The challenges of the past few years with restrictions enforced by Covid-19 resonated across all of our University operations and developments. But amidst these restrictions, last summer, we were still able to mark a significant milestone for research at Cranfield, with the opening of the truly inspiring Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre (DARTeC).
Now a landmark in the local area for its stunning design and known for incubating world-leading research, the building was officially opened in 2021 by the then Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng – albeit with a very limited group of onlookers and supporters.
As the clouds from Covid-19 have truly begun to lift, the time was right – one year on from DARTeC opening – to recognise and celebrate all of the individuals and companies who were involved in the design and construction of the Centre. They worked incredibly hard through the most testing times to deliver the project and give Cranfield this new centre of excellence.
So to mark the anniversary, and thank all those involved, a first birthday party was organised!
Thanks to the efforts of a team of University staff (you know who you are) over 60 guests all of whom had been or are currently involved with the Centre enjoyed food, balloons and the occasional glass or two all with the accompaniment of local musician Dave Wiggins.
Dame Professor Helen Atkinson kindly hosted the evening, welcoming all to the event and in particular recognising those from the design and construction teams both at Cranfield (Tracy Flynn, Head of Projects, and Chris Mason) and externally (Aidan Ridyard, Architect; Andy Culbert, Prime Contractor lead; and Alison Horton, Structural Contractor lead).
I was also honoured to be recognised for my role in the development of the original concept through to the Centre’s current operation.
The evening concluded with the cutting of the DARTeC cake and a promise to come back and celebrate the Centre’s achievements again next year!
About the Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre (DARTeC)
DARTeC is playing a pivotal role in helping to define and develop the aircraft, airports, airlines and airspace management systems of the future, illustrating what is possible through the power of partnership and collaboration. The importance of digitalisation has never been greater for the global aviation industry and DARTeC is key to driving future research and innovations across industry critical issues, including sustainable aviation and the integration of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) into managed airspace.
Ten facts about DARTeC
DARTeC consortium partners include Aveillant, Blue Bear Systems Research, Boeing, BOXARR, Connected Places Catapult, Cranfield University, Etihad Airways, Heathrow, Inmarsat, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the IVHM Centre, Saab, Satellite Applications Catapult, Spirent Communications and Thales, with co-investment support from Research England.
DARTeC is the largest ever capital investment project on the Cranfield University campus.
DARTeC’s computer system, HILDA, is one of the most powerful supercomputers in the educational sector in the UK, potentially among the top ten in AI and Deep Learning (Theoretical Combined Peak Performance). DARTeC’s audio-visual infrastructure and equipment is also unique, with what was thought to be the largest LED display in the UK higher education sector at the time it was installed, and the ability to seamlessly share content on different screens around the building. The installation has been shortlisted as Education Project of the Year at the annual AV Awards, with winners being announced on 4 November.
The DARTeC building regularly hosts academic and industry events, meetings and conferences (including most recently a Global Aviation Summit and a Digital Aviation Conference in 2021 attended by around 800 people around the world) and is often used as a filming location for videos with partners showcasing the latest sector research.
In just the first year, research teams working within the DARTeC building have been involved in over 100 research project proposals and projects amounting to over £46 million in aviation research activity.
It is estimated that over 8,000 visitors have now visited the DARTeC building for tours and other events.
The DARTeC facility is constructed with almost 300 tonnes of structural steel and 1,800 square metres of standing seam roofing over the two structures.
DARTeC consists of a central building with a double-storey atrium and 11 advanced digital aviation research laboratories. Adjacent to the main building is a unique sensored ‘hangar laboratory’ connected to Cranfield’s 737-400 aircraft through an airport-style air bridge. The hangar canopy and main building roofs mirror each other to form matching ‘stealth fighter’ profiles when viewed from above.
Game-changing technologies at Cranfield interconnect with DARTeC including the first operational Digital Air Traffic Control Centre in the UK and next-generation radar on the University’s airport, creating a unique research and development environment. Aveillant’s state-of-the-art Holographic Radar system for drone detection has been installed as part of DARTeC.
Ongoing DARTeC research includes nine projects within Phase 2 of UK Research and Innovation’s Future Flight Challenge, with a total award value of over £8.5 million, plus further successes recently announced in Phase 3.
Dr Adrian Cole
Written By: James Hill
Dr Adrian Cole is the DARTeC Programme Manager at Cranfield University
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