Aerodynamisches Institut
Lehrstuhl für Strömungslehre und Aerodynamisches Institut

Institute of Aerodynamics, RWTH Aachen University:

From 1912 Through 2012

W. Schröder

Institute of Aerodynamics, RWTH Aachen University, Wüllnerstraße 5a, 52062 Aachen

In the year 2012 the Institute of Aerodynamics celebrated its 100th anniversary, i.e., 100 years of research in the field of fluid mechanics. Without any doubt it is impossible to give a detailed survey of the research done at the Institute of Aerodynamics over the last 100 years in just a few-page article. For this reason, the history is sketched by briefly introducing the directors of the Institute of Aerodynamics and their line of research. This decomposes the 100-year period into six subsections.

The Period from 1912 to 1931

At the beginning of the 20th century Fluid Mechanics became an independent scientific discipline. Especially Aerodynamics boosted the research in Fluid Mechanics. At Aachen in these days Aerodynamics research was strongly supported by Prof. H. Junkers and Prof. H. J. Reissner.

Until 1899 Prof. A. Ritter taught Mechanics at the RWTH Aachen University. His successor was Prof. A. Sommerfeld who held the Chair of Mechan- ics from 1900 through 1906 before in 1906 Prof. H. J. Reissner took over the Chair of Mechanics. In 1909 Reissner and Junkers performed the first aerodynamic experiments which mark the beginning of several significant experimental and theoretical contributions to the development of aircraft. In 1912, the first all-metal aircraft, the so-called Reissner Duck was ready to fly. Several successful flights were conducted near Aachen at the Bran- derheide. Although Prof. H. J. Reissner accepted a call of the Technical

Figure 1: Hans-Jacob Reissner

Figure 2: Theodore von Kármán

University Berlin in 1913, there is no doubt that it was his pioneering work in Aerodynamics and his scientific stimulus that made the idea of an Institute of Aerodynamics and Chair of Fluid Mechanics come true at RWTH Aachen University. Prof. H. J. Reissner was still at Aachen when the foundation stone ceremony of the Institute of Aerodynamics took place in 1912.

On April 1st, 1913 Prof. Th. von Kármán took over the Chair of Mechanics and Aerodynamics and became the first Director of the Institute of Aerodynamics. The name of the Institute underlined the scientific significance of this new research discipline. The building up of the scientific reputation of the Institute of Aerodynamics is definitely his accomplishment. He collaborated closely with Prof. E. Trefftz who held a Professorship in Mathematics at Aachen and with Prof. L. Hopf who was a scientist at the Institute of Aerodynamics before he became a Professor of Mechanics at Aachen in 1923. From 1926 on v. Kármán spent part time at Aachen and Pasadena in California where 1930 he became the Director of the Guggenheim Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. On 1 April 1934 v. Kármán left Aachen for good and moved to Pasadena. However, all his life long he kept a very close relationship with the Institute of Aerodynamics. In 1957 v. Kármán became the first Prandtl-Ring recipient. Prof. H. F. G. Bock was appointed Professor of Mechanics and Aerodynamics in 1934. Unfortunately, he never really did take office since he also held a position at the Aerospace Department of the German Government in Berlin. 1936 he accepted an executive position at the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt fü:r Luft-fahrt (DVL) in Berlin.

Prof. von Kármán ideally combined engineering, physical, and mathematical knowledge which made him a brilliant scientist. Furthermore, he was an outstanding pedagogue who was able to fascinate students by the idea of interdisciplinary science.

The Period from 1931 to 1942

Before Prof. C. Wieselsberger took over the Chair of Fluid Mechanics and Applied Mathematics on 1 December 1931 and later on was appointed Director of the Institute of Aerodynamics, he had been a research assistant and group leader at the Aerodynamische Versuchsanstalt (AVA) in Göttingen from 1912 through 1922 and until 1930 a scientist with the Institute of Aerodynamics of the Imperial University of Tokyo. His work focused on measurement methods, measurement instruments, and experimental facilities and it was strongly influenced by his Göttingen time, i.e., the Prandtl school.

