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wind tunnel testing

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Shelly Woods

09 June 2010

Shelly Woods and David Weir, two of Britain’s top Paralympians, are working with scientists and engineers from BAE Systems to go through a series of wind-tunnel tests at Airbus’ dedicated facility in Filton (Bristol) to help analyse the efficiency of their body positions in a race.

As part of a five year £1.5 million technology partnership between BAE Systems and UK Sport, Woods, a Beijing Paralympic Games silver and bronze medallist, and David Weir, a Paralympic Games multi-medallist and three-times winner of the London Marathon, will each spend a full day of testing in the Airbus wind-tunnel under the watchful eye of a team of experts from BAE Systems and UK Sport’s Innovation Partner network.

Computational fluid dynamics data gathered from the wind-tunnel sessions will be used by UK Sport to review the aerodynamic efficiency of the athletes’ seating position in the chair to highlight the optimal racing position for different situations on the track.

Woods, who won two bronze medals in the recent BT Paralympic World Cup, said: “While we continue to work hard in training, we know that across the world our rivals are doing exactly the same. As we fast approach the IPC Athletics World Championships in 2011 and then the Games in London we need to ensure our attention to detail is exceptional in order to give us the edge. Thanks to BAE systems we’re getting the opportunity to do that, and if we can slice even the tiniest margin from our times by improving our racing efficiency, then that could be the difference between winning and losing a medal.”

The tests are the first phase of a project to help wheelchair athletes improve their performance with the support of technology. Another aspect of the project, which is set to run until 2011, will be to examine the overall design of the chair to see where improvements could be made. The assessment will encompass a wide range of factors affecting performance, from the material the chair is made from, right down to the ease with which it can be stored, set up and maintained.

BAE Systems has considerable experience in numerous aspects of design engineering to assist this investigation. The company boasts some of the world's leading computational fluid dynamics modelling software and its engineers offer world-leading expertise in a range of disciplines from aerodynamic modelling to the use of lightweight composite materials.

James Baker, Director of Technology & Engineering Services at BAE Systems, said: “The wind-tunnel testing gives us invaluable data on the overall performance of the athletes, which we believe will translate into genuine gains at competition.

“It’s hugely rewarding to be able to transfer the expertise we have gained working on complex engineering projects like the Typhoon fighter jets to assignments like this one. Hopefully the work we are doing with UK Sport will also show young people a different side to engineering which will both inspire them and encourage them to find out more.”

The project echoes the recent involvement of BAE Systems in a top-secret project with the British bob-skeleton team. BAE Systems, together with experts from Southampton University and UK Sport, worked on a four year innovation programme to develop ‘Arthur,’ the sled which Amy Williams used to win Britain’s first Gold medal at the Winter Games in 30 years.