Nike has unveiled its new Flight ball for the 2020/21 Premier League, that futures geometric grooves and sculpted chevrons to reduce drag. Incorporating Nike’s new AerowSculpt technology, the ball delivers a measurable benefit of 30 percent truer flight than its Nike predecessor. The Nike Flight ball concludes an eight-year investigation into improving consistency of football flight by the Nike Equipment Innovation Lab. There, insights from players are addressed in three stages: Explore, Recreate and Innovate.
For the Nike Flight ball, the Explore phase used several tracking systems to measure ball flight of different types of kicks throughout game play. This helped the Lab to understand what conditions the ball experiences during play, and allowed engineers to link quantifiable measurements to elite players.
Within the Recreate phase, the Lab replicated the kick types observed on pitch, and utilized a robotic leg to replicate a variety of kicks observed in a repeatable and quantifiable way. This process allowed the ability to measure small differences in performance between balls and gather a suite of quantifiable tests to innovate against.
In the controlled environment, the Lab tested ideas around aerodynamics, constructions and materials in the Innovate phase. Testing of the Nike Flight ball covered 68 different iterations over thousands of hours in the Lab. Additionally, more than 800 professional athletes participated in field testing validation before a final version was reached.
“Everything done at the Lab is rooted in science,” says Kieran Ronan, Nike GM of Global Football Equipment. “Here, we are able to detect small differences in performance that may not be perceivable to most athletes, but when those small differences are iterated upon 68 times, the result is a noticeable leap in performance.”
To reduce wobble and create more predictable and consistent flight, the Nike Equipment Innovation Lab engineered a solution that promotes air movement around the ball rather than gripping its surface. The performance-based design introduces Nike AerowSculpt, a new proprietary aerodynamic technology.
“The construction started with a square-shaped Aerotrack groove,” explains Ronan. “Over the course of the 68 iterations, we modified the shape of the groove, added sculpted chevrons and explored multiple features throughout to deliver one geometric pattern that helps promote a more stable flight.”
The panel configuration also influences how the ball flies. Nike Flight carries a fuse-welded four-panel construction with 40 percent fewer stiff seams than a traditional 12-panel ball. This construction enables a prominent sweet spot for superior touch and performance.
An additional design element comes in the repurposing of Nike All Conditions Control (ACC) 3D ink. Introduced in 2014, ACC helps ensure optimal grip in wet or dry conditions. The Nike Flight ball uses the 3D ink layout to strategically print “micro flaps” along Nike AerowSculpt, dragging off of aerospace principles and further optimizing aerodynamic stability.