The UW Board of Regents yesterday approved a name change of the UW’s aeronautics and astronautics department to become the William E. Boeing Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics, recognizing the shared history of the UW department and The Boeing Company and honoring the man who launched them both.
“The University of Washington and the Boeing Company are long-established Pacific Northwest institutions whose histories are closely tied,” said UW President Michael Young.
“For many decades, UW talent and skill have contributed to Boeing’s premier place in global air transportation, while Boeing has built an environment of technical, business and philanthropic leadership that has strengthened the University and our state. We are proud to recognize this amazing partnership in naming our outstanding department of aeronautics and astronautics for Bill Boeing.”
The almost 100-year history began when William Edward Boeing founded the Boeing Airplane Co. in 1916 along the shores of Lake Union and hired two UW engineering graduates to work on his flying machines. Though Clairmont Egtvedt and Philip Johnson were mechanical engineering graduates, they went on to become presidents and general managers of the growing company.
Boeing realized he needed trained aeronautical engineers as well as a facility to test new airplane designs. In 1917 he donated a wind tunnel to the UW, paid for with a personal gift of almost $6,000, on condition that the university would establish an aeronautics curriculum. The department had its early beginnings later that year.
In the 1920s, Boeing wrote on behalf of the university to the Guggenheim Fund for the Advancement of Aeronautics, and in 1928 the fund approved a grant of $290,000 for a building, renovated in 2007, that still houses UW Aeronautics & Astronautics.
The company and the department have grown together. In 1926, all but one member of Boeing’s engineering department were UW graduates. In the 1940s most of Boeing’s engineers still came from the UW, and even today the UW remains a primary supplier of engineering talent for the company. Thousands of UW alumni have gone on to work for the company, and company employees, faculty and students have carried out many joint research projects.
“We are thrilled with the University of Washington’s decision to name its Department of Astronautics & Aeronautics for our founder, William E. Boeing. His name is on every product we design, every service we provide and every task we undertake,” said Ray Conner, president and CEO for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “His vision and mandate for technical excellence and innovation lives on in the hearts and minds of Boeing employees, and we hope that the students who pass through the College of Engineering will be similarly inspired as they take their places as our future aerospace leaders.”
Through the years, Boeing has invested nearly $80 million in the UW. In the 1980s, the company donated $2 million to upgrade the computer systems of a second wind tunnel, the Kirsten Wind Tunnel, that it helped fund in the 1930s. That tunnel is still operated by students and performs tests for UW students, faculty and external clients. In the 1990s, the company created a major faculty endowment to support engineering teaching and research.
In the past 10 years, nearly $20 million in Boeing funds have gone to the UW’s College of Engineering for research, graduate scholarships and undergraduate student support.
“It’s difficult to think of a company that has had a greater impact on the aerospace industry worldwide than the company created by Bill Boeing,” said James Hermanson, professor and chair of UW Aeronautics & Astronautics. “Bill Boeing is considered a founding father of our department, which was one of the first aeronautical engineering programs in the nation.”
“We are thrilled to be able to honor Bill Boeing and recognize the ongoing, vital partnership between the Boeing Company and the Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics, the College of Engineering, and all of the UW,” Hermanson added. “The company that Bill Boeing founded has played a vital role in our community of faculty, students and alumni.”
Today the UW’s aeronautics and astronautics department has an enrollment of 153 undergraduates, 167 graduate students and 17 faculty members. In recent years, UW faculty have collaborated with Boeing on unmanned aerial vehicles and on lightweight, composite materials incorporated in the Boeing 787. Recently the company and the UW launched a joint post-graduate certificate programs for the analysis and design of composite materials and for integrated systems engineering.
The permanent naming honors nearly 100 years of partnership, and specifically recognizes William E. Boeing Sr. as the department’s founding benefactor.
“Both my father and the University of Washington understood very early in the development of commercial aviation how big the industry would become, and how much it would impact people’s everyday lives,” said William E. (Bill) Boeing Jr. “My family and I are very pleased to have the aero department named in his honor to permanently link two aeronautics pioneers.”