Featured Articles

Altair and American Magic: Optimizing Critical CFD and Structural Analyses for the 37th America’s Cup

Though the 37th America’s Cup is a sailing competition, the yachts the competing teams use move at anything but the leisurely pace commonly associated with sailboats. Capable of reaching speeds of more than 55 mph in the right conditions, these boats are capable of breaking some speed limits. In fact, if everything goes right during a race, these yachts’ hulls will literally “fly” above the water’s surface for the entire race. 

But this ability to get airborne presents an interesting conundrum for the New Yok Yacht Club (NYYC) American Magic team’s engineers ahead of the big races in Barcelona: not only do they have to optimize their craft’s performance in the water, they also need to optimize its performance in the air. In other words, it needs to both sail and fly well. This is no simple task. It requires mountains of data, years of expertise, and most importantly, advanced simulation capable of handling complex calculations, lots of design iterations, and tight deadlines. 

Thankfully, Altair’s suite of simulation, artificial intelligence (AI), high-performance computing (HPC), and data analytics tools is tailor-made for this task. The convergence of these technologies allows the American Magic team to test, design, iterate, and optimize within the constraints of the competition’s strict rules and frees them to implement the designs they feel will help them lift the America’s Cup trophy, the Auld Mug, when it’s all said and done.


How Simulation and CFD Has Rocked the Boat

Before we dive into how the American Magic team is leveraging Altair’s leading computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and simulation technology, it’s worth briefly examining simulation’s history and current role in the world of competitive sailing.

Obviously in a competition that predates the invention of modern electricity by decades, simulation wasn’t always on the table. But today, comprehensive simulation and data analytics is an absolute must-have for sailing teams competing in the America’s Cup. What was once a competition defined by experiment-based development and physical prototyping is now characterized by highly accurate physics-based modeling tools. And as the technology that underpins these tools has progressed, so has users’ ability to predict boat performance in a variety of race conditions. “We’re always formulating the best guess of our craft’s performance envelope using data from our simulation tools,” says American Magic CFD engineer Andrew Bloxom. “Since so many components and systems change over the course of development, having a high-fidelity view of how these things interact is critical in ensuring we’re making forward progress with our design decisions.”

"America," the boat that won the inaugural America's Cup in 1851.

As seen here, America's Cup yacht design has changed a lot since that first race more than 170 years ago.

More specifically, Bloxom focuses on simulating how different factors will affect the boat’s interaction with the air with the CFD tools housed in the Altair® HyperWorks® design and simulation platform, especially Altair® AcuSolve®. “We use AcuSolve for basically everything above the water line,” Bloxom says. “AcuSolve’s history as a robust external aerodynamics tool and its scriptable workflows help us pinpoint causes and effects, better predict the yacht’s interaction with the air, and generally give us a good view of its performance across a range of race conditions.”

In addition, the team uses Altair’s CFD software to ensure their designs are right the first time around within the constraints imposed by the rules of the America’s Cup competition, which prohibits teams from performing most types of physical testing at a scale beyond 20 feet. These rules mean teams can’t use 1:1 physical testing environments like wind or water tunnels. As such, having accurate, powerful CFD and simulation tools is paramount to ensure designs and systems are optimized before they touch the water. “What Altair’s solutions really allow us to do is process a large amount of design variants in a short amount of time,” Bloxom says. “The whole goal of modern development in the America’s Cup is to create workflows with minimal effort so you can run thousands of jobs within different conditions. That’s what Altair and its technology gave us the framework to do.”


Structural Design and Analysis: Building the Framework of Success

Altair’s technology helps the American Magic team build, test, and optimize the literal framework of their racing yachts on the structural analysis side of yacht development as well. Though competitive sailing has become a high-tech endeavor, no team can afford to forget about the basics.

For someone like American Magic’s Kurt Jordan, the team’s director of structural design and engineering, “the basics” are his bread and butter. “Structural optimization isn’t the sexiest topic, but it’s crucial,” Jordan says. “Building these state-of-the-art yachts is a 10-month, 50,000 man-hour custom construction. You absolutely have to have the right tools and the right partners in place to maximize your time, effort, and investments.”

Jordan says Altair’s technology helps their team achieve their main objectives: minimizing the yacht’s manufacturing phase (as opposed to the design/race phases), and creating a structure that’s as light, as fast, and as durable as possible. “Our team uses the optimizations Altair’s solutions offer up front, which is very powerful in the initial phases of design,” Jordan says. “After all, any weight we can take out of the structure is weight we can use elsewhere.”

But Jordan stresses it hasn’t just been Altair’s tools that have moved the needle for he and his team – the real kicker has been the support and guidance they’ve received from the Altair team. This is especially vital since the team recently made the Altair HyperWorks platform their standard environment. 

“Before Altair HyperWorks, we’d have a lot of great experts on the team, but they’d be using a hodgepodge of different tools and environments, which could make the development process sloppy,” Jordan says. “Switching to a shared, unified environment is a massive change for a team like ours; these tools and platforms can have long and steep learning curves, especially for people that haven’t worked with them extensively. But the support we’ve received from Altair has been spot on throughout. The comprehensive, sweeping level of support Altair offers to its customers was a key reason we made the switch in the first place.”


High-Performance Computing: The Final Piece

Bringing the CFD and structural analysis together is the key enabler: HPC. The American Magic team uses the Altair® Unlimited™ Virtual Appliance to run most of their simulations, which gives them the extra HPC horsepower to augment their in-house HPC and take their analyses to the next level.

Overall, the kind of simulations the American Magic teams run are too complex to run on the teams’ standard computers – and even if it could run, these simulations would take way too long. But thanks to the Altair Unlimited Virtual Appliance’s built-in capabilities, they can leverage a vast amount of computing resources and can run jobs much faster. In addition, the appliance gives them the flexibility to choose how to allocate their resources. In all, it’s made easy and convenient for the American Magic team since the appliance runs all of Altair’s simulation tools directly with the licenses embedded, giving them a modern, flexible "key-in-hand" solution.


Conclusion: Convergence for the Cup

Structural optimization and CFD go hand in hand. Having one without the other – or having them, but not being able to seamlessly connect them – won’t give you a competitive edge in a cutthroat competition like the America’s Cup. Altair’s technology makes it so that the American Magic team doesn’t have to sweat the details. From structural analysis to CFD and beyond, Altair is delivering the power of convergence for racing success. No matter what the American Magic team is doing, Altair’s comprehensive tools give the team the capacity to run simulations at scales and speeds far beyond what was once possible. This frees their team to iterate more, design more, and save their time for their most vital work. And naturally, Altair’s data analytics solutions give them the ability to measure, quantify, and compare all their tests down to the yacht’s smallest component up to the system as a whole. The convergence of simulation, HPC, AI, and data analytics is the essence of what teams in the America’s Cup – and beyond – need to gain an edge in today’s hyperdigitalized world.

Altair is proud it has been selected as the American Magic team’s official computational science and AI partner, and those on the Altair side, such as technical manager Julien Chaussee, have emphasized that the collaboration has made Altair all the better. “This collaboration has strengthened us and made our team better, both from a technology and teamwork standpoint,” Chaussee says. “American Magic has been an ideal partner, and they have constantly helped us pinpoint ways we can better help their team achieve their goals. I am so excited to see our technology in action in the coming months – there’s truly nothing in sailing like the America’s Cup. Here’s hoping we’re holding some silverware once the proverbial waves have settled.”

To learn more about Altair’s marine solutions, visit To learn more about NYYC and the American Magic team, visit