To design modern efficient aircraft requires a complex combination of aerodynamic performance, lightweight durable structures and advanced systems engineering. This specialist MSc Aerospace Vehicle Design option explores how different structural and systems elements can be designed and integrated using up-to-date methods and techniques.


  • Start dateSeptember or March
  • DurationFull-time MSc: One year
  • DeliveryTaught modules 10%, group project 50%, individual research project 40%
  • QualificationMSc
  • Study typeFull-time
  • CampusCranfield campus

Who is it for?

This option is suitable for those students wishing to gain an overview of the whole aircraft design process as well as the design of aircraft structures and systems. 

Why this course?

This Aircraft Design option aims to provide a comprehensive overview of whole aircraft configuration design as well as structures and systems. A holistic teaching approach is taken to explore how the individual elements of an aircraft can be designed and integrated using up-to-date methods and techniques. You will learn to understand how to select and integrate specific systems such as fuel systems, and their effect on the aircraft as a whole.

You will have the opportunity to fly during a Student Experience Flight in our National Flying Laboratory Centre’s (NFLC) light aircraft. This flight experience will complement your MSc studies, focussing on the effects of controls, aircraft stability and angle of attack. During the flight you will have the opportunity to take control of the aircraft. Each experience is 2 to 3 hours in duration and includes a pre-flight safety briefing outlining the details of the manoeuvres to be flown, a flight of approximately 1 hour, and a post-flight debrief. Read Hari's blog on his flight experience.

We have been at the forefront of postgraduate education in aerospace engineering since 1946. Aerospace Vehicle Design at Cranfield University was one of the original foundation courses of the College of Aeronautics. Graduates of this course are eligible to join the Cranfield College of Aeronautics Alumni Association (CCAAA), an active community which hold a number of networking and social events throughout the year.

Cranfield University is well located for students from all over the world, and offers a range of library and support facilities to support your studies. This enables students from all over the world to complete this qualification whilst balancing work/life commitments.

Informed by industry

The course has an Industrial Advisory Committee with senior members from major UK aerospace companies, government bodies, and the military services. The committee meets twice a year to review and advise on course content, acquisition skills and other attributes that are desirable for graduates of the course. Panel members include:

• Airbus,
• BAE Systems,
• Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces,
• GKN Aerospace,
• Messier-Dowty,
• Royal Air Force,
• Royal Australian Air Force,
• Thales UK.

Course details

The Aircraft Design option consists of nine mandatory modules and 11 optional modules. You are also required to complete a group design project and an individual research project. Delivered via a combination of structured lectures, industry guest lectures, computer based workshops and private study.

A unique feature of the course is that we have four external examiners, two from industry who assess the group design project and two from academia who assess the individual research project.

Course delivery

Taught modules 10%, group project 50%, individual research project 40%

Group project

The extensive group design project is a distinctive and unique feature of this course. This teamwork project takes place over six months and recreates a virtual industrial environment bringing together students with various experience levels and different nationalities into one integrated design team.

Students are given responsibility for the detailed design of a significant part of the aircraft, for example, forward fuselage, fuel system, landing gear, environmental control system or wing. The project will progress from the conceptual phase through to the preliminary and detail design phases. You will be required to run project meetings, produce engineering drawings and detailed analyses of your design. Problem solving and project coordination must be undertaken on a team and individual basis. At the end of the project, groups are required to report and present findings to a large panel of senior engineers from industry.

This element of the course is both realistic and engaging, and places the student group in a professional role as aerospace design engineers. Students testify that working as an integrated team on real problems is invaluable and prepares them well for careers in a highly competitive industry.

Watch past presentation videos (YouTube) to give you a taster of our innovative and exciting group projects:

Individual project

The individual research project aims to provide the training necessary for you to apply knowledge from the taught element to research. The project may be theoretical and/or experimental and drawn from a range of topics related to the course and suggested by teaching staff, your employer or focused on your own area of interest. It provides the opportunity for you to deepen your knowledge of an area that is of particular interest, and is often associated with a real-world problem that one of our industry partners is looking to resolve.

