Two international organizations have ranked the aerospace engineering program in the Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering among the top 10 such programs globally.

The Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) listed Virginia Tech fifth and Shanghai Global Rankings listed the university 10th in aerospace engineering, alongside several other top institutions, such as Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Michigan, California Institute of Technology, Delft University of Technology, and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

“The department’s collaborative research efforts position us as a major world leader in several strategic thrust areas, including autonomous aerial and marine vehicles, multidisciplinary design optimization of aircraft and ships, advanced propulsion systems, wind energy aerodynamics and aeroacoustics, small satellites and space missions, and cyber-physical security,” said Eric Paterson, head of the Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering. “We have outstanding faculty and students and a productive department. These quantitative polls validate where we stand and the work we continue to do.”

Virginia Tech aerospace and ocean engineering students are in high-demand for dynamic jobs that address multifaceted problems of the 21st century. Graduates work in such diverse fields as autonomous vehicles, space launch systems, green aviation and shipping, renewable energy, space-based remote sensing, and national defense, among others.

Unlike reputational rankings, which are based upon votes, Shanghai Ranking and CWUR apply quantitative techniques to determine world rankings. In the Shanghai Ranking system, school accomplishments are weighted according to total number of papers published in an academic subject, number of papers in top journals, impact of publications as measured by citations, faculty awards, and internationally collaborated work. The aerospace engineering category, in particular, heavily emphasizes publications in top aerospace engineering journals of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

The CWUR ranking system also applies points to several factors, including research article impact and innovation (in the form of patents); however, it also takes into account alumni employment and quality of education as determined by alumni recognition. At Virginia Tech, nearly three out of four alumni acquire full-time employment immediately following graduation, and the remaining quarter either further their education in graduate school or move into military service.

Virginia Tech aerospace graduate student Ning Liu installs a plenum probe.

Virginia Tech aerospace graduate student, Ning Liu, installs a plenum probe.

Virginia Tech’s aerospace and ocean engineering department has more than 550 undergraduate students and 175 graduate students. The program has extensive facilities, including the world-class Virginia Tech Stability Wind Tunnel; specialized wind and water tunnels for hypersonic, supersonic, subsonic, and drag-reduction research; Space@VT - a space science and engineering lab; the advanced power and propulsion lab; a high-quality machine shop and 3-D printers for additive manufacturing; and a flight-test runway and hanger for unmanned aircraft.

In November 2016, Virginia Tech named the department in honor of alumnus Kevin T. Crofton, president and chief executive officer of SPTS Technologies Ltd., in recognition of his extraordinary philanthropy. Crofton, a native of Fincastle, Virginia, committed $14 million to the department and $1 million to the university’s Division of Student Affairs.

Crofton’s generous donation supports the recruitment and significant investment into the research program of an internationally recognized scholar, Mark Psiaki, Virginia Tech professor of aerospace and ocean engineering, who has been named the Kevin T. Crofton Faculty Chair of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering.

This fall, eight undergraduates and two graduate students majoring in aerospace and or ocean engineering received Crofton scholarships. Students of high academic standing are chosen on the basis of financial need and underrepresentation in the College of Engineering.

According to Paterson, “the fields of aeronautics, astronautics, and hydronautics have more in common than ever, and we are in a strong position to develop fundamental technology associated with design and operation of next-generation airplanes, ships and submarines, spacecraft, and related systems.”

Written by Alec Masella