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更新时间:2018-1-14 11:58:49 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

The university shaping aviation's future

“Ignition!” shouts Nick Lawson from the cockpit as the twin engines of the small turboprop airliner we are in roar into life.

"点火!"尼克·劳森(Nick Lawson)坐在一架涡轮螺旋桨飞机的驾驶舱里大声喊道,随之我们乘坐的这架飞机咆哮着启动了。

Within minutes of taking off from the runway, the elderly aircraft has reached 45,000ft (13km). Lawson and fellow pilot Joe Brown throw the plane into a 50-degree turn. As I’m pushed down and back into my seat by the g-forces, I don’t know whether to cry or be sick.

从跑道上起飞没几分钟,这架古董飞机就爬上了13,000米的高空。劳森和副驾驶乔·布朗(Joe Brown)操作飞机完成了一次50度转弯。巨大的重力作用力把我从座椅上不断抛起和拉回,我感觉有点想哭又有点想吐。

This is no ordinary flight. Around me sit several students, clutching sick bags and notepads at the ready. Lawson – known as the “the flying professor” – is unique amongst British academics. He not only carries out university research that could shape the future of aviation, he is also a qualified commercial airliner pilot.


When the plane levels off, his students put down their sick bags and pick up their pens, scribbling down data from the digital displays in front of them.


“What do you think of that?” asks Lawson over the headset. When he isn’t flying commercial aircraft, Lawson is the professor aerodynamics and airborne measurement at Cranfield University and head of the National Flying Laboratory Centre.

"你感觉如何?"劳森通过耳麦问我。不执飞商业航班时,他就在克兰菲尔德大学(Cranfield University)担任空气动力学和航空测量教授,同时还担任国立航空实验中心(National Flying Laboratory Centre)负责人。

Cranfield University, which is 40 miles (64km) or so north of London, is as unique as Lawson himself – it is the only university in Europe that has its own airport and air fleet.

The College of Aeronautics, as the university was originally called, was founded in 1946 as a British rival to the California Institute of Technology (Caltec) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

克兰菲尔德大学成立于1946年,最初校名为"航空学院"(College of Aeronautics)。当时创办这所学校的目的是为了和美国的加州理工学院(California Institute of Technology)和麻省理工学院(Massachusetts Institute of Technology)一较高下。

Four huge wartime hangars dominate its campus, a reminder that the university was built on the site of RAF Cranfield, a former World War Two night-fighter base. Lawson’s office is right next to the runway, suspended high up inside one of the old hangars, which also house the university’s five wind tunnels.

校园里有四座建于战争时期的巨大机库,提醒人们这片校园曾经是皇家空军克兰菲尔德基地(RAF Cranfield):二战时期的夜间战斗机基地。劳森的办公室位于跑道右侧的一座机库内部,大学的5座风洞也设在这里。

Next year, there may well be a fifth hangar at Cranfield – part of a £65m ($86m) investment to build the Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre (Dartec). Funded by major companies like Boeing, Saab and Thales, Dartec is intended to spearhead the UK’s research on technologies like unmanned aircraft, digital air traffic control and the integration of drones into civilian airspace.

明年,克兰菲尔德大学将建设第五座机库——这是总造价达6,500万英镑的数字化航空研究及技术中心(Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre)的一部分。这座中心由波音(Boeing)、萨博(Saab)和泰雷兹(Thales)等大企业提供资助,其使命在于促进英国在无人机、数字化航空管制和无人机民航应用等技术上的研究进展。

As part of the project, the old WWII airport will be resurfaced and equipped with new approach systems, a digital control tower and advanced radar systems.


First founded in the 1970s The National Flying Laboratory carries more than 1,200 aeronautical students from at least 25 universities around the world into the air. The aim is to help train them to design the aircraft of the future. Most of the UK’s aerospace engineers have flown with the NFL.

始建于1970年代的国立航空实验室(National Flying Laboratory)曾经把来自至少世界各地25所大学的1,200余名学生送上天空,从而培养他们设计未来的飞行器。英国大多数航空工程师都曾经在国立航空实验室接受过空中培训。

The Lab also carries out research for some of the world’s biggest aerospace companies, including Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems and Airbus UK, as well as smaller specialist firms.

实验室还为罗尔斯-罗伊斯(Rolls-Royce)、BAE和空客英国(Airbus UK)等全球大型航空企业,以及一系列中小技术企业开展过研究工作。

Back on the ground, over a cup of tea and the whistle of turboprops outside, Lawson explains how he ended up in this unique job.


“I always wanted to fly,” he says. “My office is right on the tarmac and every day I could see these guys getting into their planes and going flying – and in the end, I couldn’t resist.


“Then two years later I was getting disheartened by being an academic because I was spending less and less time on research and more and more time on paperwork. I decided to drop out and become a commercial pilot.”


Later, he was able to combine his research and his flying for the National Flying Laboratory in one academic role.


In Lawson’s office, black-and-white photographs on the walls show how the laboratory has evolved. They show the airfield apron crowded with aircraft. In one, two Jetstreams, three Bulldog light trainers and the Cranfield A1 are lined up in front of the hangar. The Cranfield A1 was designed and built at Cranfield by students on the Air Vehicle Design course which is still running, but today the designs are all done virtually on computers.


In September BAE engineers and students from Cranfield University’s course in Autonomous Vehicle Dynamics & Control unveiled a concept for an unmanned aircraft that alternates between fixed wing and rotary flight  Researchers from Cranfield also helped to design the world's first ''flapless'' plane called the Demon which uses hundreds of tiny air jets to control its movements.