Examples in conceptual aircraft design topics:
Aircraft configurations appropriate to hybrid-electric designs;
Design and testing of a bird like flapping wing ultra-light aircraft;
Design of a human powered helicopter;
Conceptual design of a high speed VIP transport helicopter;
Conceptual design of a hypersonic space launcher;
The conceptual design of a commuter seaplane;
An ultra-light tilt-wing-rotor aircraft for short take-off and landing capability;
Scale factor for the structure design of a BWB Aircraft;
Design of a human powered helicopter (HPH);
Conceptual fesign of a two-seat training/touring 'Autogyro'.

Examples in aircraft structural design and analysis topics:
Investigation in the numerical representation of damage on CFRP stiffened panels and behaviour under combined loading;
Delamination growth of carbon fibre composites under fatigue loads;
Experimental testing and numerical analysis of aircraft bolt jointed sandwich composites;
Strength prediction via testing and/or numerical simulation of bolted joints on fibre reinforced laminates;
Composite design considerations for trailing arm landing gears;
Fatigue behaviour of bolted joints on CFRP laminates following pull through failure;
Simulation of thermal residual stresses of CFRP wing;
Fatigue of buckled composite stiffened panel;
Dynamic Indentation of composite laminates;
Numerical modelling of through-thickness reinforced composite laminates;
Direct measurement of traction-separation law in fatigue damage of adhesive bonding;
Composite joints reinforced by composite fasteners.

Example aircraft systems design and analysis topics:
Systems/structure design modifications to increase manufacture and assembly rates;
The development of a hypersonic air-breathing propulsion model and the sizing and integration of a propulsion concept;
Environmental control system for aircraft with variable fresh air;
The design of a propeller for an electric microlight aircraft;
Investigation into the characteristics of a boundary layer ingestion system;
Tolerance design for mechanical assemblies in aerospace;
Environmental control system cabin air quality;
Fuel cell powered landing gear taxi system;
The design and integration of a next-generation propulsion concept;
An investigation into hypersonic air-breathing propulsion concepts and fuels;
The design of a propulsion system for an electric microlight aircraft;
Integrated sensors airframe design ;
Tolerance design for mechanical assemblies in aerospace;
Aircraft wing sub-system design for modular assembly;
Design of a scaled test rig for integral wing fuel tank experiments;
Simulating fuel gauging performance using pressure sensors;
Design of hybrid electric fuel cell propulsion system for a training helicopter;
Thermal management of aircraft systems on future more electric aircraft with ultra-high bypass ;
Future airliner cabin design;
Actuation system health monitoring;
Re-entry space vehicle – actuation system design and analysis;
Reducing wing fuel tank leak test times during assembly;
Aircraft level analysis of novel integrated thermal management systems.


Keeping our courses up-to-date and current requires constant innovation and change. The modules we offer reflect the needs of business and industry and the research interests of our staff and, as a result, may change or be withdrawn due to research developments, legislation changes or for a variety of other reasons. Changes may also be designed to improve the student learning experience or to respond to feedback from students, external examiners, accreditation bodies and industrial advisory panels.

To give you a taster, we have listed the compulsory and elective (where applicable) modules which are currently affiliated with this course. All modules are indicative only, and may be subject to change for your year of entry.

Course modules

Compulsory modules
All the modules in the following list need to be taken as part of this course.

Design and Analysis of Composite Structures


    To introduce you to the composite materials, manufacturing techniques and analysis methods for the design of aerospace composite structures.

    • Introduction; Types of composite materials, especially FRP composites.
    • Overview of composites manufacturing techniques.
    • Micromechanics and macro mechanics for stiffness and strength analysis of a FRP ply; Macro mechanics, constitutive equation, stiffness and strength analysis of a FRP laminate; Thermal and moisture residual stresses in a FRP laminate.
    • Stress analysis of an open section FRP composite structure subjected to various loadings.
    • Stress analysis of a closed section FRP composite structure subjected to various loadings.
    • Design guidelines and examples for composite structure design and analysis.
    • Computer programmes for laminate stress, buckling of laminate and stiffened skin.

