Some Department of Aerospace Engineering Memories

Professor Emeritus Martin Sichel
(Started teaching, June 1, 1961 – Retired May 31. 1998)

The Beginning

I have been with The Department of Aerospace Engineering at The University of Michigan since 1961. In November 1960 one of my thesis advisers let me know that the department of Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Michigan was interested in hiring a junior faculty member. I had already planned an interview trip through to the West Coast, so I decided to stop in Ann Arbor.

I landed at Willow Run Airport and was met there by Professor Thomas C. Adamson. He brought me to The Michigan Union, which was at that time also used as a hotel. The next morning Professor Adamson took me on a tour of the department, which was located on Central Campus. He also introduced me to Will Nelson, the department chair, and Mrs. Anderson, the department secretary. I also met Professors V.C.Liu, Richard Morrison, Arthur Nicholls, Rudy Ong, Gabriel Isaacson, and others. In the afternoon I presented a seminar, based on my PhD research, dealing with the interaction of a shock wave with a boundary layer.

In the evening Professor Adamson brought me to a party in my honor at the home of Professor Dick Morrison. He and his wife June lived in a lovely house in the Burns Park Area of Ann Arbor. Most of the faculty members and their spouses were there. It was a cooperative affair with everyone bringing something to eat. All the people that I met were very friendly and tried to make me feel very much at home.

The next morning I met with Professor Nelson to discuss the results of my visit. He told me that everyone was pleased with my seminar, and would like to have me join the faculty as an assistant professor. He said, “We could pay you $6500 a year and, perhaps provide some moving expenses.” I did not look very enthusiastic about this offer, having earned considerably more while working at General Electric before volunteering for the draft and service in the Army. After pausing for a moment, he said, “I think I forgot about your previous experience. We will make it $7500 a year.” I told him that this offer seemed reasonable; but I wanted to discuss it with my wife Anne before we made a decision.

After some discussion, Anne and I decided to give the Aero Department at The University of Michigan a try and accept their offer. On the afternoon of May 31, 1961 we loaded our three sons, David-6, Peter-3, and Daniel-6 months into our car and drove through the night to our new home in Ann Arbor. When we arrived on June 1, there was a package of delicacies very kindly left for us by Professor Buning’s wife, Susie.

Getting Settled

I was assigned an office in The East Engineering Building, which I shared with Professor V.C. Liu. Not long after that I moved into an office with the late Professor R.S.B.Ong. Much of my research was conducted in the Gas Dynamics Laboratories of the department, which were located on North Campus so I also had a desk there.

In the fall of 1961 my teaching duties started in earnest. I remember the tragic day in 1963 when as I was walking toward my office in the morning and Professor Adamson stopped me and said “Did you know that President Kennedy has been shot!” The Space Program was getting under way during this time. Some time between 1963 and 1970 the late Professor Harm Buning, who had an intense interest in space flight, was invited to Cape Canaveral to present lectures on flight mechanics to future astronauts.

It was during the above period that The Department changed its name from Department of Aeronautical to Department of Aerospace Engineering.