The Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan has, since its inception, been recognized as one of the leading members of the academic component of the aerospace enterprise. Throughout its nearly 100-year history, the Department’s entire educational and research activities have been organized around advancing and teaching the essential elements of the aerospace enterprise, and especially the evolving engineering issues associated with air and space vehicles, vehicle systems, and their associated technologies.

Today’s aerospace engineers may take for granted the accomplishments of the field thus far, but a hundred years ago these things were the stuff of science fiction. As we look ahead we can imagine what future innovations may bring — some of today’s science fiction will surely become fact. Commercial high-speed flight will become practical. Unmanned vehicles will become increasingly important, and in some cases their design may be inspired by biological flyers. Safe and quiet vertical flight may enable direct air travel into city centers. Parts of the hub-and-spoke travel system may be replaced by new point-to-point models. Air routes will open up new corners of the world and pose new challenges to aircraft designers. Satellite-based technologies will pervade our lives in ways we cannot yet imagine.

To accomplish these and other innovations, aerospace engineers will increasingly work in interdisciplinary teams. International collaborations will be needed to enable ambitious and expensive projects. The complexity of aerospace systems may call for new modes of analysis and design. Software based tools may replace some of yesterday s subject matter specialists. Aerospace engineers, like those in other disciplines, may move more frequently from one employer to another. Many will adopt entrepreneurial careers.

The aging U.S. population and the large federal and state entitlements through Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid will likely have major implications for support of university research and education. Growing concerns over energy and environmental sustainability will drive basic research efforts, and aerospace engineering will contribute to solutions such as better wind turbines, advanced propulsion systems, and more efficient aerodynamic designs.

While it is impossible to predict the precise future of the aerospace enterprise a decade or two from now, it is clear what changes a leading academic department must make to remain at the forefront of this field. In this document we envision the new challenges and opportunities that the aerospace engineers of tomorrow will face, and describe the key initiatives that we have put in place at Michigan to prepare our graduates and our research endeavors to succeed in this future.

Tomorrow’s aerospace enterprise will continue to be a pillar of the U.S. and world economies, in part because of the broad impact that this field has on our society and the continuing fascination it inspires in the most innovative minds of each new generation. Along the way, tomorrow s aerospace engineering graduates from Michigan will continue to serve as leaders into this future, making use of their strong backgrounds in the science and technologies on which the future will be founded, and the abilities that we have instilled in them to think independently, critically, and creatively.