No challenge too great
It was in 1946, on the then Royal Air Force base of RAF Cranfield, that the establishment now known as Cranfield University was formed. Originally dubbed the College of Aeronautics, it was set up by the UK Government in the wake of the Second World War as a means of ensuring that the country retained a vibrant aerospace industry. In the decades since, Cranfield University has expanded into a number of specialist areas, yet at its heart it remains a research and industry focused institution.
“Until 1997, we made up part of the engineering wing of the university’s aerospace department,” explains Paul Hutton, Chief Executive Officer of Cranfield Aerospace Solutions Limited (CAeS), one of the market leaders in the prototyping of new aerospace concepts and complex modifications to existing aerospace platforms. “By that point, with the sheer volume of work that we were receiving from third parties and with an increasing number of approvals being gained from the likes of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) for design and manufacture projects, it became logical to spin the business out as a separate, commercial entity.”
The core of CAeS revolves around it having all of the necessary engineering capabilities and disciplines in place to not only design, build, test and certify a whole aircraft prototype, but also to carry out the design, build, installation, testing and certification of complex modifications to existing platforms, of all sizes or complexities, be it civilian or military. By way of example a recent design for hard-points on the King Air 350i to support 120Kg per wing has been completed including a full mechanical analysis of wing structure and whole aircraft interaction. This included flutter analysis of the wing/aircraft and GVT (Ground Vibration Testing) of the wing. “We also recently certified through EASA, FAA and Brazilian ANAC a revolutionary active winglet system for retrofitting to Cessna business jets for the Tamarack Aerospace Group.”
In addition to these services, CAeS is also equipped to offer aircraft maintenance and clearances for the carriage of munitions on aircraft, and investigate dynamic structural performance of new systems in the air, on land and at sea. This range of capabilities makes CAeS unique among SME’s, and its ability to deliver results quickly and in a cost effective manner has attracted the biggest names in aviation, including the likes of Boeing, Airbus, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce.
“Another major differentiator for us is how we are able to leverage a unique three-point combination of our own design and manufacture capabilities, the research facilities of Cranfield University and a live, commercially operated airport,” Paul continues. “CAeS is one of, if not the only company of its kind to possess such infrastructure in one place and that is definitely a draw for our customers as it allows us to deliver pragmatic solutions, backed up by market-leading research and practical flying trials. It is certainly a case where the whole of what we can deliver as a business is considerably more than the sum of its parts.”
The company’s capabilities cover the most important themes encountered by aircraft manufacturers today. In fact, in some of these CAeS has long shown itself to be ahead of the curve. For example, in the area of Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV) the company has actually been involved in the majority of the UK’s military development projects for the last 30 years. By accumulating considerable knowledge in autonomy, aerodynamics and the man-machine interface of UAVs, CAeS was able to develop its own UAV product, CASSIUS, which became available to customers almost four years ago.
“Upon joining the business around 20 months ago,” Paul states, “I took the decision to build upon our UAV capabilities and move into providing UAV services to clients who need the data that UAVs can provide but who don’t want to have to build a UAV capability in their businesses. This has brought us to the point where we can take the operational data needs of said clients and then turn these into a set of technical requirements to define the UAV capabilities they require, before finally advising on the selection of the correct UAV platform/sensors/control links and then integrating these to deliver an effective UAV solution.”
Other important services provided by the company come from its Safety & Suitability Technologies (SST) department, which delivers carriage of munitions clearances, environmental trials and dynamic structural performance trials. It also offers independent evaluation and consultancy for runway and helideck friction testing, water ingestion testing and aircraft noise testing.
More recently, CAeS has been gaining ground with the global success of its advanced G-Cueing and simulation services. At the heart of this area of the business is its bespoke motion cueing technology, which provides the operator or pilot with the most immersive and high-fidelity simulation of real flight available anywhere today. The company’s Motion Cueing G-Seat (MCS) employs electric actuators, combined with a series of dynamic elements, to provide a sustained simulation of the conditions pilots will face in the air. The success of this product has resulted in the company taking on its largest order to date, which is for the delivery of 29 MCS systems for L3 in the United States, on behalf of the US Navy F18 Hornet fleet.
Last, but not least, CAeS has also become a leading player when it comes to subscale demonstrators. “This capability saw CAeS approached by Boeing almost a decade ago to construct a dynamically scaled subscale demonstrator, the X-48B/C,” Paul adds. “This means that all of the mass and inertia properties had to be scaled relative to what was a full sized, 450 seat passenger plane of the future. We were asked to build two of these, which we successfully delivered within two years, one of which would go on to complete 122 test flights making it the most successful un-manned X-plane project, as measured by number of successful flights, completed by NASA.”
In speaking with Paul, he reveals that the company has something of an unofficial motto which is ‘there is always a way’. The source of this phrase is the company’s people, many of whom are highly experienced engineers. “Whereas in the past we have gravitated towards one-off projects, we are now working to secure longer term projects and relationships with multiple OEMs, while also looking to develop our one-off designs into products that we can sell into the aerospace market,” he concludes. “We embrace all challenges, the greater the better, and as such we believe that whatever market we find ourselves in, we will be at the cutting edge of this sooner rather than later.”
Cranfield Aerospace Solutions Limited (CAeS)
A unique portfolio of services and products
Market leader in rapid prototyping for new aircraft designs
Specialists in complex aerospace modifications