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Curtain rises on Cranfield digital tower

17 December 2018
Saab vice-president Per Ahl at the official opening of the digital control tower at Cranfield University in the UK. Source: J Beechener

A new digital remote control tower began live operations at Cranfield Airport in the UK on 13 December 2018.

Shadow mode operations in the existing ageing tower at Cranfield will continue for a few months while the airport completes the transition in a joint effort with the UK Civil Aviation Authority. The digital tower is part of broader investment by Cranfield and industry partners in the GBP67 million (USD84.3 million) Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre (DARTeC). The research extends to integration of drones into civilian airspace and more efficient airfield operations via advanced technologies.

Cranfield vice-chancellor Sir Peter Gregson said the project took about a year to build and places DARTeC at the forefront of digital aviation. “The digital tower is the result of a joint effort between Saab and Cranfield,” said Saab SVP of Industrial Products Jessica Oberg at the official opening.

The Saab digital tower solution provides a 360° view of the airfield, projected on 16 displays, fed by high-resolution and pan-tilt-zoom cameras mounted on a tower beside the runway. The facility includes two controller working positions and a supervisor desk equipped with Saab electronic flight strips and Rohde & Schwarz voice communications equipment.

In addition to handling 28,000 movements a year (general aviation, training aircraft, and National Flying Laboratory Jetstream 31 research aircraft), the digital tower is expected to support the National Beyond visual line-of-sight Experimentation Corridor (NBEC) that is planned to stretch across Bedfordshire from 2020.

NBEC provides a safe, managed environment for unmanned aircraft experimentation. It involves industry partners such as Blue Bear, Saab, Thales, and Aveillant. “The corridor will be the largest inland UK testbed and includes an airfield and a digital tower,” Cranfield director of Aerospace Research Professor Antonios Tsourdos told Jane’s .

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