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Innovate UK

The ART of flying

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Funding, ISCF, Support

Summer is upon us and I know many of you are looking forward, or have been on your summer holiday abroad (lucky you).

One plane on the tarmac, one plane taking off and a person watching with a suitcase

Modern planes are super-efficient, hence you can fly around the world so cheaply and sometimes cheaper than trains. Some new aircraft are even partly made with plastic.  (well, carbon fibre type materials) but have you ever wondered how planes actually fly?

Fundamentally, it’s all to do with simple maths and physics.  When lift is greater than weight, it floats in the air and when thrust is greater than drag, it moves forward.  It’s a combination of these factors that make planes fly.

Diagram showing thrust, lift, drag and weight (gravity) of how a plane takes off

Simple, eh?

It takes a lot of time and effort to get here, a lot of research, experiments and testing.  Aerospace is one of the most important sectors for the UK economy, worth approx. £31.8bn, employing 120,000 people and supporting a further 118,000 jobs indirectly, according to data from the ADS group.  As you can imagine substantial investment is required to develop new technologies.

The UK government certainly recognise this, as part of the UK Aerospace Research and Technology (UKART) programme (formerly known as ATI programme), we work closely with our sponsor department, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and our partner the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) to find new and innovative ideas.  Expressions of Interest (EOI) are opened monthly and this is the latest call.

To support this, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Greg Clark recently announced at the 2018 Farnborough International Airshow (FIA) that £343m is being invested by the UK government.  This included a key commitment to projects for the greening of aircraft through electric aircraft, hybrid propulsion systems and future materials for aircraft manufacturing to secure the future of the UK industry along with initiatives targeting the Small, Medium Enterprises (SME's) supply chain.

Red arrows flying in a diamond format with smoke behind the planes

Farnborough International Airshow (FIA) 2018

We were fortunate to be part of the UKRI stand at FIA and witnessed business people from all over the world in their smartest suits on some of the hottest days in UK history, wheeling and dealing, signing billions of pounds worth of contracts.

Two giant aircraft manufacturers continued their never-ending war, trading blows at each other, one would announce a customer order of aircrafts -  and the other would hit back with a multi-million-pound deal with another customer.

Meanwhile, companies showcased their best technologies and products, checked out their competitors and prepared battle plans for the future.

The eternal war of innovation and competition, the buzz, the chaos, the excitement all in one place.

UKRI stand at Farnborough Airshow 2018 with people chatting on the stand
UKRI stand at Farnborough International Airshow 2018


This was a great opportunity for us to promote the UKART programme, international collaboration (with Canada and Sweden) and Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), encouraging companies to invest, improve and innovate.  To help them realise what grant funding can do to for their companies we showcased projects funded by Innovate UK and the NESTA flying high challenge.

One colleague of mine even had the privilege of being invited to a chalet (jealous), another was just excited to have the opportunity to be there to network.

If there is one airshow you should go to, this is the one.  See you there in 2020.

Who knows what the future holds?

  • Would you mind if your next plane to Ibiza is battery-powered?
  • Would you get into an Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV)?
  • Would you like your online shopping to be delivered by drones?

It might not be as far away as you think!

Boy with glasses looking up for inspiration while sitting at a desk with books, pens and scissors


Please get in touch if you want to know more about the UKART programme, the Industrial Strategy or the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) or ways to support our work.

You can follow Alfred on Twitter: @Alfred_Ng_UKRI

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  1. Comment by Patrick Mahon posted on

    Great blog - but surely your lovely diagram of the four forces on a plane is wrong? Lift and Weight are obviously correct. But surely, given the direction of the aeroplane (from right to left), thrust should be on the left and drag should be on the right? And the letters you've chosen to accompany each force don't appear to be standard either - L for lift, D for drag, T for thrust and W for weight, surely?

    • Replies to Patrick Mahon>

      Comment by julieervine posted on

      Hi Patrick, thank you for taking the time to let me know that the image is incorrect, I have replaced the image, sadly with one that doesn't show the 4 forces but at least the replacement image doesn't contain the wrong info.

  2. Comment by Bob posted on

    This is appalling badly written. Who proofreads this stuff?

    • Replies to Bob>

      Comment by Innovate UK Admin posted on


      You are right. Whilst our authors come from different backgrounds, have different levels of experience and English isn't always their first language this one had errors that should not have been there.

      We will be re-issuing the blog but will look to retain the voice of the author.