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OLYMPICS

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n January 2008 BAE Systems launched a five-year partnership with UK Sport, whereby the company is providing £1.5 million worth of engineering technologies to British Sport. The deal is a value-inkind activity, with BAE Systems’ expertise channelled directly into the areas of sports development. Through the partnership, BAE Systems is providing expertise in structural and mechanical engineering, aerodynamics, hydrodynamics, mathematical modelling and simulation and materials science to some of Britain’s major medal winning sports. “We were quite keen to provide some support because we’re a major company with more than 38,000 employees in the UK,” explained Kate Watcham, BAE Systems head of external communications UK. “We’re the largest manufacturer and the largest employer of engineers in the UK, so we felt that it was quite important to do something around the Olympics. Providing some engineering support felt like a hugely appropriate thing to do. Because of our leading engineering technology, we’re in this unique position to support sport.” ❑❑❑❑❑ In total, BAE Systems has supported 20 Olympic sports teams and 140 individual athletes and coaches since the start of the partnership. Sports backed include, among others, taekwondo, track cycling, skeleton bobsled, sailing, short track speed skating, athletics, canoeing (slalom and sprint), badminton, basketball, wheelchair racing, swimming, modern pentathlon and shooting. BAE Systems hopes that its involvement with British sport will demonstrate to young people the importance of engineering and its application to all sorts of different sectors. “I think it’s quite well reported that there’s a shortage of engineers coming through the system,” said Watcham. “In our experience, young people have been attracted to sport and we felt it was a good avenue to try and showcase that actually engineering is important in so many sectors of everyday life, including the ones that you might not think of, like sport. “Some of the work we have done, and are doing, has been spotted by the Royal Academy of Engineering as being excellent training opportunities and promotional activities for engineering,” added Kelvin Davies, BAE Systems sport technology partnership project lead.

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The wait for the London Olympic games has been a long one. But now, with the cheers from the new stadium almost audible, the excitement is mounting… and nowhere more so than at the BAE Systems facilities, where the global defence and security company is helping British athletes in their quest for success. Kelly Green reports.

BAE engineers success for British athletes “Sports engineering and sports technology is a really good classroom activity that kids can get their teeth into. “For many of our products it’s very difficult to see the tangible successes that you’re having because they’re such complex systems,” he explained. “But in sport, because it’s very popular and it’s very clear when you’ve succeeded and when you’ve failed, it’s such a tangible way of contributing engineering excellence. “We’re only just scratching the surface of the different ways that we can help UK sport.” One sport that has uniquely benefited from the partnership is wheelchair racing, which BAE Systems has supported through its investigation of the wheelchair design. In a first for British paralympic athletes, Shelly Woods and David Weir each spent a full day testing in a wind tunnel in Bristol, Filton, under the watchful eye of scientists and engineers who helped to develop the Eurofighter Typhoon. “Aerodynamic drag has been an issue in aircraft design for many years so BAE Systems has been equipped with wind tunnels and modelling software to help understand that,” said Davies. Data gathered from the wind tunnel sessions is being used to review the aerodynamic efficiency of the athletes’ seating position to highlight the best

In total, BAE Systems has supported 20 Olympic sports teams and 140 individual athletes and coaches.

racing position for different track situations. The tests are the first phase of a project, which will ultimately examine the mechanical design of the wheelchair from the material the chair is made from, right down to the ease with which it can be stored, set up and maintained. “Given that these races are often won or lost by only a few metres, then even a small advantage in aerodynamics could have a huge affect at the end of the race,” continued Davies. But the partnership’s most highprofile success so far has been the creation of Arthur, the bob skeleton sled that propelled Amy Williams last year to Britain’s first individual gold medal win at a Winter Olympics in three decades. Working in collaboration with Sheffield Hallam and Southampton Universities, BAE Systems recruited PhD students to crack the problem of customising each sled for individual athletes. Previously, sleds used by the British team were shared between women and men of varying heights, but the balance of the skeleton wouldn’t necessarily suit each athlete’s unique sliding style. As a result, everybody suffered. BAE Systems made each sled configurable to each athlete. As well as using advanced materials, such as carbon fibre, to build lighter and stronger sleds, engineers used a technique called finite element analysis to redesign the vehicles’


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Left: Amy Williams won Britain’s first individual gold medal at a Winter Olympics in three decades thanks to the creation of Arthur, the bob skeleton sled. Inset: Shelly Woods tested in a wind tunnel in Bristol, Filton, under the eye of scientists and engineers who helped to develop the Eurofighter Typhoon.

internal structure. This meant the energy of an athlete’s unique movements and technique could be transferred efficiently into the way the sled was propelled. “It’s difficult to underestimate how excited people can be even at contributing only a very small amount to a gold medal and I remain incredibly proud to have a little, very small part of Amy Williams’ medal from the Winter Olympics,” Davies said. ❑❑❑❑❑ “What we would like to do is contribute to British success over the whole five years but in particular at the games this year,” he continued. So does this mean Team GB can expect more gold medals? “We hope so! It’s difficult to prove cause and effect but we know we’ve contributed in ways that have been very well appreciated by the coaches and the athletes. We’d like to feel that that would help to showcase engineering as a discipline that young people might like to pursue.” Certainly BAE Systems’ involvement with the Olympics and British sport has generated excitement among its current workforce. “I’m particularly proud of the enthusiasm and the energy of our workforce. It has reminded them just how important what they do is and just generally given them that icing on the cake feeling about their engineering profession,” said Davies. “There’s some really exciting things coming up this year that the sports for various reasons want to keep quiet about for the time being. So it’s really exciting but there’s lots more to come this year.” ■

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BAE engineers success for British athletes