Aerospace Engineering Department History

The Aeronautical Engineering Department at California Polytechnic State University began in 1927 in conjunction with the Automotive Department. The purpose of the program was to teach students about the maintenance and repair of aircraft and their engines. Using a laboratory equipped with airframes, engines, propeller balancing equipment, and engine test stands, airplanes were dismantled, overhauled, and rebuilt. One or more airplanes were built each year'one of the first being the GlenMont, a six-passenger replica of Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis. It was built by thirty students and had its first successful flight in March 1928. Named after H. Glen Warren, the first head of the Aeronautical Engineering Department, and instructor John Montigo, it is believed to be the first airplane constructed in the United States by students. The quality of workmanship and skill of the students was such that the Civil Aeronautics Authority granted the department an official "Approved Repair Station" license and rating in 1931. A proud moment for the students and the department occurred in 1935 when Amelia Erhart, world-famous aviator, landed on campus for structural repairs on her plane.
Photo above: Cal Poly's first airplane, GlenMont, built by the students.


From 1943 to 1944, the U.S. Naval Flight Preparatory School was established on campus. Using its own curriculum and utilizing Cal Poly's facilities, the school trained some 3600 cadets for duty in World War II. From 1944 to 1946, because of the success of the cadet-training program, about 1100 Naval cadets were sent to Cal Poly for refresher courses using the Aero Department's courses and facilities. In 1945, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the Cal Poly airstrip, and the adjoining hangar was constructed in 1947 in order to provide more adequate facilities for the Aeronautical Engineering Department.
The department was first accredited by the Engineering Council for Professional Development (ECPD), the forerunner of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), in the 1960s. This represented a change for the department away from a technology-based program to one where engineering principals formed the basis for design and analysis. However, the department and its students have maintained their "hands-on" approach to education. In 2000, the department was renamed Aerospace Engineering Department to reflect the new astronautics option currently being offered.

Today, the Aerospace Engineering Department prepares students for work in the exciting field of aerospace engineering. Students are prepared for engineering work dealing with aerodynamics, propulsion, stability and controls, and structures of aircraft, missiles, and spacecraft. Throughout the four-year program, there is constant interplay between theory and application. Opportunities are available for advanced undergraduate and graduate work in the student's field of special interest, with laboratories provided for fabrication, propulsion, structural test, control systems, aerothermodynamics, wind tunnel, water tunnel, flight test, flight simulation and aircraft and spacecraft design.

Cal Poly also prides itself on many distinguished graduates from the Aerospace Engineering Department. Among them are Burt Rutan, President, Scaled Composites and designer of Voyager and SpaceShipOne; Robert (Hoot) Gibson, former NASA Chief Astronaut; Dean Borgman, President, Sikorsky Aircraft Corp.; Jim Phillips, Vice President, Boeing Aircraft (retired); Robert Wulf, Vice President, Northrop Grumman Corporation (retired); and Michael Evans, Vice President, Lockheed Martin Palmdale (retired). We are proud of the accomplishments of our graduates, as they reflect the quality of the education they received at Cal Poly.
Burt Rutan's latest innovation: White Knight and the SpaceShipOne.

©2008, Aerospace Engineering, College of Engineering, Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo, Ca.
last modified January 8, 2008