    The classroom assignment on composite manufacturing techniques will take place towards the end of this module. The date and time will be confirmed by the tutor. The assignment is a one hour written paper that will take place in the classroom under exam conditions. This assignment is formally assessed and is worth 25% of the marks available for this module.

Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

1. Demonstrate an understanding of the key features and particular properties of composite materials, especially fibre reinforced plastics (FRP).
2. Apply analytical methods for the evaluation of moisture and thermal effects on a FRP laminate.
3. Able to evaluate the strength of a FRP laminate based on stress analysis and failure criteria.
4. Able to perform stress analysis of laminated composite structures with open and closed sections subjected to various loadings.

Design of Airframe Systems

    To expand the your knowledge of airframe systems, their role, design and integration. In particular, to provide you with an appreciation of the considerations necessary and methods used when selecting aircraft power systems and the effect of systems on the aircraft as a whole.
    • Introduction to airframe systems
    • Systems design philosophy and safety
    • Aircraft secondary power systems
    • Aircraft pneumatics power systems
    • Aircraft hydraulics power systems
    • Aircraft electrical power systems
    • Flight control power systems
    • Aircraft environmental control
    • Aircraft icing and ice protection systems
    • Aviation fuels and aircraft fuel systems
    • Engine off-take effects
    • Fuel penalties of systems
    • Advanced and possible future airframe systems
Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:
1. Identify the main airframe systems and explain their purposes and principles of operation; including Secondary Power Systems (Pneumatic, Hydraulic and Electric), Environmental Control Systems, Ice Protection Systems, Flight Control Power Systems and Fuel Systems.
2. Formulate the requirements that drive the design of the main airframe systems.
3. For each of the main airframe systems: differentiate the various architectures and reasons behind the differences; identify types of equipment and major components used and assess their principles of operation; and perform basic sizing analysis for systems and major components.
4. Appraise the effects of airframe systems power provision on aircraft power plants and analyse fuel penalties resulting from a given system’s presence on an aircraft by carrying out basic calculations.
5. Examine the reasons for, and propose possible types of changes, that may occur in airframe systems in the near future.

Aircraft Performance


    To facilitate you in gaining fundamental knowledge of the theory of conventional fixed wing aircraft performance to a level suitable for an aerospace vehicle designer. In particular, to provide you with the ability to apply aircraft performance theory, practically in the context of aerospace vehicle design.

    • Introduction to Aircraft Performance
    • Aircraft Cruising Performance
    • Aircraft Climb and Descent Performance
    • Aircraft Take-off and Landing Performance
    • Aircraft Manoeuvre Performance
    • Flight Path Performance Estimation
    • Aircraft Performance Measurement

    A classroom exercise will be completed during this module. Solutions will be collected in by the tutor at the end of the module.
Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:
1. Have knowledge of the performance of characteristic of conventional fixed wing aircraft.
2. Understand and be able to apply methods of estimation of flight path performance.
3. Be able to assess and evaluate the performance characteristics of a conventional aircraft.
4. Appreciate the importance of airworthiness requirements in conventional aircraft.

Aircraft Stability and Control


    To provide an introduction to the fundamentals of aircraft stability and control.

    • Stability, control and handling qualities relationships.
    • Aircraft aerodynamic controls.
    • Static equilibrium and trim.
    • Longitudinal static stability, trim, pitching moment equation, static margins.
    • Lateral-directional static stability.
    • Introduction to dynamic stability, first and second order responses.
    • Equations of motion and modal characteristics.
Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module you will be able to:

  • Describe the concepts of: trim, stability and control.
  • Describe methods of providing static stability for a conventional aircraft.
  • Describe the modes of motion of a conventional aircraft.

Design for Manufacture and Operation


    To ensure that while you design your structure they are aware of the constraint imposed by manufacturing and operational considerations.

    The influence of designing for maintainability will have a considerable effect on the design of both the structure and aircraft systems and a considerable effect on the life cycle cost of the vehicle. The taught material will have immediate practical application to the Group Design Project.


