Using technology that helped develop Europe's Typhoon fighter jet, the new wheel -- made from a composite material similar to carbon fiber -- can provide as much as 20 per cent more acceleration with each push by the athlete, The Daily Telegraph reported Thursday.
Lighter and more rigid than units on current racing wheelchairs, the wheels help turn more of an athlete's arm power into forward motion at speeds greater than 30mph, the researchers said.
"A wheelchair athlete propels themselves not by gripping the rim of the wheel, but punching it," said Kelvin Davies, project leader at BAE Systems, which has been working with U.K. Sport and Paralympics athletes to give British athletes a technological edge. "The downside is that this applies an inward pressure that buckles and deforms the wheel, which is wasted energy."
The new, stiffer wheel resists that deformation, he said.
"We are talking about marginal gains where even in a race as long as a marathon, the difference between winning and losing is just seconds.
"Initial testing suggests that the increase our wheel delivers is dramatic," he said.
Shelly Woods is a wheelchair marathon racer who won a silver medal at the 2012 Paralympics, missing out on gold by just 1 second.
"Paralympic sport is growing year on year in strength and depth, and being able to make use of the best in British engineering can help keep British athletes at the forefront of this fiercely competitive environment," she said.
The new wheelchairs are expected to be ready for use in competition next year, the researchers said.