80 Years of Aerospace Engineering Education in the Netherlands
Summary (4 min read)
80 Years of Aerospace Engineering Education
- In the Netherlands Gillian N. Saunders-Smits1, Joris A. Melkert2, Michiel Schuurman3 Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, Delft University of Technology, Delft, the Netherlands.
- This year, 2020, the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands celebrates its 80th birthday.
- This paper describes the history of the department since its founding in early 1940, just before the start of World War II in the Netherlands, until present day.
- Since its commencement in May of 1940 until present day the Faculty has developed itself into one of the largest Aerospace Departments in the world, with an annual intake of over 400 Bachelor students and 400 Master students as well as the presence of 270 PhD students.
- Therefore, in this section these developments and the birth of the first aerospace departments in the world will be discussed before exploring the conception of aerospace within the Netherlands and the history of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at Delft University of Technology.
A. Defining Aerospace Engineering
- To avoid confusion in this paper, the authors would first like to define what they mean with Aerospace Engineering as a field of science, as the term is often loosely used, especially internationally.
- 2 Senior Lecturer & Educational Fellow, Aerodynamics, Wind Energy, Flight Performance and Propulsion, Lifetime Member.
- 3 Assistant Professor, Aerospace Structures and Materials, Member.
- AIAA SciTech Forum definition as listed in the Encyclopedia of Aerospace Engineering  which defines aerospace engineering as: “the primary field of engineering concerned with the development of aircraft and spacecraft”.
B. Development of Engineering Education at Higher Education Level
- Natural sciences were already studied by ancient civilizations and considerably developed as an independent field of science in the 16th and 17th century with the emerging of scholars such as Copernicus (1473-1543), Galilei (1564-1642), and Newton (1642-1727) and the founding of the Royal Society (of London for Improving Natural Knowledge) in 1660.
- In this analogy it makes perfect sense that engineering is not offered as a university degree nor is it researched at a university level until the late 18th century and the first half of the 19th century.
- This school taught in Dutch as opposed to Latin, which was the primary language used at universities at the time.
- It is this school that laid the foundation for the present Delft University of Technology or “Technische Universiteit Delft” in Dutch, commonly referred to as “TU Delft.” .
C. Development of Aerospace Engineering Education
- The development of the field of aerospace initially focused on aeronautics.
- Ransom and Self  list the claim that Imperial College in London, England taught its first course in aeronautics in 1909.
- Developments in Dutch Aviation until 1940 The Netherlands has its own strong tradition in aerospace engineering.
- They were however, not the only Dutch aircraft designers at the time.
- The abbreviation “ir.” is for the Dutch word “ingenieur” meaning engineer and is a protected title under Dutch law that can only be used by holders of a Master of Science in Engineering degree from one of the Dutch Universities of Science and Technology.
A. The Founding of the Faculty and the Outbreak of World War II in the Netherlands
- The formal starting date of Aerospace Engineering at TU Delft is seen as May 6, 1940, when the first Full Professor in Aeronautical Engineering, Professor Van der Maas is appointed by the Dutch Crown within the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
- The degree program in Aerospace Engineering was now an established name, delivering an integrated Master’s Program, initially spanning 5 years, but under government budget cuts reduced to a nominal 4 years.
- The Dutch aerospace industry also recovered from the Fokker bankruptcy.
- The Faculty of Aerospace Engineering and several of their staff members among which second author, ir.
- More and more students decided to stop their studies after the Bachelor, and move to another program within TU Delft or even move to another university for their Master program.
B. Flying Labs
- In 1948 the Faculty was given use of its first laboratory aircraft, a Koolhoven FK-43 with registration PH-NAU, renting it from a flying school at nearby Ypenburg Airport in the Hague, which at that time was still in existence.
- To aid research, it was fitted with a fully digital autopilot.
- This aircraft would be used for both research and education until the early nineties when it was replaced by a Cessna Citation II with registration PH-LAB (See Fig. 5).
- Two faculty members are also trained research pilots.
- The faculty does own one other aircraft, which is not yet registered, a Vans Aircraft RV-12, which is currently being built by consecutive groups of Master students as part of the Aircraft Manufacturing Course run by the second author, Joris Melkert, who received a TU Delft Educational Fellowship for initiating this project1.
