My Experience as a Land Yacht Engineer: Part 1 – Design

My name is Jordan and I studied MEng. Mechanical Engineering at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen. This guest blog is the first of three which will give a brief overview of my experience as a land yacht engineer, undertaken as part of the semester-long group project.

In this first post, I’m going to give a rundown of what actually goes into such a project in the initial phase—because it may be more than you realise (it certainly was for most of us!).

Phase I involves design: concept generation and brainstorming. At this stage, sketches and hand-waving approaches to design are perfectly acceptable, but won’t do for long; in order to establish working design concepts, robust methodologies are put in place. These include weighted objective trees used to breakdown the requirements of the project, morphological charts to identify sub-problem solution concepts and decision matrices to establish a final, working design.

How do you turn this…


… Into this?


Once a working design has been finalised, it’s time to do some calculations; after all, designs may well be—and often are—great in theory, but the ‘super-cool spoiler’ you want to add to your design may not always be feasible. Calculations include everything from sail aerodynamics to whether your driveshaft will deflect beyond the point of no return. Even the bolt requirements are calculated, so as to withstand any shear stresses.


Mathematics will inform your design viability

This can often result in hours lost staring at equations because you’re getting ridiculous answers, such as the load on your land yacht being 50 kN, the braking torque required to stop your land yacht coming out as 2 GNm or the deflection on your 6 m mast being 20 m… (all actual examples from various teams this year).

When the math eventually checks out, computer-aided design is used to produce 3D models and technical drawings—complete with full dimensions adhering to design specifications. Most engineering students use software such as Solidworks® to produce such models. This is actually a lot harder than it sounds: this software can be temperamental at the best of times, especially if you’re not working with it regularly and often designs are simplified just to avoid having to deal with complicated geometries. Most teams do persevere, however, and you can see an actual example of the 3D model and assembly drawing of my team’s design below:

Our design featured a rigid wingsail based on a NACA0012 aerofoil—a unique feature amongst our cohort.

At this stage, hopefully the designs have passed all assessments for viability and safety (with only small amounts of gentle ribbing from the lecturers and technical staff) and are greenlit to move on into the fabrication phase. In coming posts, I will discuss this phase and how our design went from paper to something tangible.

Read part 2- My Experience as a Land Yacht Engineer – Fabrication
Read part 3- My Experience as a Land Yacht Engineer– Race Day

jordan davidson
Jordan Davidson studied Mechanical Engineering on the Master of Engineering (M.Eng.) course. In 2014, he was awarded the BP STEM Scholarship and has interests in materials science and engineering mathematics. In a previous life, he was a musician and holds a B.A. (Hons) degree in Music.


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