BAE Systems engineer’s pride at playing key role in America’s Cup campaign

Tom Hume at the Ben Ainslie Racing headquarters
Tom Hume at the Ben Ainslie Racing headquarters

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HE’S playing a key role in the design of the boats used by Sir Ben Ainslie in his bid to win the America’s Cup.

BAE Systems engineer Tom Hume has been tasked with designing the hydrofoils – enabling Sir Ben’s team to slice through the water and go faster – from his sailing base at the Camber, in Old Portsmouth.

A Land Rover BAR test boat in Bermuda

A Land Rover BAR test boat in Bermuda

The design of the America’s Cup-class hydrofoils is one of the team’s most closely guarded secrets.

The general principles are well known – but there are two conflicting goals.

The first is to make the hydrofoil the most efficient shape, and in general, that means that it needs to be thin.

The second is to make it strong so that it can cope with as many situations as possible – like being used as a hand brake at 30 knots.

And this means that it needs to be fat, to pack in as much carbon fibre as possible.

Enter Tom: a quietly spoken aerospace engineer from BAE Systems.

He takes computer-aided design models of the foils, and from there he creates the lay-up specification and the drawings that the manufacturer requires.

The more detail that can be provided to the manufacturing team, the better the quality of the finished product.

Tom said: ‘I take a solid representation of the part, the foil, and turn that into a carbon fibre lay-up plan.

‘The builders have been very happy with what they have received.

‘The boards are very complex, and to make it a simple task to lay up hundreds of layers of carbon fibre and fit them together in the mould is quite an achievement.

‘The people building the board are able to just cut the plies out to the shape that we give them, and put it on the tool and they fit.

‘Normally they would have to spend a couple of days working out what shape 
each one needs to be manually... now it’s all done for them.

‘It saves a lot of time in manufacture especially on something as complex as these boards.’

Tom previously worked on both of the fighters that will form the mainstay of Nato aerial power for the next decade or two; the Typhoon, and the F35 Lightning II.

He worked on the composite engineering of both planes as part of BAE Systems’ contribution to the manufacturing consortiums.

He said: ‘It’s often said that the most precious commodity in the America’s Cup is 
time; the first race in the Qualifying series will start in Bermuda on schedule whether the teams are ready or not.

‘So anything that saves time is a fantastically valuable resource, particularly on such a vital component as the hydrofoils.’

Richard Hopkirk, engineering manager at Land Rover BAR, said: ‘Boards are probably the most significant performance differentiator on our boat – critical for boat speed, boat handling, and flight stability.

‘The support we’ve got from Tom Hume and BAE Systems will significantly reduce our manufacturing time and increase the quality of our boards, and in doing so will make a significant impact on our campaign.’