Celebrating Tandon’s Storied History in Aviation

Professor Nicholas Hoff (left) inspects equipment used for the world's most advanced hypersonic wind tunnel, located in Long Island. Photo source: Poly Archives

Last spring, a team of students from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering competed in the Society of Aerospace Engineers (SAE) Aero Design Competition, placing 15th out of 40 teams for their model passenger and cargo aircraft. While this competition was their first introduction to airplane design, these students are part of a long history of exploration, research, and groundbreaking advancement in aeronautics, aerodynamics, and astronautics here at NYU Tandon School of Engineering.

This November, in celebration of aviation history month, we take a moment to commemorate the storied history of aviation at NYU Tandon. From hypersonic wind tunnels to sonic booms and aluminum fuselages, NYU Tandon alumni and faculty have made, and continue to make, invaluable contributions to the industry.

Advancing Aviation at Tandon

The 1940s-50s were a time of expansion within the field of aviation. At NYU Tandon, then known as Polytechnic, the Department of Aeronautical Engineering boasted world-renowned faculty who were luminaries within early aviation and aerodynamics. Before joining the school in 1944, Hans Jacob Reissner trained in physics with Max Planck in Germany and later experimented with aviation, designing airplane propellers and building the first successful tail-first, all-metal airplane known as the Reissner Ente in 1912. With the rise of the Third Reich, Reissner emigrated to the U.S. and taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology before becoming a key member of Polytechnic’s faculty until 1954.

A fellow faculty member of Reissner’s was Nicholas Hoff, who became professor of aeronautics in 1940 and later chair of the aeronautical engineering and applied mathematics department from 1950-1957. During his time at Poly, Hoff worked on aircraft stability and structure specifically testing aluminum fuselages under extreme pressure and heat, and today is considered one of the great contributors to modern jet airplane construction and safety.

It was during Hoff’s tenure as aeronautical engineering chair that Professor Antonio Ferri worked with students and faculty on the development of the world’s most advanced hypersonic wind tunnel in Long Island. Ferri helped found Poly’s Aerodynamics Laboratories, which in 1953 partnered with the U.S. Air Force to develop a wind tunnel capable of testing aircrafts and missiles at hypersonic speeds. Not only was this wind tunnel the first of its kind to test above Mach 10, Ferri’s and the lab’s research into aerodynamic heating and safe re-entry spacecraft were instrumental to NASA’s future space flights.

Supersonic Speed & Beyond

During the space race of the sixties, NYU Tandon alumnus Thomas Joseph Kelly (’58) led the team at Grumman that designed and tested NASA’s Apollo Lunar Module — the first spacecraft to land on the Moon in 1969.

Since that exciting time in space exploration, Tandon faculty have made significant impact on the study and improvement of high-speed air travel:

Iraj Kalkhoran, the associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and associate dean of undergraduate and graduate academics, spent much of his career researching high-speed and supersonic aerodynamics and aero-propulsion. While Kalkhoran is known for his work into thrust reversing and vectoring, he also worked for many years on research happening at the school’s Long Island-based hypersonic wind tunnel and aerodynamics laboratory developed by Ferri. Kalkhoran and fellow Tandon faculty member Spencer Kuo helped discover plasma’s capability to mitigate and reduce sonic booms and supersonic shock waves produced by high speed jets.

In 2014, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering Nikhil Gupta developed a fiber-optic sensor that can carefully and safely monitor the durability of composite materials within aircraft and spacecraft under intense pressure and heat. Gupta is currently leading a research team that’s developing a compression-molding-based, large-scale processing method to produce syntactic foams — exceptionally strong and light materials being used within aircraft structural parts and rocket boosters. With aircraft and aerospace components being produced through additive manufacturing and 3D printing, Gupta is also taking on the increasing problem of counterfeit components, which have caused multiple airplane crashes. Gupta led a research team that developed intentionally embedded flaws within computer aided design (CAD) files to thwart intellectual property theft.


Camila Ryder
Graduate School of Arts and Science
Master of Arts in English Literature, Class of 2018

Learn more about: Nikhil Gupta