    • Metallic and Non-metallic manufacturing processes.
    • Material and Manufacturing process selection with CES Edupack.
    • Wing configuration and manufacture.
    • Assembly and production processes.
    • Maintainability and accessibility.
    • Design for Assembly and Maintainability methods.

Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:
1. Understand the influence of design for manufacture and maintainability on both structure and aircraft systems.
2. Apply their knowledge and skills to the Group Design Project.

Flight Experience

    To provide you with flights in the Flying Laboratory in support of the lecture course in Aircraft Aerodynamics, Aircraft Performance, and Aircraft Stability and Control. These flights are key for students who are from a non-aeronautical background, and will also serve as a refresher for the remaining students.
    • Measurement of aircraft drag and effect of flap (AD, SD & ASD).
    • Aircraft longitudinal static stability (AD & SD)
    • Avionic demonstration and inertial system accuracy (ASD)
    • Dynamic stability modes (AD, SD & ASD)
Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module a student should be able to:
  • Describe the flight test techniques used to measure simple aerodynamic parameters and assess navigation systems.
  • Describe the dynamic stability modes of a conventional aircraft.

Initial Aircraft Design

    To introduce you to the process of aircraft conceptual design and support structural layout work, were required, through participation on the Group Design Project.
    • Aircraft project design process
    • Drag and weight prediction:  Drag sources, polar, estimation, weight prediction methods. Layout aspects:  wing; power plant; landing gear; fuselage
    • Simple tail plane and fin layout
    • Overall project synthesis and case study of aircraft
    • Structural requirements, - strength, stiffness and serviceability
    • Analysis of requirements, sources of load and reference datum lines
    • Role of structural members - main plane, stabilisers, auxiliary surfaces, fuselage
    • Analysis and sizing methods - elementary theories
    • Departures from elementary theories - constraint effects, cut outs, buckling.
Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:
1. Demonstrate a systematic understanding of the multidisciplinary nature of aircraft design.
2. Identify the functional role of the structural elements of the entire airframe.
3. Demonstrate an understanding of the top level aircraft design to put the detailed design of one aircraft component into context.
4. Perform a simple conceptual design synthesis of an aircraft and evaluate the design.
5. Apply their knowledge and skills to derive the initial structural layout of the Group Design Project aircraft.

Loading Actions


    To provide you with knowledge of all the main loading cases including those encountered on the ground, in the air and those induced by the environment. This is the initial module on the MSc course, its contents are fundamental and the taught material will have immediate practical application to the Group Design Project.(GDP).

    • Standard requirements, their application, interpretation and limitations.
    • Flight loading cases: symmetric manoeuvres, pitching acceleration, gust effects, asymmetric manoeuvres, roll and yaw.
    • Balance equations: rigid airframe response, control movements and forces.
    • Ground loading cases: Airload distributions.
    • Structural design data: Inertia relief and effect on shear force, bending moment and torque diagrams.
    • Factors: load factors, their basis and restrictions. 
Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

1. Estimate the design loads that act upon a major aircraft structural component using a simplified approach and evaluate these to isolate design cases.
2. Extend their knowledge and skills to the derivation of structural loads on the Group Design Project aircraft.
3. Demonstrate knowledge of the history and significance of the various airworthiness requirements.

Reliability, Safety Assessment and Certification

    To provide you with an introduction to the aircraft airworthiness as well as knowledge of reliability assessment methods, safety assessment methods, and certification issues associated with the design of Aircraft Systems (including weapon systems and survivability). To familiarise you with current air accidents investigation techniques and processes.
    • Airworthiness
    • Reliability
    • Reliability requirements – JAR25-AC.1309
    • Probabilities of failure, MTBF, MTBR, etc.
    • Reliability models – series and parallel systems, common mode failures
    • Safety Assessment Analysis Methods
    • Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA)
    • Fault Tree Analysis (FTA)
    • Reliability predictions
    • Common Cause Analysis (CCA)
    • System Safety Assessment Process
    • Functional Hazard Analysis (FHA)
    • Preliminary System Safety Assessment (PSSA)
    • Air Accidents Investigation

Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:
1. Demonstrate an understand of the aircraft certification process and how aircraft design is driven by airworthiness requirements.
2. Identify system safety requirements.
3. Demonstrate a systematic understanding of the procedures and steps for system safety assessment.
4. Develop system reliability models and perform safety assessment at different levels.
5. Simulate and analyse system reliability.

