Professor Iain Gray CBE, director of aerospace at Cranfield University

When Professor Iain Gray CBE is flying around the world, he doesn’t reach for the headphones like most of us. Instead, he analyses the flight from his seat.

“You can hear the noises when the flaps are retracted, or when the slats and flaps are extended when you come in, and you listen to the landing gear coming down and engaging.”

His background is in wing design, so if the professor has a window seat near the wing he likes to look for the flutter of the wings during turbulence.

“Having been in the lab and having seen the tests that are done gives you complete reassurance that you are well, well, within all the envelopes and limits of the wing design.”

Fulfilling a childhood ambition

Professor Gray was attracted to the aerospace industry by Concorde and his early engagement with the aircraft fulfilled a childhood ambition. When pushed on his proudest moment of his career he said it was while head of the A380 wing project, and especially one particular date, 27th April, 2005.


“Witnessing the first flight of the A380 aircraft. It was a magnificent feeling and experience and the culmination of probably seven or eight years of effort.”

Cranfield University

Professor Gray joined Cranfield University in March 2015. As well as aerospace, the university has faculties covering technology and management. It is unique amongst university in the United Kingdom as it has its own airport.

It is also one of the few universities in the world where air traffic management is one of the core aspects of the research agenda.

The university’s Air Traffic Management Laboratory is investigating the projected traffic volumes in the sky over the next 20 to 30 years, how airports will be able to hope with the traffic, and also the impact on the environment, including noise.

One particular piece of research is the use of virtual air traffic control towers and how they can help reduce this impact. When asked if this new technology will also end the frustration felt by passengers when airports are closed due to fog, Gray said:

Cranfield University Library, external view

“I’m convinced that the new technologies themselves will make the technology on the aircraft itself and the technology at the airport much more integrated and allow us to use those facilities in much more severe weather conditions than perhaps we have been used to in the past.”

Awarded ther Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire Medal

In 2014, Gray was awarded the CBE in recognition for his contributions to innovation, science and technology in a ceremony held at Windsor Castle. It was a moment that he felt privileged to have experienced, but although he was only in front of the Queen for around 20 seconds, it was also one that made him anxious and nervous.

“She [the Queen] is a very reassuring person and she makes it easy for you. It’s funny how small, but very significant, events like that can make you nervous, and yet you can stand up in front of hundreds of people and talk”.

Professor Iain Gray talks more about the university and the future of aerospace research at Cranfield on the 13th October John Guinn Travel Show.