Royal Air Force Bobsleigh Team hoping to slide to victory in sled revamped by AMRC Composite Centre


The Royal Air Force’s (RAF) bobsleigh team will compete in the British Bobsleigh & Skeleton Association’s British Championships on the 25 November 2017, in a bobsleigh given a new lease of life with custom composite repairs manufactured by the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre’s (AMRC) Composite Centre.

The RAF has eight, two-men bobsleigh teams and their sleds entered in the annual competition in Austria, where they hope to become British bobsleigh champions. The thrilling extreme sport will see the teams compete at speed to achieve the fastest time at the famous Innsbruck-Igls Olympic bobsleigh, luge and skeleton track.

Until recently one of the teams sleds had been out of commission following an impact that damaged its left bale, or wing at the front of the sled.

That is until RAF Bobsleigh Team Manager Cpl Ross Brown met AMRC Composite Centre Development Engineer Craig Atkins at this year’s Cosford Air Show and was invited to visit the AMRC.

We were keen to see if working together would be of benefit and to create partnerships with British organisations that may be able to help us further the sport,” said Cpl Brown. “So we took along three of our different sleds and were delighted the AMRC agreed to assess the various ways the damaged sled could be improved and carry out the substantial repair work it needed to get it back into service.

A bobsleigh is designed and manufactured to be fast and aerodynamic, usually made from a mixture of carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP), glass fibre reinforced plastic and a metal chassis. The sleds can cost anywhere between £20,000 and £50,000, so putting a broken sled back into service is crucial to keep the team running.

In race conditions a bobsleigh can reach speeds of 100mph, so the inertia and mass of the sled means a crash impact load can be extremely high.

Atkins said: “This leads to sleds often carrying numerous repairs, sometimes carried out at track-side during competition or training and most of these are done in the same material; but components such as the bales can be cast from metal which is cheaper and quicker, but its porosity means these repairs can sometimes shatter on impact.”

Atkins gave AMRC Composite Technician Josh Oxley the task of repairing the sled. Oxley started work at the AMRC in 2012 as an apprentice and after three years, qualified as a Composite Technician for the AMRC Composite Centre.

He cut away the section of the sled bale finding numerous old repairs, so putting the skills and techniques he has learnt into practice, he engineered a new bale section from CFRP:

This is the first composite repair I was tasked with since qualifying as a composite technician, so it was a really exciting job to do. I engineered a new bale that was lighter which is important for the weight of the sled, but one that was also stronger and lessens friction on the track compared to a cast repair.

Cpl Brown said: “I was hugely impressed by the AMRC Composite Centre and the work carried out by Oxley went above and beyond what I expected.

Structural integrity of a sled is paramount when travelling at speeds of up to 100mph down a concrete tube covered in ice. Regarded as Formula One-on-ice, bobsleigh races are won or lost by hundredths of a second, so a quality repair is of the upmost importance to us.

As an aircraft engineer of 20 years and former mechanical aircraft apprentice with experience of working with carbon fibre, Chief Technician Silva said it was a win-win for him to have Josh employ his valuable skills and get the bobsleigh repaired and back into service:

I was extremely impressed by the skills and experience he utilised when engineering the repair, ensuring what we got back went above and beyond our expectations.

We look forward to exploring more options to optimise the design of our sleds in the future with the AMRC Composite Centre.

Oxley said: “It gives me a huge amount of satisfaction knowing I have repaired a sled that will be used by the RAF in the British Championships at the Innsbruck-Igls ice-track this week and all of us at the AMRC Composite Centre wish them the best in bringing home a trophy!