NIAR - Aviation research, design, testing, certification history



Wichita State University's, involvement in aviation dates back to the early 1900s. Through its early programs in business and engineering, the university contributed to areas of manufacturing and design through research, education and technical services.

In the early 1930s, the university hired its first aeronautical engineering professor, Alexander Petroff, who supervised the construction of Wichita’s first wind tunnel housed on the campus. The tunnel was financed through the cooperative efforts of the Chamber of Commerce and the aviation manufacturers and was the beginning of a strong collaboration between the university and community, servicing the needs of the growing aviation industry in Wichita.


Through the years the university continued upgrading and expanding equipment, facilities and faculty, leading to the creation of the College of Engineering, a department which now offers PhD’s in mechanical, industrial, electrical and aeronautical engineering.

In 1963 the Municipal University of Wichita became Wichita State University. As a state university, enrollment quickly doubled and faculty, programs and facilities expanded to meet the increased needs of the community and the state of Kansas.

The National Institute for Aviation Research began its early development in 1985 when university President Warren Armstrong felt a need to strengthen research and services support to the aviation industry. Fred Sudermann, executive assistant to the president, was assigned the responsibility of developing and coordinating these efforts that, with the support of the university faculty, the industry, the community and the federal government, resulted in the creation of the Institute for Aviation Research in 1985.

Initially the Institute, directed by John Braezeale, included the Center for Aviation Safety led by John Hutchinson; The Center for Aviation Management directed by Douglas Sharp; The Center for Productivity Enhancement led by Richard Graham; and the Center for Basic and Applied Research directed by William Wentz.

In 1988 Bill Wentz was appointed the executive director of the Institute, and planning for a new 74,000 square foot research facility began. With substantial funding commitments from Sedgwick County, the City of Wichita, Beech, Boeing, Cessna and the federal government, the building to house the Institute was completed. The Institute was dedicated on April 30, 1990, and the name was changed to the National Institute for Aviation Research.

Today, the Institute houses several state-of-the-art labs and support units, including Composites and Advanced Materials, Fatigue and Fracture, Structures, Advanced Joining Technology, Aging Aircraft, Aerodynamics, Crash Dynamics, Human Factors, Visual Technology, CAD/CAM, the Virtual Reality Center, the Information Technology Center, Computational Mechanics and the Research Machine Shop. It is also home to four Centers of Excellence. These centers promote the safety, research, manufacturing and design elements of today’s aviation industry. The Federal Aviation Administration has designated the Institute as a Center of Excellence for General Aviation Research, an Airworthiness Assurance Center of Excellence, and most recently the Center of Excellence for Composites and Advanced Materials. The Institute is also recognized as a Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation Center of Excellence.

From its beginning, the Institute has experienced continued growth and success under the direction of able research and university leaders including John Braezeale, Bill Wentz and Ramesh Agarwal. The Institute continues this growth and services to the local and national aviation industry under the direction of John Tomblin.

The Institute is home to many of Wichita’s top aviation professionals, with 30 percent of Wichita’s aerospace engineers holding degrees from Wichita State University. Because of the industry’s need for aviation research, we will continue to further expand our capabilities in research, development, design, testing and certification.

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