9月,BAE公司的工程师和克兰菲尔德大学"自动驾驶动力与控制"(Autonomous Vehicle Dynamics & Control)课程的学生们提出了一个无人驾驶飞机概念机设计,其总体结构介于固定翼和旋转翼构型之间,克兰菲尔德大学的航空研究专家们还设计了世界首创的"魔兽"无襟翼飞机,"魔兽"飞机采用数以百计的微小空气喷流控制其自身运动。

The design of the Airlander 10 ‘flying bum’ hybrid airship was first tested in the wind tunnels of the university as well as the ‘see and avoid’ technology vital for the unmanned aircraft of the future.

(因为前端外观造型类似人类臀部而)被戏称为"会飞的屁股"的登空者10号(Airlander 10)混合动力飞艇的设计方案首先在克兰菲尔德大学的风洞中进行测试,另外还测试了对于未来的无人驾驶飞机至关重要的"发现-规避"技术。

The airfield’s location just north of London also makes it perfect as a drop-off point for sports celebrities keen to escape the prying eyes of the paparazzi – the identity of whom are a closely guarded secret.


Today, the NFL has a more modest fleet, the mainstay of which is a single Jetstream and two elderly Bulldogs. The Bulldog is a single-engine trainer famous for its large bubble-like cockpit that can seat two people side by side.


In front of one of the hangars, one of the Bulldogs bristles with sensors that look a bit like they have been gaffer-taped on to the aluminium wings.


“We anticipate once the sensor is fully working, we should be able to detect local levels of methane pollution from industrial areas and refuse tips just by a low overflight,” says Lawson.


Lawson’s previous research has included the aerodynamics of flapping wings, but today he is focused on how the use of cutting-edge fibre-optic sensors could be used to create wings and helicopter blades that can adapt and change shape during flight.


“The use of composite materials would allow sensors to be embedded directly into wings and blades as they are manufactured,” he says. “You could then collect as much data as possible and fine-tune the design, even if they are already in the air.”


This is not theoretical science. Lawson is working with Airbus to do precisely this on a project called Project Windy – short for Wind Design Methodology.


“We are taking advanced fibre-optic sensors and putting them on wind tunnel models to measure data more accurately,” he says. “Fibre-optic systems have the potential to outperform previous ways of collecting data like pressure or strain.


“The next step is to take the technology out of the wind tunnel and put it on aircraft to do flight tests.”


Lawson is also looking at doing something similar with Airbus Helicopters. “We want to put advanced sensors on the rotors and then do a tethered flight of the helicopter,” he says. “This would allow you for the first time to measure the shape of the blade directly – and if you measure the shape of the blade you can refine it, and even change it.”


He is also working on a similar project with Rolls-Royce to use advanced sensors in their future engines.


But one of the biggest challenges Lawson faces these days – like many other academics – is finding money and time.


“The Flying Lab needs to pay for itself and that means flying the Jetstream,” he says. “Now we only have two pilots. It is harder to get time off to do research.”


Now, most of the NFL’s income comes from universities paying them to take their students into the air. In the future, the plan is to increase the amount of income from using the aircraft as airborne test platforms.


Potentially Dartec will change the research Lawson and his team can do, and the planes they fly. The plan is to replace the Jetstream and Bulldogs with a larger turboprop airliners like the ATR-42 or a King Air 350 regional airliners and Grob turbine trainers, the planes currently used to train British military pilots.


Lawson says the unique opportunities offered by a university with its own airfield also makes the site extremely attractive to those wanting to test new technologies.


“Air traffic systems are very conservative, and rightly so,” Lawson says. “They don’t embrace new technology very quickly, partly because there aren’t many places where they can do research.


“Now we have big names bringing their technology to our university to fly and test systems to show how they work in a real airport environment. I don’t think there is anywhere else in the UK that can do this.”


It’s not only planes they will be testing, but also drones.


Back on the tarmac, Lawson points out to a black tailfin peeking out from behind a wall.


The aircraft it is attached to made history in July 2008 when it flew 800 miles (1,290 km) on a series of flights without any human intervention as part of a project known as Astraea.


The National Flying Laboratory managed the aircraft and jointly managed the flight trials with BAE Systems, which continue to this day as part of BAE’s programme to develop an unmanned combat aircraft for the UK military.


Lawson and his team are also testing new ways of controlling unmanned air vehicles (UAVs).


“We are going to use our aircraft to test the potential for the 4G network to guide UAVs,” says Christopher Bennett, a post-doc research fellow, Flight Testing. He will be placing a sensor onto one of the aircraft to see if it is possible to get suitable download speeds while flying that a drone would need to navigate with.

"我们将使用自身飞机测试4G网络在无人机导航方面的潜力,"飞行测试博士后研究员克里斯托弗·巴奈特(Christopher Bennett)表示。他将在一架飞机上安设传感器,测试能够保证无人机导航所需的下载速率。

Despite all the cutting-edge technology, the main attraction for many of those working at the National Flying Laboratory is much more basic – the sheer joy of flying.


“It’s all about airmanship,” explains Joe Brown, management pilot and Jetstream captain, who gave up his career as a commercial pilot to fly aircraft at the NFL. “When you pilot a commercial airliner, you have to fly on a predetermined route. Here you can decide where you fly. You can bank up to 50 degrees on our flights.

"这事关飞行精神,"主管飞行员兼"喷流"机长乔·布朗(Joe Brown)表示。他放弃了商业飞行员职业,到国立航空实验室继续自己的飞行生涯。"开商业客机要沿设定好的航路飞行,但在这里你可以随心所欲地飞。你可以沿50度的角度直刺蓝天。"

“If you did that on a commercial flight you would lose your job.”