The Princess Royal visited Cranfield University today [10 February 2023] to officially open the National Flying Laboratory Centre’s new flying classroom, a specially adapted Saab 340B aircraft which will help up to 1700 students gain invaluable flight test experience every year.

Her Royal Highness was welcomed to Bedfordshire by HM Lord-Lieutenant of Bedfordshire Susan Lousada, and to the Cranfield campus by Professor Karen Holford CBE FREng, Cranfield University’s Chief Executive and Vice-Chancellor.

Celebrating teaching excellence and innovation

Professor Karen Holford CBE FREng said: “It was an absolute honour to welcome Her Royal Highness to Cranfield University today. I was extremely proud to show The Princess Royal how the University continues to be right at the forefront of developing the future of flight.

“Not only are we developing the best engineers and future aviation leaders, the innovative research that goes on at Cranfield is helping to push forward technological developments, aviation engineering and sustainability in the sector. I was delighted that The Princess Royal could see all that in person today.”

The Princess Royal had a short tour of some of the facilities at the University, seeing innovations such as the Multi-User Environment for Autonomous Vehicle Innovation (MUEAVI), an experimental facility to rapidly develop autonomous vehicles, and infrastructure and collaborative projects with Airbus and Rolls-Royce.

Making aerospace theory a reality

Her Royal Highness boarded Cranfield University’s flying classroom, the Saab 340B, and was shown the advanced in-flight technology which helps students from across the country analyse live flight data and see aerospace theory become reality. In 2019, Cranfield University was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize, one of the highest honours in education, for its work supporting the nation’s aero-engineering students through the National Flying Laboratory Centre.

In the Passenger Experience Laboratory, an experimental airport terminal departure lounge concept inside the new Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre, The Princess Royal unveiled a plaque to officially open the National Flying Laboratory Centre.

Bringing learning to life with a global connected classroom

As well as teaching university students on-board in the aircraft, the new flying classroom will have advanced satellite communications systems which can transmit live flight data, video and audio right into school classrooms around the world. This global connected classroom will help to inspire future generations to follow careers in engineering and aviation.

Professor Dame Helen Atkinson DBE FREng, Pro-Vice-Chancellor – School of Aerospace, Transport Systems and Manufacturing, said: “The new flying classroom really does bring learning to life. Students on board the aircraft, with its bespoke technology, get to experience for themselves what they have studied on the ground.

“And we will bring the excitement of live flight right into schools around the world with the global connected classroom – that's something very special. It is a truly unique and invaluable facility, helping to prepare students for a career in aerospace and inspire the next generation.

“We are hugely grateful to all those who have made contributions in support of the purchase and modification of this new National Flying Laboratory Centre aircraft. The companies, the universities who fly with us, the Trusts and Foundations and our alumni and supporters.”

Transforming the future of the aviation industry

The flying classroom is operated by Cranfield University on behalf of over 20 universities across the UK who teach aerospace engineering. It flies almost all the UK’s aerospace undergraduates as well as Cranfield postgraduate students, around 1700 in total a year, enabling them to gain flight test experience and see aerospace theory become reality.

The global connected classroom connects to the aircraft’s on-board system, supported by equipment donated by Inmarsat and Honeywell.

The flying classroom is also used to advance industry research, supporting the development of airborne technologies and procedures for future flight operations.

HM Lord-Lieutenant of Bedfordshire, Susan Lousada, said: “It was a pleasure to show Her Royal Highness and invited VIP guests the amazing work going on at Cranfield University. This part of Bedfordshire is an incubator for innovative ideas, which are helping to transform not just the student experience but the future of the aviation industry.”

Cranfield is the only university in Europe to have its own airport, pilots, air navigation service provider, and its own aircraft.