Figure 3: Carl Wieselsberger

The 30s ere characterized by a massive increase of the available electrical power that led to the analysis of sonic flow. Wieselsberger strongly supported the development to analyze compressible flows which is why he initialized the construction of an intermittent supersonic facility. Due to the boost in aeronautics the Chair and the Institute grew in manpower and were shifted from the Department of General Sciences to the Department of Mechanical Engineering which it is still a member of today. At the beginning of the Second World War the Institute had to be moved in just a few hours from Aachen to the AVA in Gö:ttingen. Two years later in 1941, the Institute was relocated at Aachen. The research and the teaching were strongly defined by the unstable wartime. Due to a painful disease Prof. Wieselsberger passed away on 26 April 1941. The provisional administration of the Institute of Aerodynamics was taken over by Prof. R. Sauer who had been with the Institute when it was located in Göttingen from 1939 through 1941.

The research approach of Prof. Wieselsberger, who was an enthusiastic pilot, was strongly determined by the Prandtl school. His scientific ideas and his human character were highly esteemed by his colleagues and his students.

The Period from 1942 to 1963

In March 1942 Prof. F. Seewald took over the Chair of Applied Mathematics and Fluid Mechanics, which in 1948 became the Chair of Fluid Mechanics, and was also appointed Director of the Institute of Aerodynamics. From 1924 through 1936 he was a research scientist with the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt (DVL) in Berlin and later on Head of this research institution. Under his direction the DVL became an extremely important scientific research center in Germany.

Figure 4: Friedrich Seewald

At the beginning of the 40s, the research in the Institute of Aerodynamics strongly suffered from the continuously increasing air raids. 1943 and 1944 the Institute was moved to Sonthofen in Bavaria to return not before 1947 to Aachen. Especially the ban on research in almost all areas of fluid mechanics in Germany after the unconditional surrender impeded enormously the scientific rebuilding of the Institute of Aerodynamics. This situation was aggravated by the elimination from any international research and/or cooperation. In the late 40s and in the 50s the scientific studies focused on wave propagation and reflection, the application of this fundamental knowledge to engines, flow structures in pipes with elastic walls, and shock-wave-boundary-layer interactions with separation. The low-speed wind tunnel was available and a test bed for safety valves had been installed. In the first years after the Second World War the lectures covered general fluid mechanics in mechanical und civil engineering, heat transfer, heating and ventilation, and unsteady fluid mechanics and thermodynamics in combustion engines. Since the mid 50s the courses were allowed to address again the newest developments in aerodynamics. Prof. Seewald realized that it was necessary to conduct research in aerodynamics on a larger scale than it was possible at university institutes. It was his initiative to refound the DVL. Later he became the Honorary President of the Board of Trustees of the DVL. End of March 1963 F. Seewald became a professor emeritus.

Prof. Seewald strongly pursued the idea of reviving the DVL. In this sense, the Institute of Aerodynamics became the origin of the new DVL. In 1952 a small team started to preplan new aerodynamic test facilities. In the course of time, the idea of aeronautical research had substantially grown and the DVL had become a legal organization such that the aforementioned group separated from the Institute of Aerodynamics to become the DVL Institute of Aerodynamics and later on the DVL Institute of Applied Gasdynamics. Since the professional and personal relationship between the Institute and the DVL was very intense, many scientific ideas initialized in the Institute of Aerodynamics were further analyzed by the DVL.

The Period from 1963 to 1973

In April 1963 Prof. A. Naumann became the successor to Prof. F. Seewald, i.e., he was appointed Director of the Institute of Aerodynamics and took over the Chair of Fluid Mechanics. Prof. Naumann already knew the Institute for approximately 20 years. In 1937 he joined the Institute and two years later he was in charge of the gasdynamics group of the Institute. In 1946 he left the Institute of Aerodynamics to head the Bureau d’Etudes in Emmendingen where the new supersonic wind tunnels to be built in Vernon in France were developed.

Figure 5: Alexander Naumann

1951 Prof. Naumann returned to Aachen to become Chief Scientist of Prof. Seewald. He headed the team that developed a supersonic wind tunnel which served as a model for larger facilities which later on were built for the DVL. From 1955 through 1966 Prof. Naumann was also Director of the DVL Institute of Applied Gasdynamics. Prof. Naumann always emphasized the link between university and institutional research. This scientific interaction was manifested by the Collaborative Research Center 83 “Fluid Mechanics and Thermo-Gasdynamics” which consisted of scientists from six university institutes and two institutes from the Deutsche Forschungs- und Versuchsanstalt für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DFVLR) which was the successor organization to the DVL. Prof. Naumann can be considered a pioneer of strong interdisciplinary research. He established the cooperation of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, the new Department of Medicine of RWTH Aachen University, and the University Hospital of Düsseldorf. It is fair to say that it was Prof. Naumann’s scientific view and success that led to the foundation of the Aachen-Düsseldorf Research Group “Artificial Heart”. Later on, the Collaborative Research Center 109 “Artificial Organs as Organs, Organ Substitutes, and Models” was initiated, whose Vice-Chair was Prof. Naumann, and the Helmholtz Institute for Biomedical Engineering was founded. Not only nationally but also internationally the establishment of this novel interdisciplinary research area was highly respected.

