University takes ownership of new flying classroom and laboratory

Professor Lawson (l) and Professor Braithwaite (r) on the flightdeck

Cranfield University’s National Flying Laboratory Centre’s (NFLC) fleet expansion became a reality this month with the transfer of ownership of its latest asset, a Saab 340B aircraft.

The University has been fundraising this year for a replacement to their aging Jetstream 31, which operates from Cranfield’s Global Research Airport. The facility is unique in the UK by providing aerospace engineering students from over 20 Universities and Cranfield with invaluable flight test experience as a flying classroom.

Further funding is needed in order to complete the modifications of the aircraft to support the next generation of aero-engineers. Being larger than the Jetstream 31, the Saab 340B will allow the NFLC to accommodate more students on each flight and create new research capabilities, including potentially in collaboration with other universities. The flying laboratory also undertakes research projects testing the development of aerospace technologies and flight operations.

Helen Atkinson, Pro-Vice-Chancellor – School of Aerospace, Transport and Manufacturing said: “Students get to experience for themselves what they have studied and it brings their calculations to life.  Its invaluable experience and provides graduates with the skills required for careers in aerospace.

“A number of stakeholders who employ graduates, including some of the UK’s leading aerospace companies and many of the universities who fly with us, have already agreed to help us towards our fundraising target – along with the major upfront commitment from Cranfield itself. Now we need our friends and alumni to help us to complete our fundraising campaign for this important national flying laboratory and classroom.”

This week, the University announced it had been awarded its sixth Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its work supporting the nation’s aero-engineering students through the use of the NFLC facilities. The Queen’s Anniversary Prizes are the UK’s most prestigious form of national recognition open to a UK academic or vocational institution.

The modifications to ensure the aircraft is upgraded from a standard commercial plane to a fully bespoke facility, with all the technical equipment necessary to ensure the testing of the boundaries of aviation, continues at Saab in Sweden. Its delivery to Cranfield University is expected mid-2020.

The relationship between Saab and Cranfield is well established with the University opening the first UK digital control tower at Cranfield Airport in December 2018.  Supplied by Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions, the innovative technology replicates what can be seen through the windows of a traditional air traffic control tower. Saab is also a partner in the Digital Aviation Research Technology Centre (DARTeC) under construction at Cranfield.