Cranfield University’s newest world-class facility opened this year, the £35 million Aerospace Integration Research Centre (AIRC). It will be the focus of the university’s aerospace research and is the product of a long track record of close working relationships with its partners.

The depth of these relationships, along with Cranfield’s distinctive setting – it is the only university in Europe to have its own on-site airport and runway – were important factors in enabling the Centre to be created. Business, government and academia will collaborate in a unique environment, calling on the extended facilities of the university to support their research.

The centre is aiming to change the way the world thinks about flight by re-imagining aircraft and airspace concepts and shaping the future of aerospace globally.

While its raison d’être is to focus on integration, investigating ways of integrating advanced technologies and reducing time from innovation to industrial application, collaboration is a key concept behind the centre’s existence and function. Professor Iain Gray, Director of Aerospace at Cranfield, says: “This is a national asset and the only place where universities and companies can rapidly develop, validate and research aerospace technologies to higher technology readiness levels 4-6; levels more normally associated with business.”

Researchers from both the university and its business partners will work under one roof. There are areas for partner companies to carry out their research and both visiting and Cranfield academics to work. The AIRC’s facilities link research to industry needs and include labs, simulation and visualisation facilities to support investigation into autonomy, rapid prototyping, digital engineering and modelling. Networked simulation will enable air traffic management, pilots and aviation systems designers to work together across platforms to test new theories and technology.

Cutting-edge research from the AIRC will be returned to the university, shared in master’s courses, enabling students to work on the latest concepts and data from research in the AIRC. It is all part of a higher ambition for aerospace at Cranfield. Professor Gray is focusing on breaking down boundaries between aerospace and aviation: “We want to create a vision for the four As – the aircraft of the future, airport of the future, airspace management of the future and airline of the future. The AIRC is one of the ways we can bring the worlds of aerospace and aviation closer together.”

AIRC key facts:

  • £35m investment in the AIRC consists of co-funding from Rolls-Royce and AirbusHEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council for England) and Cranfield University.
  • A visualisation area, air traffic management simulation and large aircraft flight simulator used to test new ideas and impact on aircraft.
  • Feedback screens linked to the visualisation lab and a pod meeting area.
  • 1500m² open lab – including 18m x 6m sliding doors to allow a demonstrator aircraft to enter, such as the University’s 19-seater Jetstream 31.
  • A full-size aircraft wing.
  • A FANUC CR-35iA robot – which can operate in an uncaged, open space, and determine the proximity of a person or object so it will stop if touched.
  • Closed labs for research requiring a controlled environment such as testing UAVs, structural assembly and intelligent automation.