olympics you need a bit of luck with the right conditions, but there are a lot of things you can do to make your own luck.

"If you can get the right equipment and four good runners, you have a chance, but anything you can do which can give you an edge, you need to do if you want to win a medal."

Jackson added: "A lot of nations have done this and we need to be sure the equipment we are using is up to the right specification to ensure we get the best from it.

"As a team, we are still learning and growing, so to be doing that supported by this kind of equipment and expertise, can only make us better."

The wind tunnel, which reaches speeds of 240mph when testing jets, battered the team with speeds of nearly 80mph winds to recreate the speeds they will reach in competition.

Gary Anderson, performance director for GB Bobsleigh, said the world’s elite teams all had access to wind tunnel facilities.

He said: "We need this type of world-class facility if we are going to compete at the highest level.

"We can do everything we can do to get our guys to their peak but there is no question aerodynamics play a huge part in this sport, and that is where the experts come in.

"Using this type of facility they can look at what we are doing and tell us what needs to be done to find those margins."

Mark Spore, group leader for aerodynamic testing, said the testing took place in the four-metre Low-Speed Wind Tunnel at Warton, one of the largest facilities of its kind in the country.
He added: "On a normal day, the wind tunnel would be used to test the aerodynamic performance of the world-class aircraft we produce, but having had cyclists and wheelchair racers in the tunnel before it was great to welcome the bobsleigh team."

The team are the latest visitors to the wind tunnel, which has previously hosted Lytham girl Shelley Woods and her racing wheelchair prior to her winning silver at the Paralympic Games in London in 2012, and Nicola Minichiello two-man bobsleigh world champion.

The testing is delivered in partnership with the English Instute of Sport, the science, medicine and technology arm of UK Sport.

The EIS’s Head of Project and Performance Engineering, Naomi Stenhouse, said: "We have been working with a number of partners on a range of projects to help Britain’s Bobsleigh team use science and engineering to improve performance.  As UK Sport’s Research & Innovation partner, BAE Systems have been central to this process, simulating race day aerodynamics in the wind tunnel and enabling the athletes to practice and develop their optimal positions."

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