A brief history
Professor Ernest Dalby, FRS (1862 – 1936), Dean of the City and Guilds College, introduced some lectures on Aeronautics after a visit to Juvisy in Paris to attend an exhibition celebrating Blériot’s cross-channel flight.
Aeronautics was taught in the Mechanical Engineering department until the founding of the Department of Aeronautics in 1920.
By 1914, Imperial College’s advanced aeronautics diploma (DIC) course in Mechanical Engineering had trained a number of people who became engaged in war-related activity.
Many of the early graduates worked at the Royal Aircraft Factory (later renamed as Royal Aircraft Establishment).
The Civil Aerial Transport Committee recommended two higher educational institutions to be funded to teach aeronautics, and one of them should be in London (the other was at Cambridge).
The Air Board found a donor who donated £25,000 (about £1.6m in today's money) to the University of London for a new Chair.
It was later revealed that the donation was given by Sir Basil Zaharoff to fund the Zaharoff Chair of Aeronautics. Dalby advised the council not to accept money unconditionally, but that it should be donated to found the Department of Aeronautics.
Read the article on Aeronautics at the Imperial College that featured in the April 1920 edition of Nature magazine.
The appointment of the first Director of the Department of Aeronautics, Sir Richard Glazebrook FRS, Zaharoff Professor of Aviation. Glazebrook studied Physics under James Maxwell and Lord Rayleigh. His research focused on electrical standards and aviation, and he gave a series of lectures in the newly founded Department of Aeronautics.
The Department was based in the Royal College of Science and later moved into a building in Lowther Gardens.
Sir Richard Glazebrook was succeeded by Sir Leonard Bairstow, CBE FRS FRAeS (1880-1963), Professor of Aerodynamics and Zaharoff Chair of Aviation.
Bairstow's work focussed on the design of wind tunnels and aircrafts and contributed much to aircraft stability. He was also known for the Bairstow's method, an efficient algorithm to find roots of a real polynomial of any degree.
Under the leadership of Bairstow, the Department moved from Lowther Gardens into the Science Schools building on Exhibition Road. Part of the Department's work was carried out at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE).
A wind tunnel come into use in 1925 and many advanced courses in aerodynamics, aeroplane structures, meteorology and air navigations were offered. Many students were Royal Air Force (RAF) officers and many pioneers of the British aviation industry were ex-students of Imperial College.
Sir Arnold Hall, FRS FRAes (1915 – 2000) was appointed as Zaharoff Professor of Aviation and Head of Department of Aeronautics, in succession of Sir Leonard Bairstow.
Prior to joining Imperial College, Sir Arnold pursue research in aerodynamics under Sir Bennett Melvill Jones CBE AFC FRS (1887-1975) and Sir Geoffery Taylor, OM (1886-1975).
Sir Arnold was a specialist in jet propulsions and worked with Frank Whittle while at the RAE. In 1949, he introduced a new undergraduate aeronautics course although the students would spend their first two years studying mechanical engineering and only specialise in aeronautics in their 3rd year.
He also secured funding for a new aerodynamics laboratory, which included new wind tunnels, opened in 1951. He also initiated the construction of a good aerostructures laboratory but this did not happen until the completion of the Roderic Hill building in 1957.
Following the departure of Sir Arnold, who become the Director of the RAE, Herbert Squire, FRS (1909-1961) was appointed as the Zaharoff Professor of Aviation and the Head of Department.
Squire was an expert in aerodynamics and his research topics included jet propulsion, aircraft noise, seaplane aerodynamics and heating effects of high speed airflow.
In the academic year of 1951-52, the Department of Aeronautics had 69 undergraduate and 29 postgraduate students.
During this time, the Department helded Donald Campbell in developing the Bluebird, which broken seven water speed records between 1955 and 1964.
In 1955, John Hadji-Argyris, FRS (1913-2004) was given a Chair. He made major contributions to the understanding of the mechanics of complex structures and one of the early pioneers of finite element method.
1956, John Stollery, CEB, FREng (1930-2013) joined the department as lecturer and worked with Donald Campbell as part of the design team on the Bluebird. Stollery built one of the first hypersonic gun tunnels in the country.
In 1957, the Department of Aeronautics moved into the newly completed Roderic Hill building. The Department was formally divided into two sections: Aerodynamics section and Aerostructures section, initiated by Argyris.
Read the article on Aeronautics at the Imperial College of Science and Technology that appeared in the June 1957 edition of Nature magazine.
Death of Herbert Squire in 1961. Paul Robert Owen, FRS (1920-1990) took over departmental administrative duties while also working on the stability and control of aircraft and on the design of wings.
A rotational headship with a complex division of power between Owen and Argyris was set up.
Then in 1963 Paul Robert Owen was appointed Head of Department of Aeronautics.
In 1966, the Physiological Flow Unit was set up by Owen and Sir James Lighthill, FRS (1924-1998).
This was an inter-departmental unit that applied the concepts of fluid mechanics to blood circulation. The unit's administration was part of the Department of Aeronautics.
Glyn Davies (b.1933) succeeded Paul Robert Owen as the Head of Department of Aeronautics.
His research focused on developing finite element models of realistic aircraft structures and understanding their failure mechanisms. He was appointed Professor of Aeronautical Structures in 1985.
In 1983 the Composites Centre opened.
The Honda Wind Tunnel opened in 1985, and was one of the world's largest wind tunnels at the time. Peter Bearman FREng led the design and the construction of this tunnel and later joined John Harvey (b.1935), Professor of Gas Dynamics, in directing the work. Honda's initial investment was £700,000 and later increased in 1988.
In 1989 Michael Crisfield (1942–2002) was appointed as Chair of Computational Mechanics, endowed by Finite Element Analysis Ltd.
This year also saw Peter Bearman FREng (b.1938), Professor of Experimental Aerodynamics, succeed Glyn Davies as the Head of Department of Aeronautics and refuse the title Zaharoff Professor.
Michael Graham (b.1942), Professor of Unsteady Aerodynamics, succeeded Peter Bearman as the Head of Department of Aeronautics. He served until 2003 when Richard Hilier (b.1946), Professor of Compressible Flow, succeeded him.
In 2009 Ferri Aliabadi, Professor of Aerostructures and Zaharoff Professor of Aviation, succeeded Richard Hilier as the Head of Department of Aeronautics.
2012 saw the start of the Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering Project (AMP), which would see the renovation of the City & Guilds Building into a new home for the Department of Aeronautics.
This ambitious project saw the co-location of mechanical testing facilities of the departments of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering into the Dynamic Forming and Fracture Laboratory in 2014. Then in 2016, the Composites Suites of the Department moved into its new home, followed in September 2017 by the final move of the whole Department into the City & Guilds Building.
In 2017 Paul Robinson, Professor of Mechanics of Composites, succeeded Ferri Aliabadi as the Head of Department.
Heads of Department over the years