Elective modules
One of the modules from the following list needs to be taken as part of this course



    To introduce you to the importance of aeroelastic phenomena, basics of aeroelasticity and analysis methods for the design of aircraft structures.

    • Introduction (historical review, aeroelastic phenomena and design requirements);
    • Structural and aerodynamic stiffness;
    • Static aeroelasticity: torsional divergence, control effectiveness and reversal;
    • Structural vibration and modal analysis;
    • Aerodynamic loads on an oscillating lifting surface;
    • Characteristics of flutter and important design parameters;
    • Methods for aeroelastic analysis (divergence and flutter speed prediction);
    • Gust response of rigid and flexible airframes;
    • This module has additional accompanying tutorials and computer workshops as required.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module you should be able to:
1. Recognise the importance of aeroelastic phenomena and design requirements.
2. Explain the theory of aeroelasticity including static and dynamic aeroelastic problems.
3. Illustrate the approach for evaluating divergence and flutter speed of aircraft structures.
4. Demonstrate the application of knowledge to the practical design aspects of aerospace structures using available PC based computer programs.
5. Apply your knowledge and skills to estimate the flutter speed of the Group Design Project aircraft.

Aerospace System Development and Life Cycle Model


    To introduce you to system engineering concepts, system lifecycle models and system design processes and methods.

    • Introduction to Systems.
    • Life Cycle Models.
    • System Requirements.
    • Systems Design.
    • System Integration, Verification and Validation.
Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:
1. Demonstrate a understanding of the basic concepts of the main life-cycle models.
2. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of these models.
3. Define and analyse system requirements and specifications.
4. Determine system development process and define the work to be performed at different development phases.
5. Apply development life-cycle models to the AVD Group project.

Aircraft Aerodynamics


    The aim of this module is to provide you with the knowledge of the Atmosphere and of the basic aerodynamic characteristics of a conventional aircraft in the context of its mechanics of flight.

    • Atmosphere Mechanics: structure of the atmosphere, international standard atmosphere model, design atmospheres.
    • Air Data Systems: Pitot-static systems. Altitude, airspeed and Mach number. Air temperature and airflow direction detectors.
    • Basic flight mechanics: forces acting on the aircraft, balance and trim. The forces of lift and drag and their characteristic dependencies.
    • Powerplant thrust characteristics: effects of weight, altitude, temperature and Mach number.
    • Aircraft axis systems.
    • The aerodynamic aspects of the outline design process of a transport aircraft.
    This module has additional accompanying flying laboratory tutorials in the Jetstream Aircraft. See Flight Experimental Methods (FXM).
Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module a you should be able to:
1. Demonstrate knowledge of the characteristics of the international standard atmosphere and design atmospheres.
2. Identify aircraft air data systems and air data measurement.
3. Identify the basic force system of a conventional aircraft.
4. Demonstrate an ability to calculate the principle aerodynamic forces of lift and drag.
5. Perform a simple initial aerodynamic design of an aircraft.

Aircraft Power Plant Installation


    To introduce you to the engine and aircraft-related aspects of the propulsion system, with the primary emphasis being placed on gas turbine engines.

    • Simple gas turbine theory illustrating the effect of gas turbine cycle parameters.
    • Relations between specific fuel consumption, specific range and thermal and overall efficiencies for various engine types including turbo-props.
    • Choice of cycle for various applications.
    • Brief assessment of engine size required and engine / airframe matching including the importance of the airworthiness performance requirements.
    • Impact of engine rating on engine / airframe matching.
    • Impact on engine installation of various systems required by the aircraft.

Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:
1. Understand how a propulsion system is defined.
2. Assess the performance interface between the engine and the airframe.

Computer Aided Design


    The aim of this module is to introduce you to the role of Computer Aided Design technologies in a modern Integrated Product Development process and provide hands-on experience of CAD using the CATIA v5 software.

