VFS Recognizes Georgia Tech as Historic Site

GT Heritage Plaque ceremony (jpg)

From left to right: Dr. Mark Costello, Prof. Marilyn Smith, Dr. Dan Schrage, Mike Hirschberg, Glenn Isbell and Dr. Chaouki Abdallah.
Additional photos are available in the GTAE Flickr Album.


In a ceremony on Nov. 28, the Vertical Flight Society officially designated the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia, as a Vertical Flight Heritage Site. According to the nomination, “The Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering (GTAE) is the arguably the birthplace of rotorcraft formal university education in the United States.”

The Vertical Flight Society — founded in 1943 as the American Helicopter Society — is the world’s oldest and largest society dedicated to advancing vertical flight technology. The Society’s Vertical Flight Heritage Sites Program recognizes and helps preserve the important vertical flight historical sites around the world.

85 Years of Rotorcraft Research & Counting

GT Heritage Site plaque (jpg)The history of rotorcraft education and research extends back to the very birth of the original Department of Aeronautical Engineering and the hiring of its first chair, Montgomery Knight, a pioneer in helicopter aeromechanics.

As early as 1917, military aviators were trained on campus with an aeronautics ground school, commissioning nearly 1200 cadets; this early effort sparking the first interest in aeronautical engineering. In 1930, this major officially became part of the engineer department’s offerings when the Georgia School of Technology, as it was then called, became one of seven schools in the United States to introduce aeronautical engineering departments thanks to a grant of $300,000 from the Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics. The Guggenheim family wanted to fund a school in the American South, but there was none that had an existing aeronautical engineering program. Tech was chosen as the site for the final Guggenheim school as a result of its military aviation training program. The school’s president at the time, M.L. Brittain, called it “Georgia Tech’s highest honor.”

In addition to the arrival of Knight — previously head of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) Atmospheric Wind Tunnel Section at Langley Field — the grant funded a new building for the School of Aeronautics, a wind tunnel and other equipment. 

Knight’s early research at Georgia Tech introduced rotorcraft research to a new generation of undergraduate and graduate students. His research included experiments in rotorcraft autorotation and reaction drive helicopters, as well as joint theoretical/experimental research with Georgia Tech mathematics professor Ralph Hefner on the thrust of hovering rotors and rotors in ground effect. In 1934, Atlanta-based Coca-Cola donated a Pitcairn PCA-2 Autogiro to the department. 

During World War II, the school supported the war effort with rotary-wing research for the Glenn L. Martin Company, United Aircraft’s Research Division and the Nemeth Helicopter Corporation. Igor I. Sikorsky visited the campus in March 1942 and provided a lecture on his helicopter development work with the VS-300, including possibly the first viewing of flight footage films on a college campus.  

GTAE’s involvement with rotorcraft continued under the direction of faculty that included Don Dutton, Walter Castles, John Harper, Robin Gray and Arnold Ducoffe. These latter two faculty members were instrumental in the development of the first externally-funded Rotorcraft Center of Excellence (RCOE) in 1982. Ducoffe was the first RCOE director and Gray was the first technical director. Today, Georgia Tech is one of three Vertical Lift Research Centers of Excellence (VLRCOEs), and the only one that has been funded continuously since 1982. 

GTAE and its center have produced generations of rotorcraft military officers and engineers, as well as four astronauts. Graduates include many general officers and government senior executive service civilians. Faculty members have made significant contributions to vertical flight since the 1930s, and include a number of VFS Technical Fellows, Nikolsky Lecturers and other Society award winners.

Heritage Site Dedication

The Georgia Tech Guggenheim School was selected as the ninth Vertical Flight Heritage Site in March 2018, and was recognized at the Forum 74 Grand Awards Banquet in May. The ceremony to unveil the 35 lb (16 kg) forged-bronze plaque was held as part of a Vertical Lift Heritage Reception at the school’s Alumni House, in conjunction with Georgia Tech’s annual VLRCOE review. Accolades and comments were provided by VFS President (and Bell vice-president) Glenn Isbell, GT Executive Vice-President of Research Chaouki T. Abdallah, and GT Aerospace Engineering Chair Dr. Mark Costello. VFS Executive Director Mike Hirschberg and Dr. Costello then formally unveiled the plaque and presented it to the school.

In addition to hosting the plaque unveiling and recognizing the long history of the school’s aerospace and rotorcraft research, a surprise event honoring retiring professor Daniel P. Schrage was also featured. Schrage was the Director of the GT VLRCOE from 1986 to November 2018, prior to transitioning the leadership of the center to Prof. Marilyn Smith, previously an associate director of the center. 

In his presentation slides marking the occasion of the ceremony, Schrage concluded with noting that “The fact that the RCOE has continued for 35 years is remarkable and a tribute to the collaboration between government, industry and academia.” 

The plaque reads: 

Vertical Flight Heritage Site

Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, Georgia


In 1930, the Department of Aeronautical Engineering was founded through a Guggenheim Aeronautics Foundation Grant. The first Department chair, Montgomery Knight, introduced vertical flight education and research, and the Department continued this support through the decades. In 1982, the School of Aerospace Engineering was awarded the first US Army Rotorcraft Center of Excellence (RCOE), which was also the first Georgia Tech externally-designated research center of excellence. The Georgia Tech Vertical Lift Research Center of Excellence (VLRCOE), as it is now known, is recognized worldwide and is the only RCOE/VLRCOE funded continuously since 1982.

November 2018


Further Reading:

Posted: 2018-12-03