Cranfield University is at the show spreading the word about its fund-raising effort for a new flying laboratory. The UK aviation educational institution is replacing its 35-year-old British Aerospace Jetstream 31, which it has used to give students experience of a flight test environment for the past 16 years.
The former BAE Systems staff shuttle is becoming expensive to maintain, and Cranfield plans to acquire a new Saab 340B and modify it with instrumentation and sensors at a total cost of £3 million ($3.77 million), says Nick Lawson, professor of aerodynamics and airborne measurements, and head of the National Flying Laboratory Centre (NFLC).
Although the university rents out time on the aircraft to other colleges – around 1,600 students from 25 institutions use it every year – it still needs to appeal to the generosity of industry, alumni, and other universities to raise about £2 million of the total cost, he says.
“Many of our alumni will have flown in the Jetstream 31 and recall it being an integral and memorable time of their time at Cranfield. Unfortunately, the Jetstream 31 is ageing, and a failure to invest now in the future of the NFLC by replacing it would have a hugely detrimental impact,” he says.
Students typically fly 45min sorties on the Jetstream in groups of around 15, to gain knowledge of flight test procedures, including various lift, drag and pressure checks. The Royal Aeronautical Society approves the course as part of its accredited aerospace engineering syllabus.
The training requirements mean that only a few types are suitable to replace the Jetstream. “The nature of the flying undertaken by the NFLC and the flying classroom is different to standard commercial flying,” says Lawson. “The aircraft needs to be capable of climbing rapidly to altitude, performing unusual manoeuvres, and operating in poor weather. These special features limit the number of aircraft that can be used to train the aerospace engineers of the future.”
Cranfield hopes to put the new aircraft into service for the start of the 2020/21 academic year, while during the university vacations will offer it to industry for their own research projects.
The university, near Bedford, is the only one in Europe to operate its own airport and be accredited as an airline.