    • Introduction to Integrated Product Development (IPD) for aircraft design
    • Overview of Computer Aided Design, Manufacture and Engineering tools and their role in IPD
    • Introduction to CAD modelling techniques:
    o Solid Modelling
    o Assembly Modelling
    o Parametric Design
    o Surface Modelling
    o Drafting
    • Hands on CATIA exercises using CATIA v5 including fuselage and wing design exercises
    • Using CATIA for the Group Design Project.
Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:
1. Explain the role of Computer Aided technologies in the aircraft development process.
2. Differentiate between Computer Aided Design, Computer Aided Manufacture and Computer Aided Engineering and understand the information flows between these tools.
3. Select appropriate CAD modelling techniques for a variety of design applications.
4. Use Computer Aided Design software to create simple 3D models using solid, assembly and surface modelling techniques.
5. Apply your knowledge and skills to design aircraft components as part of the Group Design Project.

Detail Stressing

    To introduce you to the techniques of detail stressing as practised in the aerospace industry.

    • The structural function of aircraft components. Definition of Limit, Proof and Ultimate loads and Factors for Civil and Military aircraft.

    • Basic formulas for stress analysis. Stress strain curves for metallic materials. Material equivalents. Concept of Reserve Factors (RF) and Margins of Safety (MS).

    • Material data. Design guidelines for mechanically fastened joints. Lugs. Strength of bolted/riveted joints. Usage of approved aerospace components.

    • Structures under bending and compression. Euler buckling, flange buckling, inter-rivet buckling. Buckling of struts and plates. Shear buckling of webs.

    • Generalised stress strain curves.

    • Plastic bending and form factors.

    • Rivet and bolt group analysis.

    • Analysis of thin walled structures.

    • Preparation of a detailed Stressing Report and Reserve Factor summary tables for a classroom exercise to be completed during this module.

Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:
  • Apply the principals and techniques in stress analysis and airworthiness requirements to size basic aircraft structural components.
  • Evaluate the strength of a component and determine its ability to support an applied load.
  • Compare, propose and select metallic materials suitable for use in aircraft structures.
  • Acquire transferable skills to allow effective communication with company stress engineers.

Fatigue, Fracture Mechanics and Damage Tolerance


    To provide you with an understanding of the theories of Fatigue and Fracture Mechanics and show how these structural concepts are applied to the design and testing of aircraft structures and Airworthiness Certification.

    Design awareness: Philosophies of design against fatigue and design for damage tolerance: i.e. safe-life, fail-safe and damage tolerance.
    Fatigue analysis: Traditional S-N curve approach: calculation of crack initiation life; mean stress effect, notch effect; Miner’s cumulative damage rule for variable amplitude loads.
    Aircraft fatigue loads: Typical aircraft load spectra for use in the laboratory and computer simulation.
    Fracture Mechanics: Basic Theory of Linear Elastic Fracture Mechanics (LEFM): Stress Intensity Factor, fracture toughness, strain energy release rate; plane stress and plane strain, crack tip plastic zone; residual strength; prediction of fatigue crack growth. Numerical techniques for crack prediction and analysis.
    Damage Tolerance: Damage tolerant design methods and technologies for composites and metals. Fatigue monitoring in flight/service and structural health monitoring. Inspection methods. CAA and FAA Regulations and their relationship to Airworthiness Certification Material selection.
Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:
1. Appraise the importance of design against fatigue, especially for aircraft structures and explain the concept of the damage tolerance design and failsafe design.
2. Command the basic knowledge of Linear Elastic Fracture Mechanics (LEFM) and relate the theory of Linear Elastic Fracture Mechanics to estimate residual strength and crack propagation life of a structure.
3. Solve fatigue analysis problems using both crack initiation and crack propagation approaches.
4. Evaluate and select the most appropriate method; use data sheets for an engineering application.
5. Evaluate the regulatory authority requirements for airworthiness and damage tolerance.

Finite Element Analysis


    The course is aimed at giving potential Finite Element users basic understanding of the inner workings of the method.

