Marking its 96th year in 2010, the Department of Aerospace Engineering has been an integral part of the College’s tradition of quality. It was borne out of the nation’s first collegiate aeronautics program, begun at Michigan in 1914, just 11 years after the historic flights at Kitty Hawk. The first course was taught by Felix Pawlowski, who had been a student of Professor Lucien Marchis at the University of Paris in the first course in aeronautics given anywhere. In offering aeronautics at Michigan, Pawlowski was building on interest created by Professor Herbert Sadler. The grandnephew of Britain’s first balloonist, Sadler had recently reorganized the Michigan Aero Club. Both Pawlowski and Sadler had seen the Wright brothers and other aviation pioneers at flying exhibitions, and the enthusiasm of these two teachers would be the driving force behind aeronautics during its first years at Michigan.

The early years of the Department of Aerospace Technology were filled with daring experimentation in balloons, gliders, and when available, powered airplanes, including a model “B” hydroplane built by the Wright brothers. These experiments in flight, the research on airplane designs, and the basic course work were all marked by camaraderie and a shared commitment to expanding the knowledge in and the possibilities of this exciting new field. The Department grew quickly in scope, enrollment, and stature. Graduates of the program distinguished themselves as pilots, designers, industry leaders, and as officials in the new government agencies established to promote and regulate aviation.

One graduate became a legend. Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, B.S.E. ’32, M.S.E. ’33 is considered to have been one of America’s greatest aircraft designers. In 1933, Lockheed sent to Michigan for review its model of one of the world’s first twin-engine aircraft, the Electra. Johnson tested it and found instabilities in the aircraft.  He was later hired by Lockheed and went on to establish the legendary Lockheed Skunk Works and create such classic aircraft as the P-38, the F-104, the U-2, and the SR-71 Blackbird during his 40-year career.

In the years since Kelly Johnson was a student, the size and focus of the Department have changed in response to economic conditions, the exigencies of war and advances in the field, but one constant has remained: quality. Evidence of this quality can readily been seen in manned space exploration. Among the Aerospace Engineering Department’s many prominent alumni are five astronauts who have orbited the earth, with three going on to the moon. During the Gemini program, Ed White, who later died in the Apollo launch pad fire, made the first spacewalk by an American. Other Michigan astronauts include Jack Lousma, who commanded Skylab and piloted the third space shuttle flight;James McDivitt, commander of Apollo 9; and James Irwin and Alfred Worden of Apollo 15. The Michigan mementos (including the seal of the Department) placed on the moon by the Apollo 15 crew are fitting symbols of the impressive achievements of the people who have been part of the Department’s first 95 years.

Interesting links on the history of the department :

Felix Wladyslaw Pawlowski

The Michigan Technic 22

Felix PawlowskiEvery graduate engineer in Aeronautics from the University of Michigan ?will long remember Professor F. W. ? Pawlowski, for he is not only a distinguished educator and a true friend of his? students but a real gentleman as well.

Professor Pawlowski’s interest in? Aeronautics was kindled long before the? epic flight of the Wright brothers in? 1903. In the 1880’s, while still attend?ing secondary school, Professor Pawlowski happened to see a drawing of Alphonse Penaud’s model airplane in a popular scientific French book; and he ?spent the next eighteen months con?structing similar models until he finally? succeeded in producing one capable of ?a stable flight of ten seconds duration. ? His greatest discouragement was not ?due to his lack of knowledge, but to the? fact that his fellow classmates ridiculed ?him and accused him of possessing an ?empty dome for a head with little birds ?flying around in it.

Professor Pawlowski studied engineer?ing in Germany where he received a? combined degree in Mechanical and ?Electrical Engineering; after which he? worked as draftsman, designer, production engineer and finally chief en?gineer in Poland. At this last position? he publicly suppressed his interest in ?aeronautics at the request of the general manager of the company, for it was? usually considered a poor policy to employ a “lunatic” in such a responsible ?position as chief engineer. Nevertheless, ? when, due to some troubles with Rus?sian authorities, he was obliged to leave ?his native country, Poland, he went to ?France, where at LeMans he witnessed ?the historical flights made by Wilbur? Wright, whom he met at that occasion. ? He also met Orville in the spring of? 1909 in Pau where the Wright brothers ?established the first school for airplane? fliers. Having found it beyond his? means to join the school full of wealthy ?sportsmen and aristocrats, he returned ?to Paris, where the first chair in aeronautics had been established at the University of Paris, Sorbonne, in 1909, and? was among the first to enroll.

After completing this course, in 1910, ? he set out to build an airplane. His ?endeavors finally resulted in a monoplane with a twenty-seven horsepower, ? three cylinder Anzani engine.

To build the plane was one proposi?tion, to fly it another. To familiarize ?himself with the plane, he spent a great? deal of time taxiing along an airfield?, which was one square kilometer in area, ? at Issyles-Moulineaux near Paris. ? When he reached the boundary of the ?field, it was necessary for him to throttle ?down the engine, jump from the plane, ? grab the tail of the ship, swing it? through an arc of 180 degrees, jump ?back to the cockpit and then taxi to ?the opposite end of the field. This ?procedure eliminated stopping the engine and throwing the prop at each end? of the field, which might have been ac?companied by the loss of an arm, or two.

After many flights of ten to fifteen? minutes duration, his plane was finally? destroyed in its second crash. Professor?. Pawlowski considers himself very fortunate in that the only injury to him?self was a few broken bones.

After these experimental flights Pro?fessor Pawlowski came to this country ?and having been refused employment? by Glenn Curtiss and Orville Wright, ? he worked for two years in the auto?motive industry as a designer. At the ?same time, he wrote to the major engineering schools in the country, pro?posing to offer courses in what is now ?known as Aeronautical Engineering. ?His initiative was rewarded by replies ?from the deans of the schools—most of ?them asking what kind of a joke he was ?trying to play on them or stating blunt?ly that aeronautics would never amount ?to anything worthwhile. Only two ?schools believed to the contrary: M.I.T. ?and Michigan.

Through the foresight of the late ?Dean Mortimer E. Cooley, Professor ?Pawlowski was offered a position here ?in 1912 as an instructor in the Depart?ment of Mechanical Engineering with? the prospect of teaching aero courses at ?the most opportune moment. Professor? Pawlowski started teaching regular ?courses leading to the degree of Bach?elor of Science in Aeronautical Engineering in February 1915. This was ?the first such course in the U. S. The ?regents established the degree in Aero?nautical Engineering in 1916 and the ?holder of the first degree, a member of ?the class of 1916, is Flavius E. Laudy, now a Lieutenant Colonel in the A.A.F.

Professor Pawlowski’s ability in the ?field of aeronautics has been widely re?cognized. In 1916 he and Donald Doug?las were engaged as the first aeronautical engineers for the U. S. Army. Dur?ing his summer vacations he has done ?research work for NACA at Langley ?Field, Va., and for the Army at McCook ?and Wright Fields.

Professor Pawlowski is one of the? Founder Members and a Fellow of the? Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences, ? Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society of London and member of Sigma Xi? and many other professional and sci?entific organizations. He is also a mem?ber of the Early Birds, a very exclusive ?organization because its membership is ?composed of those who have piloted ?balloons or airplanes within the first ?thirteen years following the first flights ?made by the Wright brothers, i.e. Dec.?17, 1916.

Perhaps the summer term will mark ?the end of the career of Professor Pawlowski as an educator for he is nearing ?the retiring age; nevertheless, his reign ?will be long remembered in the hearts ?of his students as part of the tradition ?that has made Michigan a great Univer?sity.

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