Kurt Clement’s favourite question is “why?” The Carramar 2009 alumni’s inquisitive nature has seen him carve out a successful career that he describes as stemming from a fascination with air, and the power that we can wield with it.
“The seeming ‘nothingness’ that air possesses is able to be transformed into an extraordinary force through careful study and optimisation of the system being developed,” Kurt, who currently leads the Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and Aerodynamic Design of Electrical Vertical Take-Off and Landing Aircraft (eVTOL) for Vertical Aerospace in the UK, explained.
“It is as close as I feel I can get to creating something from absolutely nothing and then wielding immense power with it.”
Kurt’s passion about the functionality and performance optimisation of vehicles, whether racing cars, helicopters or aircraft, is contagious. When speaking about his design and testing work, or reading his expert articles in industry forums, it is hard not to get caught up in the excitement behind it all.
Kurt had always wanted to be a neurosurgeon right up until he graduated, which was around the time he discovered a degree in motorsport and quickly changed his trajectory.
Since then he has completed three University degrees including a Bachelor of Motorsports Engineering and a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering, both at ECU.
“Once I completed my first two engineering degrees, I moved to the UK in 2014 to study a Masters of Race Car Aerodynamics and chase the F1 dream,” Kurt said.
“[The University of Southampton] is the only University in the world which offers a Masters in Race Car Aerodynamics, and I was offered one of only eight total positions offered each year.”
Much of Kurt’s work is under wraps, yet he said the goal is always the same; except now generating lift instead of downforce, amongst many other factors unique to aircraft design.
To put his work as simply as possible, Kurt said that when a company decides on a new concept vehicle, the idea is passed onto him for quick aero-checks and overall feasibility.
“I go away, 3D model it inside a computer at full scale, doing all of the surfacing I can, I then take that 3D model and place it within a big computational domain,” he explained.
He then subtracts the model from the domain so he is left with a “vehicle-shaped hole”, which is then converted to a body of air, and given a few more specialised physics constraints, in order to simulate how the air moves over the ‘hole’ at a given speed.
Further to this, Kurt then breaks the domain into millions, sometimes hundreds of millions, of discrete blocks, and gets the computer to solve a variety of calculus and physics within each cell.
This helps him to plot how the air moves over his designs, analyse what the air is doing, and then tweak the design to optimise flow performance and minimise overall drag.
“I then hand the surfaces of the model off to the manufacturing department, whose job it is to take them and convert them into panels or carbon fibre assemblies, so that we can build the vehicle and drive or fly it.”
After the F1 company he was working for went bankrupt, Kurt followed the CEO over to Vertical Aerospace where he has led the design for multiple eVTOL aircraft – all by the age of 27 - two of which have flown and are publicly released.
“The end goal is to make affordable air travel for people that is electric and clean for the environment,” Kurt said. He shared a video of an aircraft known as the Seraph, which is aimed at being able to fly while carrying 250kg of payload. See it here.
Kurt is a Technical Writer for an F1 forum / news / engineering website called f1technical.net. He also plays piano, flute and several other instruments, enjoys computer gaming and collecting model cars, with his collection currently over 200 pieces.
With not many jobs in his field based in Perth, the UK is home for Kurt for the time being yet he travels back to Australia as often as he can.
Although his achievements to date are impressive to say the least, Kurt’s love of learning spurs him on to reach higher goals.
“Currently, I am at the precipice of eVOTL’s becoming more and more mainstream and common,” he said.
“My experience is unique and I feel that being able to work extremely fast, due to the F1 experience, within the aerospace sector, which is traditionally a very slow industry, brings with it a unique ability to take a concept and turn around something viable very quickly.
Universities don't teach you how to be ’a VTOL engineer‘ - and so the knowledge and experience I have is actually quite valuable.”
“As for the future, I can't say for sure, but I definitely will not stop pushing to climb to the top of the chain in whichever industry I work in - whether it be F1, or Aerospace.
“I love learning about anything and everything, and intend to never stop… And I hope to one day be venerated within the industry for what I have achieved.”