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60 Years of Aerodynamics in Bedford

Written by: Kerri

Aircraft Research Association (ARA) in Manton Lane Bedford is celebrating its 60th Anniversary this year. Formed in 1952 to provide a transonic wind tunnel facility to support the major UK projects during the race for faster, manoeuvrable and economical aircraft, ARA quickly became associated with innovative projects such as Concorde, Harrier and the majority of the Airbus fleet.

60 years on and ARA is still at the forefront of aircraft design and boasts a worldwide customer base. Over these years ARA’s facilities and capabilities have developed to include a state of the art Design and Manufacture business using the latest CAD software and production machines to design and produce high fidelity wind tunnel models and high value engineering components. A Computational Aerodynamics business using a mixture of commercial software and in-house software to simulate and analyse aircraft performance. The Experimental Aerodynamics business which operates the wind tunnel has seen numerous technological advances to enable the facility to remain as one of the most efficient and accurate transonic wind tunnels in the world.

“The business just hasn’t stood still” says Dougie Hunter, ARA’s Chief Executive. “Despite being fully engaged with our core aerospace customers we have also transferred our capabilities into other fields such as auto sport where we have supported a number of F1 teams and green energy where we are helping to improve wind turbine performance.”

When ARA’s 60th anniversary was mentioned to Dave Hodgson, Mayor of Bedford, he replied “ARA has continued to thrive in the Borough over a long period during which many other engineering based organisations sadly disappeared, and I would like to wish everyone who has been involved at ARA over its proud history congratulations on this landmark. ARA regularly plays host to large numbers of visitors from North and South America, Europe and the Far East, helping to promote Bedford and the local economy. Bedford’s proud engineering heritage is still very much in existence and ARA’s ongoing success is pivotal to attracting other technological businesses to the area.”

Apart from its commercial activities ARA is also fully engaged in supporting STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects within schools, colleges and universities.

ARA’s contribution to education is acknowledged by Caroline O’Donnell CEO of Develop EBP “Our association with ARA goes back many years where they have been a fundamental part of Bedfordshire schools work experience programme. Due to ARA’s excellent reputation for providing learning opportunities, requests from schools are always oversubscribed. ARA has always supported Develop when asked and go out of their way to offer help, opportunities and advice. They are a great partner to work with.”

Dougie Hunter concludes, “The prosperity of Bedford requires businesses that produce products and services which match the needs of the global market. High Tech industries are pivotal in this as they attract highly skilled people into the area with salaries to match. This inevitably means that money finds it way through the local economy sustaining local employment”.

As part of ARA’s celebrations it will be holding a family’s day to showpiece 60 years of aerodynamics excellence.