Book details history of Auburn aeronautics and aerospace engineering program

Published: June 16, 2022

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On the heels of the Wright Brothers’ success at Kitty Hawk, the late Charles R. Hixon, a mechanic arts postgraduate student, spoke on the “Possibilities of Aerial Navigation” to Alabama Polytechnic Institute engineering students in 1909, stirring interest in this new-fangled concept.

Hixon, who later became head professor of mechanical engineering at API, saw his vision take flight in 1930 as API President Bradford Knapp and engineering dean John Wilmore announced the establishment of aeronautical engineering and management at Auburn – now aerospace engineering. For more than 90 years, it has produced top leaders of aeronautics and space flight and is among the elite aerospace engineering departments in the nation.

Art Slotkin’s recently published book, “T-10 and Counting: Ninety Years of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Auburn University,” explores the program’s infancy, challenges, victories, and highlights multiple individuals — faculty, students, administration, and alumni — along the way. Copies will soon be distributed to program alumni.

“This book is about how the aerospace-aeronautical engineering department was born, why it was born, and some of the influential people in the department along the way. Who were these key characters? What was their role in the development and success of aerospace engineering at Auburn?” said Slotkin, a 1968 aerospace engineering graduate who developed a passion for the history of science and technology and published four other Auburn-related history books, including “Biosystems at Auburn: One hundred Years,” “A Century and a Half of Civil Engineering at Auburn,” “Seventy-Five Years of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences at Auburn University,” and “Building for the Future: From Mechanic Arts to Mechanical Engineering at Auburn University.”

Slotkin’s first book researched and written under contract with NASA: “Doing the Impossible: George E. Mueller and the Management of NASA’s Human Space Flight Program” was published in 2012 and available on Amazon. A Chinese version, to be printed in 2023, will be available on PRC Post and Telecom Press.

Each faculty member from 1930 to 2020 is listed within the book. Readers will learn about Robert G. Pitts, among the program’s first professors who served as a benchmark for aeronautical education for many years, and John Cochran, a 1965 aerospace engineering graduate who not only played football for Ralph “Shug” Jordan, but also maintained a 4.0 GPA and was later elevated to head professor (now emeritus), and long-time aerospace engineering professor the late Malcolm Cutchins, among others.

Readers will learn the stories of significant alumni, who soared the skies and the heavens. From Nelda Lee, an innovative engineer who became the first woman to fly an F-15, to Jim Voss, who flew into space five times aboard the space shuttle and international space station, to Ken Mattingly, one of two men to fly to the moon on Apollo 16 and space shuttle orbital missions.

“In reading this book, I was struck by the extensive list of people that have touched and impacted the department over the past 90 years in many different ways, whether it be through teaching, learning, research, service, administration, volunteering, or philanthropy,” Brian Thurow, aerospace engineering’s department chair since 2016, wrote in the book’s epilog. “The long-term health and quality of our program is directly due to the passion, dedication, and generosity of the faculty, staff, students, alumni and supporters that have come before. I am incredibly grateful for the solid foundation upon which we are now building for the future.”

The book also examines the program’s booms and busts over the years, including enrollment fluctuations. “At one time, the department fell to 27 students in the late 1960s,” Slotkin said. “But enrollment grew again.” As of Fall 2021, the department had 539 undergraduate and 71 graduate students enrolled.

Slotkin, who lives in Atlanta, dedicated the book to his late father, Morris J. Slotkin, an aeronaut in the U.S. Army during World War I, and future graduates in the program’s Class of 2031, who will celebrate the 100th anniversary of aeronautics and astronautics at Auburn.

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Submitted by: Joe McAdory