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Engineering Heritage Award for The Oldest RIB

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01.08.2017

Atlantic College X-Alpha RIB Restored & Relaunched

On 30 July 2017 the international Institution of Mechanical Engineers gave the prestigious Engineering Heritage Award to Atlantic College and 'X Alpha', the oldest RIB in the world.

The RIB, or rigid inflatable boat, has become the world’s most widely used craft for inshore rescue. The concept was conceived, designed and built at Atlantic College under its founding headmaster, retired Rear-Admiral Desmond Hoare.

The early RIB X craft were built and test-driven in the UK along the dramatic Bristol Channel coastline by Atlantic College students. Now known as the Atlantic Class, the design which developed from the original ‘X Alpha’ prototype revolutionised maritime rescue worldwide and became the model for RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) inshore lifeboats across Britain. The patent for the RIB was created by Rear-Admiral Desmond Hoare who donated it to the RNLI for £1 in 1973, and a copy of the still uncashed cheque hangs in a frame on a wall at the College.

Over 50 Years History of the Rigid Inflatable Boat

In 2010 David Sutcliffe, a member of staff from the Atlantic College in 1962, published a book that tells the story of the inception of the RIB, ‘The Rigid Hulled Inflatable Lifeboat and its Place of Birth The Atlantic College’.

'X Alpha' was one of the very first experimental RIBs, built at Atlantic College in the run up to 'Psychedelic Surfer' and the Round Britain Race. This led to the RNLI interest and ultimately development of the Atlantic 21 (21 feet), Atlantic 75 (7.5 metre), Atlantic 85 (8.5 metre) inshore lifeboats named after their birthplace, the Atlantic College. The early X-boats were donated to local sailing clubs and similar groups around the UK. 'X Alpha' was recently returned to Atlantic College then restored.

World's First RIB receives 108th Engineering Heritage Award

Established in 1984, the IMechE Engineering Heritage Awards celebrate the contribution of mechanical engineering, to our past and present. These awards recognise irreplaceable artefacts, raising public awareness of the vital role mechanical engineering plays in modern life. Each application is assessed on its importance, as part of the engineering story, and on its uniqueness.

World famous engineering projects including Concorde, the Channel Tunnel, Tower Bridge London, SS Great Britain and the E Type Jaguar have received the prestigious award. The Institution’s Engineering Heritage Committee are also keen to recognise the hard work and commitment of volunteers who dedicate much of their free time to restore and maintain these sites and artefacts across the UK. President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Carolyn Griffiths, presented the 108th Heritage award to the ‘X Alpha’ Rigid Inflatable Boat.

The RIB Was a Step Change in Maritime Rescue

Accepting the Award on behalf of the College and the late Rear-Admiral Desmond Hoare, UWC Atlantic College Principal Peter T Howe, said: 'It is an honour to have the Institution of Mechanical Engineers recognise the work of our first Principal and the earliest students of our college to develop the RIB. The legacy of building, testing, and refining rescue boat design continues here to this day, as does the humanitarian spirit that saw the patent gifted to the RNLI for the saving of lives.'

Speaking at the celebration event Carolyn Griffiths said, ‘The development of 'X Alpha', one of the very first RIBs, is a fantastic example of UK engineering. The impressive innovation of developing a high-performance hull, inflatable tubes, open transom and powerful engines was a step change in maritime rescue. Its pioneering success led directly to the development of RNLI Atlantic Class lifeboats and has helped save countless lives at sea.’ 

100 recipients of Engineering Heritage Awards >

Past meets Future for Atlantic Pacific Search & Rescue RIB

The new and innovative 'Hahn Class Lifeboat', being developed by search and rescue group Atlantic Pacific, is a direct descendant of the oldest known RIBs in the world. It is so direct that the hull design was stretched from an original mould taken off 'X Alpha'.

The Atlantic Pacific project builds on the Atlantic College legacy of boat-building in order to further its historic contribution to water rescue. Students are able hone their boat-building skills during their two years in Wales spent studying for their International Baccalaureate Diploma. They also learn boat-handling skills in order to test their craft on the unpredictable waters of the Bristol Channel. The students continue to design, develop and build lifesaving vessels and their experience at sea prepares them to volunteer as Atlantic Pacific crew following their graduation...

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The latest boat to be developed and manufactured by students from Atlantic College is the Hahn Class. Named after Dr Kurt Hahn, this inshore vessel is designed to operate with four crew members, including the helm, though while undergoing sea trials the prototype, Hahn 001, transported as many as 18 people at once. The boat measures 4.8m from bow to stern, 1.8m wide and sits only 30cm deep in the water. The RIB’s v-shaped hull combines speed with the stability of the rubber tube, or sponson, allowing it to operate with ease in the sizeable waves of the Bristol Channel.

The Hahn class, though a small boat, is capable of reaching speeds of around 28 knots due to small amount of water it displaces, which also enables it to access areas where shallow water or rocks would deter other rescue vessels. Its size also allows it to be launched and recovered by only four crew members, making it an extremely versatile resource. Every Hahn is deployed with the standard Atlantic Pacific boat, engine and maintenance kits, which all crew members are familiarised with during training.

The prototype 'Hahn 001', now named 'Wales Go', is currently operating as an active lifeboat in Nebama Bay, Kamaishi, Japan. Click below to see the boats features.

Hahn Class Interactive Boat Tour >

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