First Impressions of Aerospace at Cranfield University

Guest blog
We are delighted to welcome Iain Gray back to our guest blogging roster in his new position as director of aerospace at Cranfield University. In his first blog, he describes his new role and gives his first impressions of the institution.

Three months have now passed since I finished my role with InnovateUK. I had taken 2 months out to tour the west coast of America and enjoyed every moment of it. The journey through the Panama Canal had lived up to all my expectations as one of the great engineering wonders of the world –inspirational. I will watch the development of the new locks alongside the current canal with great interest – one of the biggest civil engineering projects in the world today.

 The break left me feeling reinvigorated and very much looking forward to my new role as Director Aerospace at Cranfield University. I had received many notes of congratulation regarding my Cranfield appointment. I was pleasantly surprised to note just how many colleagues from industry were indeed Cranfield Alumni, either through MSc or PhD programmes , the MBA programme or the numerous short courses offered. I had indeed done a number of short courses at Cranfield myself in my early days at British Aerospace.

The new £35 million Aerospace Integration Research Centre (AIRC) be built at Cranfield University with co-investment partners Airbus and Rolls-Royce

 I was still anxious, however, as a new boy walking onto Cranfield campus for day 1 in the new role. Aerospace is at the heart of Cranfield University and offers some unique opportunities as an aerospace university. It is the only university with its own runway, it operates the National Flying Laboratory Test Centre, and it owns its own ventures company , Cranfield Aerospace, with its own regulatory approvals.

 The university has a proud aerospace legacy across both airframe and propulsion projects. A Royal Aeronautical Society Heritage plaque outside the School of Manufacturing, Aerospace and Transport reinforces the strong links with those past achievements.

 But it is to the future that I am most excited. There is huge opportunity to join all the facilities and knowledge assets together reinforcing Cranfield as one of the premier Aerospace Universities in Europe. Cranfield boasts one of the Rolls Royce UTC’s, it has an excellent centre on robotics in manufacturing, it hosts two of the EPSRC Centres for Innovative Manufacturing – it has the opportunity to use an ex BA 737 as a classroom for teaching various aerospace subjects and as a platform for research in subjects such as aircraft repair and maintenance. And the jewel in the crown is the new £35m Aerospace Integration Research Centre due to start build this summer and open for business in Autumn 2016. The centre is a partnership with Rolls Royce and Airbus with funding from HEFCE and the university.

 It is exciting to be amongst engineering students with fresh ideas around aerospace – from aerodynamics, propulsion concepts through to new aircraft configurations.

 It is pleasing to see the progress of the Aerospace Technology Institute located on campus - a positive reinforcement of government and business working together to build the UK aerospace industry of the future. It is also good to see the potential for working together with our neighbour, the world leading ARA with it’s wind tunnel facilities at Bedford.

 First impressions are always important – and my first impression is that Cranfield University has a key role to play in UK aerospace moving forward, that the timing is right for future research investment through the Aerospace Integration Research Centre and that the sum of the parts of the different aerospace elements of Cranfield can be so much greater than the whole.