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29 MAY 2019News
British flight controller Stuart Bithell

What makes the F50 fly? Wind, cutting-edge technology, and something that looks more likely to belong to a video game console than a sailboat.

As a one-design development class, the F50 is constantly evolving. More sailing hours and more data allow the design team to continually fine-tune the controls and systems, inching closer and closer to the teams being able to fly fully around the race course and hit that elusive 50 knots.

One of the key areas of feedback from the teams following the first event in Sydney was around the flight control system, and finding ways to make it easier for the helm and flight controller to work together to fly the boat. This dynamic and collaborative approach is unique to SailGP, and ensures technological development of the F50 stays on the cutting edge.

This new hardware made its debut in San Francisco and enables the flight controller to take full ownership of flying the boat, resulting in increased control and allowing them to optimize performance.

New flight control system

Replacing the joy stick, the new double twist grip device allows much more accurate adjustment of the fore and aft movement (rake) of the daggerboard, something that was difficult with the first joystick controller which would automatically centralize once released.

“The flight controllers have all been working together to find this common solution, and they’ve absolutely nailed it,” said Dylan Fletcher of the Great Britain SailGP Team. “Stu [Bithell] is basically flying the boat all the time, he spins the dial for less lift or more lift, so the whole time he’s literally there, flying the boat and looking at the bows making little adjustments.”

The flight control system doesn’t stop there; it also controls the roll, the differential of the rudders, and average rudder lift on two buttons. This takes some pressure off of the helmsman, who previously flew the boat using twist grips on the wheel. As a result it starts to close the gap between less experienced teams and the leaders, who have spent many more hours using the wheel adjustment system.

Japanese flight controller Luke Parkinson

“It’s been very noticeable, the change; most people are foil gybing every time. Foiling tacks are becoming more and more common now,” said Japan SailGP Team’s Nathan Outteridge. “For me, the boat is starting to feel like it is reaching its potential.”

The entire fleet was given the new upgrade for San Francisco, but ultimately it was up to each team the degree to which they would utilize it. Australia, Japan and Great Britain had the flight controller flying the boat the majority of the time, while United States, China and France were a little more cautious, choosing to get to grips with the new system on the simulator before fully committing to it.

Only time will tell which strategy will pay off. All eyes will be on the next event in New York City 21/22 June to find out.