Bristol's Part in the 3rd Aerospace Revolution

Moon Consulting talks to Iain Gray, Director of Aerospace at Cranfield University and Board Trustee at Bristol Aero Collection about the third technology revolution for aerospace, and what the future holds for the UK aerospace sector.

As Concorde approaches its 50th Anniversary what does the future hold for Aerospace in the South West?

Next year marks the 50th Anniversary of the first flight of Concorde – a milestone that I know will be widely celebrated in Bristol and across the UK. On the 9th April 1969 thousands watched the first British built Concorde take to the skies at Filton. Some 50 years on, while Filton is just not quite the same place there are amazing new opportunities and we need the stories of the past to inspire the next generation to create their own new success stories

We have a great aerospace story to tell in Bristol. We are fortunate to have our own Concorde in the Aerospace Museum at Filton - Concorde 216; the last Concorde to be built and the last Concorde to fly. The aircraft sits as a magnificent testament to the skills of the thousands who worked on it – either during its development, its manufacture during the seventies or who helped keep it in service right through to 2003.

But what has become of the Aerospace Industry in Bristol and will we see another Concorde?

I had the privilege to work in the late 1980’s on what would be a successor to Concorde. We even worked on an international Supersonic Commercial Transport programme with the Americans, the Russians and the Japanese. Unfortunately, the programme never happened as the business case didn’t work and there were too many challenges.

Sadly, I don’t think much has changed. Various companies are looking at supersonic and while there may yet be a supersonic business sized jet, I don’t think there will be a large supersonic commercial jet in the next 20 years. I would love to be proved wrong but I think all the challenges of 20 years ago are still there.

We have just seen the Farnborough 2018 Airshow show-casing just what is happening in the world of aerospace. The South West – the largest aerospace cluster in the UK - was well represented by the likes of Airbus whose Wing Engineering capability is still based at the heart of Filton and Rolls Royce who lead on their aerospace defence products from Bristol. It also included the tier 1 suppliers like GKN and many small high technology companies.

And while supersonic may not have been the key theme there were some strong emerging technology themes and concepts with those inside the industry talking about a 3rd technology revolution for aerospace.

Bristol has played a key part in the first two technology revolutions. The foresight of Sir George White in founding the Bristol and Colonial Aeroplane Company in February 1910 played an important part in ensuring Bristol was a key part of the first revolution, a story told well at the Aerospace Bristol Museum. This was followed by engineers like Sir Roy Fedden, Sir Stanley Hooker and Sir Archibald Russell who ensured that Bristol played its full part in the second revolution – the advent of the age of the jet engine.

It is now up to the current generation of Engineers to ensure that Bristol plays its part in the 3rd revolution by embracing new technologies such as electrification, autonomy and Artificial Intelligence, and new materials and manufacturing methods.

However, Bristol is well positioned to play it part. It hosts the National Composites Centre – the leading Composites Research organisation in the UK. Renishaw, headquartered in Wotton-Under-Edge, is world leading in the development of sensors and now 3d additive manufacturing machines allow companies like HIETA, based on the Bristol and Bath Science Park, to produce some of the most sophisticated 3D printed parts being made anywhere in the world. Whereas, companies like Versarien, based in Cheltenham, have the ambition and vision to be the world’s leading manufacturer of Graphene – the new super material with extraordinary strength and electrical properties.

And companies like CFMS - again at the Bristol and Bath Science Park - are pushing the boundaries on new digital analysis capabilities allowing engineers and scientists to do things not thought possible even just a few years ago.

One announcement at Farnborough which has potentially huge implications for the future of aerospace was the collaboration agreement between Electro-Flight, a Stroud based company, and Rolls Royce to jointly push the research boundaries for a high performance electric aircraft. This could position the South West to play a leading role in the development of small electric air vehicles and perhaps provide the electric propulsion architecture for all sorts of new air vehicles.

As advances such as electrification open up huge new opportunities for individuals and companies to get involved in next generation technology, products and services.

I hope the 50th Anniversary of Concorde’s first flight at Filton next April will inspire the next generation of engineers to follow their instincts and be part of creating this future – the 3rd revolution in Aerospace. It may not be supersonic but it will be every bit as exciting. We need the collective ambition and vision of everyone to ensure Bristol and the South West plays its full part in this 3rd Aerospace revolution.

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2018 is on track to become a record year for the global aerospace industry, with aircraft production estimated to be worth £15 billion to the UK economy. This news comes following the announcement by the UK government that £780 million is to be invested into the sector to support growth of cutting-edge technologies and jobs creation for highly-skilled workers in the UK.

Moon Consulting understands the challenges this sector is likely to experience when recruiting for these niche roles. For help and advice on sourcing hard-to-find skill sets contact us on recruit@moonconsulting.co.uk