Prof. Naumann possessed the talent to physically interpret complex flow problems which could not rigorously analyzed theoretically. He preferred the experimental investigation and the flow visualization was his real affinity.

The Period from 1973 to 1998

In 1973 Prof. E. Krause took over the Chair of Fluid Mechanics and became the 5th Director of the Institute of Aerodynamics. After his studies at the RWTH Aachen University he went to the US funded by a NATO grant to receive a Master degree in 1962 from the Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn and a PhD degree in 1966 from the University of New York. Before he accepted the call of the RWTH Aachen University he was with the Deutsche Forschungs- und Versuchsanstalt für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DFVLR).

Figure 6: Egon Krause

Although Prof. Krause was one of the driving factors to establish the new research field of computational fluid dynamics, the rigorous comparison of experimental and numerical results was always the basis of his scientific vision. Among other programs, he initiated the Priority Research Program “Finite Approximations in Fluid Mechanics” and the Collaborative Research Center 253 ”Fundamentals of the Design of Spacecraft”, which was one of three successful joint collaborative research centers in supersonic fluid mechanics funded by the DFG in the late 80s. Together with Prof. Peyret from Nice he was the pioneer of a joint long-lasting DFG-CNRS research initiative in the early 90s that brought together French and German engineers and mathematicians in the field of theoretical and computational fluid dynamics. Due to his initiative the building of the Institute of Aerodynamics was enlarged in 1978. Prof. E. Krause was awarded the Prandtl-Ring in 2004. In July 1998 Prof. Krause became a professor emeritus. His scientific farewell party, which was held a couple of months later, was “sold out” within a few days. The guests who showed up from all over the world evidenced the excellent reputation he had within and across the borders of the fluid mechanics community.

The Period from 1998 to 2012

Figure 7: Wolfgang Schröder

In August 1998 Prof. W. Schröder accepted the call of the RWTH Aachen University, i.e., he took over the Chair of Fluid Mechanics and became the Head of the Institute of Aerodynamics. After his PhD studies at Aachen he was a postdoc at the California Institute of Technology and worked together with Prof. H. B. Keller on bifurcation problems. Then, he joined Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB) where he was involved in several aerospace studies in the beginning of the 90s. Before he returned to Aachen in 1998 he held a Professorship in Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Applied Sciences in Braunschweig. Based on the long-term cooperative tradition of the Institute he strongly supports close scientific collaborations inside and outside RWTH Aachen University. The Institute participated in several Collaborative Research Centers such as the SFB 561 “Thermally Highly Loaded Porous and Cooled Multi Layer Systems for Combined Cycle Power Plants”, the SFB 686 “Model Based Control of Homogenized Low-Temperature Combustion”, and the SFB 401 “Modulation of Flow and Fluid-Structure Interaction at Airplane Wings” the latter of which was chaired by W. Schröder in the last funding period. Together with Profs. R. Radespiel (TU Braunschweig), N. Adams (TU Munich), and B. Weigand (Univ. of Stuttgart) he paved the way for the new Transregional Collaborative Research Center TRR 40 in supersonic research “Fundamental Technologies for the Development of Future Space-Transport-Systems Components under High Thermal and Mechanical Loads”. The interdisciplinary character of the Institute’s research was strengthened by heading the Research School BrenaRo “Fuel Production from Renewable Feedstock” and chairing the DFG funded research program “Protective Artificial Respiration” which brought together scientists from medicine, physics, and engineering. Following the ideas of his predecessors W. Schröder pushes international research which is why he and Patrick Bontoux (Univ. of Marseille) launched the second phase of the French-German DFG-CNRS program. His long-term service as Treasurer for the European Mechanics Society shows his European commitment for the scientific community.


The research at the Institute of Aerodynamics would not have been possible without the strong support of various Departments of the State Government of Northrhine-Westfalia, the Federal Government, the German Research Association, several foundations, and highly cooperative industrial partners. It goes without saying that the research perspective of the Institute is defined by its tradition, i.e., also in the future the Institute of Aerodynamics will strive for excellence not only in fundamental research but also in being a strong link between fundamental and applied engineering science.

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