The Sky’s the Limit
Guggenheim Award established School of Aeronautics
M.L. Brittain knew a Guggenheim Award would send Georgia Tech’s engineering program soaring. Apparently not everyone on campus was reaching for the stars like Tech’s fourth president, who called the $300,000 gift that established the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aeronautics in March 1930 the Institute’s greatest honor.
In his 1948 book, "The Story of Georgia Tech," Brittain wrote: "Either because they were still dazed by the glamour of their athletic victory in the Rose Bowl or more likely because, conscious of their hard work and the stern academic proficiency required of them, the Tech students took in their stride as a matter of course the receiving of the greatest honor ever bestowed upon the school or for that matter upon almost any Southern college, for it was quietly received without fanfare.
"Less than half a column was given to the news in the Technique and the Alumnus when the notice came of the receipt of the Guggenheim gift." Brittain quickly went about establishing the school.
"I secured Montgomery Knight, at that time engaged in research work at Langley Field, for the new head, planned for a building to cost $100,000, planned to expend $50,000 for wind-tunnel and other equipment, and finally to invest one half the funds in 5 percent bonds for endowment against financial troubles already looming ominously in that year of 1930," Brittain wrote.
As it nears its 75th anniversary, the now-named School of Aerospace Engineering continues to stand out nationally and look onward and upward.
"Tech has the second largest faculty in aerospace engineering in the country, if you don’t count the Air Force Academy. The largest is MIT and Tech is a close second," says Robert Loewy, school chair and William R.T. Oakes professor. "All of our faculty except two of 30 are involved in research. We do nearly $14 million a year of sponsored research. Some of it is for NASA, some of it is for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. Roughly 20 percent is for industry."
Loewy says groundbreaking research has been conducted within the school’s walls from the beginning.
"The first director, Montgomery Knight, developed one of the first jet-powered rotors for a helicopter. He built a full-scale version of it and did substantial testing of it at Tech in the ‘30s. The blade that he designed and had built is still in the lobby of the Montgomery Knight Building," Loewy says.
The Guggenheim Building was dedicated on June 8, 1931, and classes began in September with 18 students, two faculty members and a budget of $10,000, according to a history of the school written by Robin Gray, Regents’ professor emeritus. The School of Aeronautics graduated its first students, 13 of them, in 1932.
At age 77, Loewy has seen many exciting advances during his long career. "The change from reciprocating engines to turbo machinery was a tremendous advance. That advance has really made possible modern transportation and jet fighters and has played some role in rocketry. Rocketry is sort of an additional track, in parallel.
Robert Goddard, who was the father of rocketry in the United States, was sort of going along in parallel with the Wright brothers, later of course, but in parallel."
"The Guggenheim grant put Tech in the big leagues," Robert McMath, vice provost and an author of "Engineering the New South: Georgia Tech, 1885-1985," told the Alumni Magazine in 1998.
Brittain probably would feel gratified today to see the technological advancements in aerospace engineering and the achievements at Georgia Tech.
The School of Aerospace Engineering marked the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ flight during a daylong event on Oct. 21 including lectures from industry and research leaders.