World Class Academics & Research

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Flies Into the Future

By: Shawna Serig Kelsch

The progression of Embry Riddle Aeronautical University from start-up to non-profit academic institution reads like a screenplay from a 1940’s film noir: dashing barnstorming pilots, war-time aviation training, sea planes and socialites, wealth and power. Howard Hughes and Jane Russell were even part of the early story, and it is rumored that John F. Kennedy took part in training exercises at the school.

Established first as a business in 1925, the Embry-Riddle Company was founded to promote aviation through any means imaginable: air-mail carrier, aircraft sales, instruction, thrill rides, air shows and others. In 1930, the company was bought and merged with American Airways and its namesakes T. Higbee Embry and John Paul Riddle went their separate ways, the first to California and the latter to New York.

A few moves around the country and a decade later with a clear vision of a flight training university in his mind, Riddle relocated to South Florida and shortly after, opened the Embry-Riddle School of Aviation in Miami.

Critical Training for a Critical Time
During World War II, training facilities hosted cadets from the Army Air Corps and the Royal Air Force, and training also was provided to engine and instrument specialists. The expertise of the pilots, mechanics and technicians to the war effort was heroic and well documented.

More training was offered in subsequent conflicts (Korea and others) as the institution continued to grow and attract students from around the world. The company status was changed to a non-profit organization in 1959.

In 1965, “Operation Bootstrap” packed, moved and reassembled the organization from Miami to Daytona Beach over a three- day weekend. In 1968, university accreditation was approved, and in 1970, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University was adopted as the new name of the institution.

A Magnet University
Today, ERAU (as it is called by faculty and students) is a world- class academic university. Undergraduate, graduate and doctorate programs of study focus on seven core areas, including: applied science; aviation; business; computers & technology; engineering; security, intelligence, and safety; and space, with varying degrees and concentrations available in each field.

Students at ERAU flock to the university for its accredited (and very demanding) flight training and air traffic control programs, but there are also various degree programs offered in aviation and aerospace forensics, aquaponics (for food growth in space), civil engineering, clean energy, intelligent transport, spacecraft development, unmanned systems (both piloting and design) and much more. To date, ERAU has graduated six former and current NASA astronauts, along with a host of high ranking military personnel, researchers and more.

A Foot in the Present, An Eye on the Future
It’s clear that ERAU is keeping up with technological advances. The latest addition to the university is the 2-ton Ritchey-Chretien reflecting telescope, housed at the College of Arts & Sciences, which can gather millions more light than can be seen by the human eye. Another is at the Creekside Observatory at the Lehman Engineering and Technology Center; the telescope there is used to support courses in astronomy, astrophysics, planetary science and public viewing.

Additionally, in an effort to converge start-up businesses with research, academic and professional resources, along with the capital needed to fund new projects, the University recently opened The John Mica Engineering and Aerospace Innovation Complex at Embry-Riddle Research Park (commonly referred to as the MicaPlex).

According to Rodney Cruise, ERAU’s senior vice president for administration and planning, the work will begin immediately.

“We already have three start-ups committed to start as soon as the doors open,” he said. Though under disclosure agreements and not allowed to (yet) mention the companies by names, their work will be centered around developing and improving technologies in three diverse markets: cube satellites, medical devices and drones.

“The work at the complex will show how we can support programs outside of the university, while still contributing to industry, research, academics and the community,” he said.

Expected Continued Growth
Another milestone at ERAU is happening now. In the year after its 90th anniversary celebration, the university is welcoming a new leader, one with a bona fide history of leading expansion and growth at academic institutions.

On March 13, Dr. P. Barry Butler joined ERAU as president. Butler had previously been employed by the University of Iowa as provost, where he was responsible for more than 100 academic programs at the university’s 11 colleges and a general education fund budget in excess of $700 million. Prior to this role, Butler served as dean of the University of Iowa’s College of Engineering.

Cruise believes this is an exciting and pivotal time at ERAU, and that transformation is all but guaranteed.

The university is moving into new territory. “We are transitioning from a teaching institution into a [more focused] applied research institution, and that will mean a great transformation for both the university and our community,” he said.


According to U.S. News & World Report Best College Rankings, in 2017 Embry Riddle Aeronautical University was singled out for the following:

• No. 1 for Best Online bachelor’s programs for the second straight year (Worldwide Campus)

• No. 1 for undergraduate aerospace engineering program in Florida

• No. 2 for undergraduate engineering program in Florida

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