World-leading aerospace teaching and research

Having been at the forefront of aerospace technology for 70 years, Cranfield is the only university in Europe to own and run an airport and to have airline status. 

The National Flying Laboratory Centre (NFLC) operates Cranfield’s aircraft, including its key asset, the Jetstream 31 – the flying classroom and engineering laboratory.  This iconic facility is virtually unique in the global academic sector and is used to support pioneering teaching, research and consultancy.

 As well as being an integral part of the broader Cranfield aerospace strategy, the NFLC flying classroom is crucial for flying students, both in terms of accreditation and the quality of the student experience.

The flying classroom provides students from Cranfield, and 25 other universities, with a vital part of their aerospace learning.  Flights take students through various lift, drag and pressure tests and the specially-instrumented aircraft can supply real-time data, allowing students to become flight test engineers.

The Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) recognises the flying classroom as a key national facility. It is used by the majority of UK universities in delivering the flight test experience, required as part of RAeS accreditation.

The nature of flying undertaken by the NFLC and the flying classroom is different to standard commercial flying.  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.

Many of our alumni will have flown in the current Jetstream 31 and recall it being an integral and memorable part 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.

After an extensive investigation and review, Cranfield has identified a SAAB 340B as a suitable replacement. The SAAB 340B will enable Cranfield to:

  • Provide a larger capacity to accommodate more students on each flight.
  • Create new research capability, including potentially in collaboration with other universities.
  • Enhance Cranfield’s reputation and that of its students.
  • Strengthen strategic links with industry partners.

To purchase the aircraft and to fit it with the necessary equipment, we are seeking the support of alumni, friends and partners of Cranfield to add to the substantial investment already committed by the University.

It’s not just a “flying classroom”

The Jetstream has been used by NFLC to foster research relationships with Rolls-Royce, BAe Systems and Airbus UK. As a facility, it is also used by specialist companies as a research platform, to test and develop new sensors, systems and trial future technologies. It is a viable alternative to flight test and research work which uses simulators, wind tunnels, or more expensive jet aircraft.

The new SAAB 340B will provide a greater opportunity for research projects with industry and university partners and forms a vital element of the Cranfield global research airport including our digital control tower, the Aerospace Integration Research Centre (AIRC), and the Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre (DARTeC).

Now is the time to invest in its future

The investment required to purchase the Saab 340B and to modify it with instrumentation and sensors for the student flight test experience is £3million. The majority of this investment is directed towards the student flying experience.

Given the significance of this project, Cranfield has committed £1million, and we are seeking an additional £1million amongst our industry and university partners.  We are now looking to raise an additional £1million from our alumni and friends to support the student flying experience. See the breakdown of the fundraising campaign

Most alumni would agree that studying at Cranfield was one of the best experiences they ever had, and you can make a substantial impact on the lives of our future students by supporting our campaign.




Saab 340B
Saab 340B