British successes fly high in the aerospace sector

Features editor

The UK’s aerospace industry might make few complete aircraft, but as our supplement shows, it’s a thriving and notably innovative sector

It’s an awkward truism that many of Britain’s industrial success stories today are all but unknown to the general public, many of whom are all too easily swayed by the pessimistic rhetoric that ‘we don’t make anything anymore.’ Not true, as readers of The Engineer will be aware. And one of the country’s most flourishing sectors is aerospace.

It’s true that the UK builds relatively few complete aircraft. But we have the world’s second largest aerospace industry, behind the US and ahead of France and Germany. The wings for every civil Airbus are designed near Bristol and built near Chester (and aerospace engineers will tell you that the wings are the most technically challenging part of the aircraft); Rolls-Royce is one of the world’s pioneers in jet engines and an undisputed leaders in aircraft propulsion. Northern Ireland is the home to a major aerospace sector. We have centres of expertise in the study and development of composites, in the use and working of light metals, in aerodynamics and advanced manufacturing techniques.

Development of unmanned aircraft — UAVs — is one of the fastest-growing and continually controversial sectors of aerospace, and much attention is currently being paid to the challenges of making UAVs smaller. Our lead feature takes a look at the current state of the art in micro-air vehicles or MAVs, from the tiny reconnaisance helicopters being used by the British Army to the development of craft which mimic the action — and the manoevrability — of birds and insects.

Going back into the history of aviation, we take a look at a project to recreate one of the great lost fliers of the 20th century, the Bugatti 100P. Designed in France before the Second World War but never completed, this striking aircraft could have outperformed the Spitfire and incorporated many innovations which are only now finding their way into modern planes.

Back in the defence arena, we look at efforts to improve sensor technologies, location and targeting systems in a new generation of missiles, along with the incorporation of production techniques such as additive layer manufacturing.

An interview with the head of engineering for Airbus UK puts the priorites of the sector into context, and discusses the need to constantly improve the skills base across the aerospace sector — something which is also covered in our careers feature. And we wrap up with previews of the two biggest upcoming events for the aerospace and defence sectors, the Paris Air Show and London’s DSEI.

These pages give a snapshot of Britain’s activities in the air, from small to large. it’s a sector which deserves to be better known, and we hope that this supplement goes some way towards that.