C. Flight Simulators and Human Interaction Laboratory
- Already in the 1960s the first rudimentary flight simulator was created by Professor Gerlach .
- Instead of buying off-the-shelf, it was decided to design and build the SIMONA simulator in-house using the various areas of expertise present within the different faculties within TU Delft (See Fig. 5).
- She is being operated by the Department of Control and Operations.
- This facility can be used to research control tasks or visual perception.
- The Aircraft Structures and Materials Laboratory at the Leeghwaterstraat in 1961 (left) and the current Aerospace Structures and Materials Laboratory at the Kluyverweg – Images © TU Delft, also known as Fig. 6.
D. Aerospace Structures and Materials Laboratory & Study Collection
- With the appointment of Professor Van der Neut in 1945, research in aircraft structures took off in earnest.
- Over the years many more aircraft and aircraft parts were added and by the time the laboratory moved to its dedicated hangar building now attached to the current Aerospace building in 1965, the hangar contained more aircraft and aircraft parts as study objects than it contained test equipment .
- There is a dedicated laser facility in which a 1kW pulsed xenon monochloride (XeCl) laser can be used for cutting, drilling and surface treatment of different materials as well as a composite welding lab, an NDT lab and 2 workshop areas, one dedicated for student projects and one for all education and research needs.
- The hangar also houses the CyberZoo, which is dealt with separately.
E. MAVLab & CyberZoo
- In the early 2000s the use of drones for commercial use really began taking off.
- That is why in 2005 the Micro Air Vehicle Laboratory was established after the successful design of the DelFly flapping wing UAV made by 3rd-year Bachelor students as part of the capstone Design Synthesis Exercise.
- The newest addition to the project is DelFly Nimble, which is tailless, weighs 29 grams and has a wingspan of 33 centimeters and actually mimics the movement of an insect when flying.
- Together with the Delft Robotics Institute they make use of the CyberZoo, a dedicated space available for researchers and students to perform test flights of new designs and MAV control systems.
- The lab can be set to different environments and house different obstacles to allow for thorough testing in practical environments.
F. Cleanroom & Ground Station
- With the growth of the space department and their ambition to build their own satellite, there was a need for the Space department to have a dedicated Space grade Cleanroom facility at their disposal.
- The cleanroom is equipped with various test rigs used for testing nanosatellite systems and is currently being used to build the next Delfi-PQ Satellite.
- To facilitate the Delfi program a multiband satellite ground station was established for satellite communication on top of the highest building on campus, the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science.
- The facility is a cooperation between TU Delft, the Delft Space Institute and ISIS – Innovative Solutions in Space, an Aerospace Engineering spin-off company.
A. Famous Alumni
- Over the years the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering has graduated many people who are now household names in the Aerospace Engineering world.
- Aircraft designers and textbook authors Egbert Torenbeek and Jan Roskam (University of Kansas) are among their alumni as well as the author, academic, and past director of the Dutch Royal Meteorological Institute, Henk Tennekes (1936) who also wrote the popular science book “The Simple Science of Flight” .
- Famous helicopter designer, Jan Meijer Drees – designer of the NHI-Kolibrie helicopter, who later moved to Bell Helicopters in the U.S., was also a TU Delft Aerospace Engineering graduate.
- Another well-known alumnus was the late Prince Friso of Orange-Nassau (1968-2013).
- Many of their graduates have gone on to have successful careers within the Dutch aerospace industry, as well as further afield.
B. Spin-Off and Innovation
- Over the past 15 years many spin offs have been started and over 40 of them have developed in well-established independent businesses that started life within the walls of their departments.
- There are successful examples from each research group, but by far the largest number of startups stem from the Aerospace Structures and Materials Department.
- These startups provide employment to over 500 people and many continue to grow rapidly.
- To continue to promote spinoffs the faculty has instigated a Startup Voucher program in 2016, in which BSc, MSc and PhD students can apply for a Startup voucher of 2,500 Euros and coaching.
C. Student Numbers and Societal Impact
- In its 80 years the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering has by now given out over 7000 “Ingenieursdiploma’s” or Master of Science degrees in Aerospace Engineering.
- 7: The number of aerospace engineers per million inhabitants in the Netherlands and the USA that graduated in 2017 (Sources: ASEE , CBS.nl, and tudelft.nl).
- De Vries, M., “Nine Pioneers’ Stories,” Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands, 2015.
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