Aerospace Department History
The United States Naval Academy was established in 1845 with a general education program to develop future naval officers. In 1930, the Naval Academy was accredited by the Association of American Universities. Although the Naval Academy offered separate courses of instruction for engineering and deck officers in the late 19th century, the first departure in modern times from a fixed curriculum occurred in 1959, when elective courses, validations, and overloads for superior students, were introduced. This was followed in 1963 by the appointment of a civilian Academic Dean.
The majors’ programs were created in the mid-60s as a consequence of an external review indicating the need for USNA to embrace academic majors in the competition for talented high school graduates. Far-reaching curriculum changes were introduced in 1964 to reduce the number of required courses and for the first time ensure that every Midshipman was able to pursue an individual academic area of interest in depth through an elected six-course minor.
As a result, the Aeronautics Committee was formed in 1964. The first military chair was CDR “Doc” G. Faulkner, and he coordinated with the academic chair, Dr. Dick Mathieu. The Committee operated under the Head of the Engineering Department, CAPT Wayne Hoof. The committee was composed of several civilian and military faculty members, with Asst. Prof. David Rogers as the committee’s first (civilian) aeronautical engineer hired. An aeronautical engineering major was first available to the class of 1967, and it required 20 additional credit hours over and above the basic curriculum at the Academy. The program first received accreditation in August 1970, retroactive to the class of 1969.
Additional broad curriculum changes introduced in the 1969-1970 Academic Year made it possible for every Midshipman to earn a major. Today, the Aerospace Engineering program is one of eight engineering degrees available to the Midshipman at the Naval Academy.
The department moved from its first home in Isherwood Hall to Rickover Hall in April of 1975, with aeronautics lab spaces largely designed by Prof Bud Carson. In 1976, the department founded the Computer Aided Design and Graphics lab with several members pioneering the use of computers for aerodynamic analysis and design.
Astronautics courses were introduced in the 1980s. The program formally established the astronautics track in 1988, at the initiative of Profs Bill Bagaria and Maido Saarlas.
Through the department’s first 30 years, teaching and leadership were shared by rotational military and tenured civilian faculty members. The creation of the Permanent Military Professor (PMP) program in 1998 brought uniformed officers with PhDs to the department, blending aerospace industry experience with academic credentials. In 2002, author Robert Heinlein (USNA ‘29) and his wife endowed the Robert A. Heinlein Chair of Aerospace Engineering, the Naval Academy’s first endowed Chair. In 2006, Kevin Sharer (USNA ‘70 and CEO of Amgen) endowed the David F. Rogers Distinguished Visiting Professor of Aeronautics in the name of his faculty mentor. Then, in August of 2017, the Tig H. Krekel Class of ’75 Distinguished Chair in Space Science was established. During this same period, the department established the first Professor of the Practice at USNA, bringing highly experienced industry talent into the faculty. These moves brought a surge of aerospace industry experience to the department to complement the more discipline-centric expertise of our traditionally credentialed civilian and military faculty. While the Professor of the Practice billets were phased out about five years ago, USNA currently augments the faculty with industry experience via the Instructor of Practical Applications position description.
Circa 2000, the department led the Naval Academy in embracing project-based learning for design, launching our first Midshipman-designed-and-built satellite in September, 2001. Shortly thereafter, the department formalized its commitment to contextual and project-based learning by joining the CDIO initiative. In 2009–2011, the department and MIT’s Aeronautics and Astronautics Department shared grant honors in NASA’s Innovations in Aeronautics Education project.
USNA and the department has a proud history of graduates going on to become astronauts. Of the 39 astronauts who’ve graduated from USNA since the majors’ program was initiated in 1968, 16 have been graduates of our department.