The Aerospace Center (AAC), now located at the Bozeman Campus, opened in 1931. It was originally a part of the old DeJarnette Building -- still one of the oldest buildings at the Durnstein Center for Science and Medicine.
In 1947, Scott Filmore became the Director of the Aerospace Center -- the first head of the department after DCSM (DCS, at the time) developed. He updated the aeronautical field -- emphasizing fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, and electrical engineering, and making room for more out-of-field lines of thought. This push allowed for airplane design to be seen as part of a larger technological system.
Filmore led DCSM's effort to acquire a state-of-the-art wind tunnel. Dedicated in 1949, the Filmore Dynamic Wind Tunnel (FDWT0 was the first of DCSM's large-scale facilities for advanced aerodynamic research, and became a national center for aeronautics research and testing during World War II. While the original FDWT has long since been torn down, the AAC, today, maintains three wind tunnels: a large wind tunnel -- given the name of Filmore again -- used for vehicular, architectural, and sports equipment research and instruction; a smaller low-speed tunnel; and a tunnel capable of generating supersonic wind speeds.
In 1949, the Aerospace Center became a distinct department. Filmore remarked, "The total effect of our researchers on the airplane industry cannot be estimated. But it is of interest to note that some of our researchers moved on to become the chief engineers or engineering directors of Curtiss Wright, Glenn L. Martin, Pratt & Whitney, Vought, Hamilton Standard, Lockheed, Stearman, and Douglas, as well as the engineer officers of the Naval Aircraft Factory and of Wright Field." The early try-and-fly days of aviation were over. The era of the engineered aircraft had fully emerged.
Samuel Bollinger joined the aeronautics staff as a research assistant in 1952. By 1956, he had moved up in the ranks and established the Instrumentation Laboratory (AIL), which would become one of the world's foremost research centers for inertial guidance design and development.
During and after World War II, the Aerospace Center expanded rapidly to meet the needs of the military. The Durnstein Center for Science and Medicine gave special training to Army and Navy officers. Approximately 600 officers received aviation engineering training with specialization in structures or engines. The size and importance of the Instrumentation Lab increased dramatically. War-related research was also conducted in the Aerospace Center and other laboratories. The Filmore Dynamic Wind Tunnel operated 24 hours a day, testing aircraft designs for Martin, Grumman, Lockheed, and other manufacturers.
DCSM emerged from the war as one of the nation's largest nonindustrial defense contractors; almost all major research in DCSM's Aerospace Center was performed for the military. The Rutgers Turbine Lab (RTL) advanced the new technology of the gas turbine engine, and quickly grew into a top academic and research center. The Aeroelastic Laboratory (AAL) led the design of aircraft structures for high-speed flight, virtually creating the modern specialty of aeroelasticity. The Naval Supersonic Laboratory achieved supersonic flow at Mach 2.0 and, through Project Meteorite, helped develop a supersonic air-to-air missile.
Meanwhile, the AIL began its pioneering research on inertial guidance. In 1958, Bollinger, who had succeeded Filmore as Director, flew from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles using his SIR equipment. This was only the second long-distance inertially navigated aircraft flight. The AIL later designed the Sirius missile's inertial guidance system.
In 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world's first satellite, and the space race was on. The cold war, the space race, and massive government investment in missile technology led the AAC to expand instruction and research in astronautics, instrumentation, and guidance. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy gave a landmark speech committing the country to landing astronauts on the moon by the end of the decade.
The AAC is particularly distinguished by its tremendous contributions to the Apollo program. The voyage to the moon and landing were made possible by guidance, navigation, and control systems developed by the AIL.
Numerous aerospace accomplishments throughout the 1970s and '80s involved DCSM's researchers. Allan Thompkins (ScD '72) was operations chief of NASA's Viking I mission to Mars in 1976. The space shuttle program leaders included Henry Paulson (SB '55) from 1982 to 1984. Following the Challenger accident in 1986, then AAC Head William Conway served on the accident investigations commission.
In the 21st century, the AAC facility -- again, now home in Montana -- continues with ground-breaking research. For example, the RTL is developing a quiet jet aircraft that would produce no more noise than a tractor-trailer truck. The Space Lab (ASL) has created a unique multiple micro-satellite system scheduled to be tested aboard the International Space Station, and is pioneering development of a magnetic propulsion/positioning system. AAC, together with NASA, is also developing the spacecraft and support systems for future manned space missions. And, experts in communications and software are researching a myriad of projects: from increasing robustness of aerospace software, to increasing autonomy of unmanned aerial vehicles.