History of Aerospace Engineering at Illinois

H.S. Stillwell
H.S. Stillwell

In 1944, Prof. H.S. Stillwell founded the Aeronautical Engineering Department, previously an aeronautical engineering option in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

An upgrade in curriculum led to the department changing its name to Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering in 1969. By that time, with 606 undergraduate students, the department could claim the largest aeronautical and astronautical engineering enrollment in the United States. The department’s name was simplified to Aerospace Engineering in 2003.

Over the years, the department outgrew its humble beginnings of two offices in the Transportation Building and a wind tunnel and machine shop in Aero Lab A. As Aerospace engineering at Illinois gained national and international recognition in teaching, scholarly research, and professional service, the department’s space requirements also grew. Two Quonset huts at Willard Airport, portions of the Woodshop and ME Lab, and all of Aero Lab B became part of the department’s facilities (Aero Lab B and the Woodshop later were demolished to make room for Grainger Engineering Library). The department moved to its current home in Talbot Laboratory late in 1992. Research work in aerospace engineering now is conducted in over 30 departmental and interdisciplinary laboratories across campus.

Stillwell served as Department Head for 32 years, from 1944 to 1976. His leadership was followed by that of Harry H. Hilton (1977 to 1985, acting 1974-1977); S.M. Yen (acting 1985 to 1988); Wayne C. Solomon (1988-1999); Michael B. Bragg (1999-2006); Rodney L. Burton (interim 2006 to 2007); J. Craig Dutton (2007-2011); and Philippe H. Geubelle (2011-2019); Gregory S. Elliott (2019-2020); Jonathan B. Freund (2020-current).