More than 200 students from Parkfield School have spent the day exploring Cranfield University’s ‘flying classroom’ and learning all about careers in aviation during a special trip to Bournemouth Airport.

They were treated to a tour and demonstration of Cranfield University's National Flying Laboratory Centre’s specially adapted Saab 340B flying classroom, which spent the day at the airport as part of a partnership between Bournemouth Airport and the University to foster future skills in the aviation industry.

Parkfield School, which is part of the Reach South Academy Trust and located next to the airport, arranged for the students to explore the aircraft inside and out, and take part in an interactive workshop designed to replicate the experience of flying a plane.

The Parkfield students started by studying the plane from the outside, while Cranfield University experts explained the practical basics around how the engines and propellers work, before touring the inside and seeing the instruments for themselves. They learned how the instruments are designed to replicate what a pilot would see in flight, as well as watching the ‘cockpit cam’ which offers a view through the pilot’s eyes. A few lucky children were then given the chance to sit in the cockpit themselves.

Jeremy Payne, Headteacher at Parkfield School, said: “To tour an aircraft specifically designed for education is a wonderful opportunity and one I know our students really valued. We are incredibly grateful to everyone at Cranfield University and Bournemouth Airport for helping put this tour together – our students absolutely loved it.”

A unique learning opportunity

Cranfield’s flying classroom is a unique plane which has been specially adapted to educate aerospace students. The fully-instrumented aircraft supplies passengers with real-time data on a wide range of performance parameters so that students can understand how the plane functions. The flying classroom is also used to advance industry research, supporting the development of airborne technologies and procedures for future flight operations.

Robert Harrison, Head of the National Flying Laboratory Centre at Cranfield University, who hosted the students, said: “It was a delight to welcome the Parkfield students onto our one-of-a-kind flying classroom and to show them how we use this for industrial and academic research work. The students were a credit to their school and seemed to thoroughly enjoy learning more about how the work involved in keeping a plane in the air.

“Alongside in-person visits, the flying classroom will have advanced satellite communications systems to transmit live flight data, video and audio into school classrooms around the world. We hope opening up flight in this way will help to inspire future generations to follow careers in engineering and aviation.”

Each year around 1700 students from over 20 universities in the UK journey on the Saab 340B to participate in the unique learning opportunity it provides. The plane was officially opened in February 2023 by the Princess Royal, who also toured the wider facilities at Cranfield University. Cranfield is the only university in Europe with its own airport and runway, its own aircraft, pilots, and air navigation services.

Steve Gill, Managing Director at Bournemouth Airport, said: “Through our partnership with Cranfield University it’s been fantastic to welcome the flying classroom and share it for the day with our neighbours at Parkfield School. Inspiring young people about future careers in engineering and technology is so important, and by giving school children this amazing, immersive experience we hope that we have opened their eyes to the opportunities on their doorstep.”

Dean Ashton, Chief Executive of Reach South Academy Trust, said: “This visit has been a terrific success and I want to thank everyone involved. It was very inspiring to see our students so keen to learn more about Cranfield University’s wonderful and informative aircraft, and I am sure that a career in aviation beckons for some of these young people.”

Cranfield University and Regional & City Airports, which owns and operates Bournemouth Airport, signed a strategic partnership at the Farnborough International Airshow last summer to promote the development, testing and deployment of innovation across the aviation industry, including greater collaboration around future skills and sharing best practice.