Politecnico di Milano has a deep-rooted tradition in aeronautical engineering, dating back to the late 19th century, when its alumnus Enrico Forlanini flew a steam-engine helicopter model. In the early 20th century, the first course in Aeronautics was introduced and the first experimental facilities, including a wind tunnel, were created. In those years, Forlanini was pioneering innovative craft such as airships and hydrofoils. Later, in the 1930s, a group of students founded a gliding centre where many advanced concept sailplanes were designed, built and flown. The centre was a valuable theoretical and practical training ground for many young minds, some of whom would become famous designers of flying machines.
In the second half of the 20th century, an Aeronautical Institute, later the Department of Aerospace Engineering, was established at the Politecnico, and grew under the leadership of one of those young minds, Prof. Ermenegildo Preti. Expertise in aerodynamics, structural dynamics and flight mechanics grew; new fields of knowledge such as aeroelasticity and rotorcraft dynamics were promoted; new disciplines and experiments related to space missions were pursued. Meanwhile, a novel exclusive research field, crashworthiness, was introduced for the first time in Italy and a dedicated experimental facility was built.
In the two decades around the turn of the millennium, the Department of Aerospace Engineering is living feverishly its mature years. Wearing difficulties are intertwined with great achievements. Relocation to a new campus the other side of Milan, at the end of the 20th century, has led to more space for faculty and laboratories. The number of faculty and research staff has grown, more temporary young researchers are working in the Department, and also more students are registered in the Bachelor and Master in Aerospace Engineering.
Today, at the end of a troubled decade, the new Department of Aerospace Science and Technology is enlarging the scope of the former Department of Aerospace Engineering. The Department is actively engaged in several high-quality research fields. The focus of the research is mostly flying machines, ranging from unmanned vehicles to rotorcraft, aircraft and spacecraft, but also other machines as for instance land vehicles, watercraft and wind turbines.