    The objective is to introduce users to the terminology, basic numerical and mathematical aspects of the method. This should help students to avoid some of the more common and important user errors, many of which stem from a "black box" approach to this technique. Some basic guidelines are also given on how to approach the modelling of structures using the Finite Element Method.


    • Background to Finite Element Methods (FEM) and its application.
    • Introduction to FE modelling: Idealisation, Discretisation, Meshing and Post Processing.
    • Tracking and controlling errors in a finite element analysis. ‘Do’s and don’ts’ of modelling.
    • Illustration of basics of FEM using the Direct Stiffness method to define both terminology and theoretical approach.
    • Problems of large systems of equations for FE, and solution methods. 
    • FE method for continua illustrated with membrane and shell elements.
    • Nonlinear analysis in FEM and examples.
    • A series of NASTRAN application sessions targeted at knowledge based practical approach to implementing FEM models.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

  • 1. Understand the underlying principles and key aspects of practical application of FEA to structural problems.
  • 2. Understand the main mathematical and numerical aspects of the element formulations for 1D, 2D and 3D elements.
  • 3. Build and analyse finite element models based on structural and continuum elements with proper understanding of limitations of the FEM.
  • 4. Interpret results of the analyses and assess error levels.
  • 5. Critically evaluate the constraints and implications imposed by the finite element method.

Integrated Vehicle Health Management


    To provide you with an introduction to the leading IVHM technologies and concepts being implemented in various health monitoring systems, and their application to aircraft design.

    IVHM has become an integral part of Aerospace Vehicle Design. You will be able to comprehend IVHM techniques and be able to use them in AVD Group Design Project.

    • Failure Modes, Effects and Criticality Analysis (FMECA) and different tools available.
    • Sensors and Instrumentation for different aircraft sub-systems (aircraft structures, aero-propulsion systems, electric power and power distribution systems, avionics, etc.).
    • Fault detection and isolation techniques.
    • Reasoning methods (model-based, case-based, etc.) and their use in aircraft health management.
    • Prognosis approaches for aircraft health management.
    • Physics of failure approaches.
    • IVHM Design for aircraft health management.
    • Structural health monitoring.
    • Cost benefit analysis of IVHM implementation.
Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module a you should be able to:

1. Communicate unambiguously IVHM terminology and apply it correctly, given that the IVHM is a developing field.
2. Demonstrate an understanding of the key IVHM Concepts; failure modes, failure effects, failure symptoms, sensors, detection, diagnostics, prognostics, etc.
3. Select appropriate sensors and instrumentation for different sub-systems of the aircraft.
4. Build a diagnostics/prognostics algorithm(s) for different sub-systems of the aircraft.
5. Design IVHM systems for different sub-systems of the aircraft in the Group Design Project.

Landing Gear Design

    To provide you with a general understanding of the design of landing gear and the associated systems and the associated challenges of integrating them into an airframe. The module also aims to highlight the implications that the design of the landing gear has on the aircraft layout and structure.
    • Landing gear layout (Skids, flying boats, tricycle, bicycle, multi-wheel etc.)
    • Ground flotation (Aircraft Classification Number [ACN] & Pavement Classification Number [PCN])
    • Tyres (Failure modes and causes and wear. Radial vs. Cross-ply)
    • Wheels (Bowl type vs. ‘A’ type)
    • Brakes
    • Struts (Cantilever vs. Trailing arm)
    • Loads (Ground loads and airframe attachment loads)
    • Shock Absorbers (Single acting and double acting. Compression curves)
    • Retraction
    • Ground manoeuvring (Steering)
Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:
  • Evaluate the various landing gear layout schemes and assess which is best for any particular aircraft layout.
  • Demonstrate a systematic understanding of the procedures and steps for positioning the landing gear on the aircraft (longitudinally and laterally).
  • Critique historic landing gear designs and understand why various design decisions have been made and analyse their impacts on the aircraft.

Structural Stability


    To provide you with a fundamental understanding of the buckling of thin walled structures and the ability to calculate the buckling load of a component.

