Cranfield Approach

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September 9, 2015

CRANFIELD Wednesday the 9th September.

Our group visit to Cranfield airfield and the NFLC (National Flying Laboratory Centre) and the ASIC (Accident & Safety Investigation Centre) at the University was a late addition to the 2015 Fly Out programme after a kind invitation to visit by one of our own members Dr John Deane who is a research fellow at the university. Due to limitations on numbers and being mid week we were just seven in number with three aircraft going, myself and Stewart B in VB, Malcolm J, JR and Paul Cook in FC and Nick Allum and Barrie North in NUKA. With a brief as to what was planned for the day by John the visit was looking like a very interesting day out.

Having had a period of rather unsettled weather that had been thwarting quite a few flying activities it was nice to actually have a decent forecast for our day. However we all know about the forecasts and needless to say on the morning when I touched base with John at 09.00 to confirm all was well at both ends Cranfield was totally overcast at 500ft but slowly clearing. To fit in with our days programme we needed to be on the ground at Cranfield by 10.15. Fortunately with it being a short 30/35 min flight we could watch what the weather was doing until quiet late. With it starting to brighten up a little we decided to get airborne.
The route was quite simple and a well trodden path for most. After take off a turn to the west to track across TMZ 2 at not above 1500ft and then a right turn up the Luton/Stansted gap to Biggleswade. Being careful to avoid Henlow before turning west again towards Cranfield and the VRP entry point at Stewartby Brick Works. Needless to say nothing is ever straight forward especially on our fly outs and as we approached Biggleswade broken low cloud started to appear beneath us. Nothing too dire but the clumps of cloud were quite low and being down to about 500 ft. agl were likely to be a problem if they were over Cranfield itself.

Poor weather

Not quite the weather!

 

STEWARTBY VRP

STEWARTBY VRP

 

A call to Cranfield Approach gave us R03 and a rather brisk wind at 20kts from the North and to report at Stewartby. With a descent through the gaps in the cloud we saw the old disused brickwork chimneys appearing ahead of us. If you are in any doubt that you are in the right place ‘Stewartby’ is written on one of the chimneys in big white letters just to confirm it.(The pic above is from a much nicer day!) From Stewartby is was a downwind right hand join for 03. The low cloud had broken up somewhat but with another higher thick cloud layer it was quite dark and the low cloud moving through on the brisk wind had left a slight milky haze in its wake which decreased the visibility somewhat, again not in the forecast. However there was no problem finding Cranfield given its size and with the rest of the group now joining the circuit including NUKA with Nick and Barrie slipping in having transited through Luton Zone we positioned for final in the stiff crosswind. With the slightly dark and murky conditions (not that the photo below shows that) all the runway and approach lights were on which always makes it more impressive, Stewart pulled off a greaser despite the conditions and we were soon taxying towards the tower to park on the grass.
With everyone safely in we regrouped and headed off towards the tower where John Deane was waiting to meet us. We then strolled off passing the site of the Pacific Café which has now been totally demolished as part of a site remodelling. Pity, it was always a nice easy flight from North Weald to go and have a fat boys breakfast there, especially with Cranfields very reasonable landing fee. Into the University itself we went through some ingeniously designed doors resembling aerofoils to a meeting room on the first floor with big picture windows overlooking the airfield which has a long and very interesting aviation history.

Cranfield 03 Approach. It was a lot darker than it looks.

Cranfield 03 Approach. It was a lot darker than it looks.

 

John gave us a very interesting and informative talk on the history of the University and the airfield. This also included some great pictures in his PowerPoint presentation of some fascinating types of aircraft which had been evaluated and tested back in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.
After Johns talk we were joined by Suzy Szasz who is the First Officer on the Jetstream 31 which is operated as the National Flying Laboratory. Suzy gave us a very detailed talk on the purpose of the flying lab and the roles that it undertakes. Details of this can be found on their website at;

www.cranfield.ac.uk/National-Flying-Laboratory-Centre

After Suzi’s talk and Q & A session we headed off to the hanger to see the aircraft in the flesh, to look at the setup of the Flying Lab and to get a feel for what they do with the aircraft, all of which was very interesting. The space inside is rather limited with tight seating, a low cabin, rather dark seating and small windows. I can see why they have plenty of sick bags on board when the post grad students are doing their research studies and are being flown through some unusual manoeuvres.
Having spent a very informative hour in the hanger and the aircraft we headed back to the meeting room for lunch. On the way John took us through the massive wind tunnel complex which is used for many different applications including a lot of automotive aerodynamic wind testing and also the area where they are carrying out testing on various robotics for use in aircraft manufacture. These are just some of the research projects going on this site which makes Cranfield University a world leader in various aeronautical and engineering fields.

The NFLC Jetstream 31.

The NFLC Jetstream 31.

John Deane explains some finer point to Nick, Barrie and Malcolm.

John Deane explains some finer point to Nick, Barrie and Malcolm.

 

After lunch we moved across to a remote area of the Cranfield complex that is the home to The Accident & Safety Investigation Centre. It was there that we were given a fascinating tour and talk by Leigh Dunn. This centre trains accident investigators in different fields of transport, be it Aeronautical, Rail or Maritime accidents. Our tour took us through and around a large number of accident wrecks including a Puma Helicopter that had suffered a gearbox failure and ditched in the North Sea, a large fishing boat that had been sunk after being pulled under when it’s net has become snagged and even a carriage from the Virgin West Coast train crash at Grayrigg Cumbria in Feb 2007. The latter also having a large relief model of the whole scene which was used in the original investigation.
Inside a large non descript single story building are more examples of accidents, all with their own tragic stories, but what it did bring home was how long, painstaking forensic analysis by the investigators uncovered the reasons and causes of those tragedies. What it did emphasise and reinforce is something that we have all learnt about as pilots. None of the accidents was a result of one clear cause or failure, all had other elements that led a path to the accident or had a significant effect on the aftermath.
Not all the investigations were triggered by fatal accidents. There is almost the complete fuel system from the British Airways Boeing 777 G-YMMM which crashed after a double engine failure on short final at Heathrow in January 2008. Leigh explained how the investigation had revealed the cause to be ice crystals forming in the fuel which clogged the fuel-oil heat exchanger (FOHE) of each engine. The investigation report not only resulted in modifications to the fuel system but also changes in procedure and engine management on long descents from high altitude. There were many more incredibly interesting exhibits on view and although we covered a lot we could easily have spent another hour or more in there but unfortunately our time was up and it was time to say our goodbyes. We headed back to our aircraft whilst reflecting on all that we had just seen and been told. Photography of the exhibits wasn’t permitted so I’m unable to include any photos.

www.cranfield.ac.uk/Safety-and-Accident-Investigation-Centre

Our return to North Weald was simple and the weather a lot better than on the way up. On behalf of the group I would like to thank all those involved in our visit for their time and for making it a very interesting and insightful visit. Particular thanks to Dr John Deane for the invitation to Canfield and putting the whole excellent visit together for us.

Paul

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Contact us

North Weald Flying Group operate out of the Squadron at North Weald Airfield.

The airfield is 10 miles south of Stansted and can be seen from the M11. Follow signs from the A414 and on entrance to the field, follow the perimeter track all the way around the field until you arrive at the distinctive Squadron building.

email: paul.bazire54@gmail.com
phone: 01992522090