    • The buckling of thin plates and thin-walled sections using the Rayleigh-Ritz method of analysis. Alternative methods of buckling analysis.
    • Timoshenko's method for columns.
    • Exact solution of differential equations.
    • Approximate solution of differential equations, Finite difference method, Galerkins method, Theoretical post-buckling analysis of plates in compression.
    • The concept of effective width for thin plates.
    • The behaviour of imperfect plates, Torsional-Flexural buckling of thin-walled open section columns.
    • The buckling behaviour and failure of stiffened panels, crippling of thin-walled sections, stiffened shear webs.
    • This module has additional accompanying tutorials and workshops as required, plus a laboratory demonstration of the compressive buckling failure modes of struts and stiffened panels.
Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

1. Demonstrate a conceptual understanding of the buckling of thin walled structures and structural components.
2. Demonstrate the ability to predict buckling behaviour using hand calculation techniques.
3. Analyse the buckling and post buckling behaviour of simple thin walled stiffened panels.
4. Effectively use data sheets to analyse buckling of real structural components.

Teaching team

You will be taught by a wide range of subject specialists from the University and industry professionals who draw on their research and industrial expertise to provide stimulating and relevant input to your learning experience. The teaching on some taught modules is also supported by visiting speaker's lectures from both industry and the military. Former speakers have included senior representatives from Airbus, BAE Systems, Boeing and Eurocopter. The Course Director for the September intake for this programme is Jack Stockford. The March intake Course Director is Dr David Judt.


The Aerospace Vehicle Design MSc is accredited by Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) and the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) on behalf of the Engineering Council as meeting the requirements for further learning for registration as a Chartered Engineer (CEng). Candidates must hold a CEng accredited BEng/BSc (Hons) undergraduate first degree to show that they have satisfied the educational base for CEng registration.

Your career

This MSc is valued and respected by employers worldwide. The applied nature of this course ensures that our graduates are ready to be of immediate use to their future employer and has provided sufficient breadth of understanding of multi-discipline design to position them for accelerated career progression.

Graduates from this option have gone on to pursue engineering careers in disciplines such as structural design, stress analysis or systems design.

Many of our graduates occupy very senior positions in their organisations, making valuable contributions to the international aerospace industry. Typical student destinations include BAE Systems, Airbus, Dassault and Rolls-Royce.

Cranfield’s Career Service is dedicated to helping you meet your career aspirations. You will have access to career coaching and advice, CV development, interview practice, access to hundreds of available jobs via our Symplicity platform and opportunities to meet recruiting employers at our careers fairs. Our strong reputation and links with potential employers provide you with outstanding opportunities to secure interesting jobs and develop successful careers. Support continues after graduation and as a Cranfield alumnus, you have free life-long access to a range of career resources to help you continue your education and enhance your career.

How to apply

Click on the ‘Apply now’ button below to start your online application.

See our Application guide for information on our application process and entry requirements.

My course prepared me to be an aircraft designer with good hands-on experience in design software, planning and budgeting for projects. Here I have learnt team work and project management skills. Using these skills I have set up a company back in India which focuses on the engineering applications of drones.
As a person who always had a dream of becoming a flight test engineer in the aerospace sector, I felt that the Flight Experience module - onboard Cranfield's Saab 340B, the flying classroom - was valuable as an initial insight on how a flight test is conducted within the industry. It really helped me to understand and verify the overall theory evolving the flight physics both in term of lift and drag, as well as the stability of the aircraft.
I chose to study Aerospace Vehicle Design MSc at Cranfield University as it was a unique course that would give me the opportunity to specialise in the design of aircraft. A highlight from my MSc would have to be the group design project and meeting new friends from all around the world. It made the entire journey a breeze, with a lot of support and many late nights. Once I have finished my MSc I will be starting new job at Airbus.

I chose to study at Cranfield University because of the feedback provided by former students, so as well as its ties with industry. The Aerospace Vehicle Design MSc was was exactly what I was looking for in terms of the theory covered in the taught modules and being able to apply this to the group and thesis projects.

A highlight from my time at Cranfield University would have to be taking part in the flying experience onboard the Cranfield acrobatic plane.