Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development (AGARD)

During a period of more then 45 years there have been many changes, including two re-locations of the AGARD Headquarters.

The Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development (AGARD) was formed in 1952 and became an agency under the Military Committee in 1966.

Its task was to foster and improve the interchange of information relating to aerospace research and development between the NATO nations.

AGARD also provided scientific and technical advice and assistance to the NATO Military Committee in the field of aerospace research and development, with particular regard to military applications.

On the 1st of january 1998, by approval of the charter, a new organization was formed by the merger of the Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development and the Defence Research Group (DRG) to form the Research and Technology Organisation (RTO).

AGARD, the Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development, represents a pioneering, successful experiment in scientific cooperation among NATO nations. The founder and first chairman of AGARD, Dr. Theodore von Kármán, had dedicated his life to the enhancement of understanding and cooperation among scientists of different nations. Therefore, in order to give perspective to the History of AGARD, it is considered helpful to trace earlier events which show how the concept of AGARD progressively developed in the mind of its creator.

Dr. von Kármán's lifelong mission of scientific cooperation was inherited from his father, Maurice von Kármán, a distinguished philosopher and educator at the University of Budapest, who at the beginning of this century predicted that in about fifty years, scientific understanding would transcend national boundaries and lead to international cooperative ventures. AGARD is, in a very general sense, a creation by the son bearing out the prediction of the father half a century earlier.

In order to set the stage for the origin of AGARD, we go back to the advent of World War II. Dr. von Kármán, then Director of the Guggenheim Aeronautics Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, was greatly saddened by the setback to international scientific cooperation, which he believed should eventually counter the irrationality of armed conflict. At the same time he was convinced that in times of world unrest, the United States and its allies should be backed by the most technically advanced military strength. For this reason, he gave unstintingly of his time and effort to help the US armed forces with their technical problems, including a new trend, originated by him, of providing special research and development indoctrination to young military officers. His statement, reproduced in the history of the USA Scientific Advisory Board:

'.... scientific results cannot be used efficiently by soldiers who have no understanding of them, and scientists cannot produce results useful for warfare without an understanding of the operations.’

During this period, Dr. von Kármán was especially impressed by the vision shown by General H.H.(Hap) Arnold, whom he had first known as Commander of the Air Base at March Field, California; later as Commanding General of the Army Air Corps, and its successor, the US Air Force. 

The Scientific Advisory Group of the US Army Air Corps

In the Summer of 1944, General Arnold felt the need of a plan which looked far ahead, taking into account potential scientific advances, to ensure the best possible future Air Force. He believed that the war was being won more by sheer force and mass production than by technical superiority; this scientific deficiency should never be allowed to happen again. Military strength based on the latest technical advances should form the best deterrent against future aggression.

In September 1944, Gen. Arnold asked Dr. von Kármán if he would assemble a small group of scientists to look forward twenty years or more into all phases of aviation that could affect the development of future air power. Dr. von Kármán was pleased to accept, and established the Army Air Corps Scientific Advisory Group (which later became the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board). This Group prepared the series of long term scientific studies known as 'Towards New Horizons'.

During the Spring of 1945, as the war approached its end, Dr von Kármán became extremely interested in knowing what had been happening scientifically in Europe during the war years; with the objective of planning how best to build for the future. Gen. Arnold had similar interests from the overall Air Force point of view, and it was natural that arrangements were made for a Scientific Advisory Group team to visit Europe, and later the Far East, on a mission of scientific assessment.

International Scientific Cooperation

The task of rebuilding and strengthening scientific cooperation and understanding among scientists of different nations with common interests and goals was a prime preoccupation of Dr. von Kármán during the Summer and Fall of 1945; which was helped by 'brain-storming’ sessions with Dryden, Putt, Schairer and Wattendorf at Volkenrode in May 1945. He used his associates and scientist friends in different countries as sounding boards for mutual stimulation of ideas.

During this period, concepts were discussed in principle which, although premature at the time, eventually took tangible form. Examples of general concepts discussed at that time and names of organizations which eventually materialized are:

  • A scientific advisory group to a group of nations with similar interests (AGARD);
  • Stimulation of basic research in friendly nations (the European Office of Air Research);
  • Initiation of cooperative development projects with friendly nations (the Mutual Weapons Development Programme, MWDP);
  • Multi-national aeronautical research centre (the Training Centre for Experimental Aerodynamics, now the Von Kármán Institute, VKI);
  • International Societies in aeronautics and allied fields [the International Council of the Aeronautical Sciences (ICAS); and the International Academy of Aeronautics (IAA)].

Another concrete move he made was to resume meetings of the International Congress of Applied Mechanics (ICM), and he succeeded in having the first post-war meeting as early as 1946, in Paris. At this time the International Union for Theoretical and Applied Mechanics (IUTAM) was formed, with Dr von Kármán as Honorary President.

In 1947, Prof. Henri Laugier, Assistant Secretary General for Social Affairs of the newly created United Nations, asked Dr. von Kármán for ideas on how scientists could assist the UN in maintaining world peace. Dr. von Kármán writes in 'The Wind and Beyond':

'... I urged as a first step toward permanent peace the establishment of key international research centres, designed to attract learned men of all countries who would come to exchange ideas. I envisioned a return of the vagrants, or wandering scholars of the Middle Ages, who would, I felt, act as ambassadors to lay the foundations of international good will.'

Following this, Dr. von Kármán made contributions to the solution of soil erosion problems of the arid zones, and recommended an international study centre in fluid mechanics. Eventually, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) set up an Arid Zone Research Program, but Dr. von Kármán found the United Nations not entirely suitable as a possible framework for his proposed fluid dynamics centre.

The Foundation of AGARD 1950 — 1952

The Concept

The beginning of AGARD can best be described in Dr. von Kármán's own words [see Ref.1 cited before Chapter 1]:

'Then one day in April 1949, I read in the paper of the birth of NATO. Here was a small and simply administered group of nations bound together by the needs of defense. For my purpose it looked ideal. Why not use NATO as a pilot plant to test out the feasibility of scientific cooperation? I had concluded back in Volkenrode in 1945 that progress in technology was so swift that only a pool of nations could properly utilize scientific advances for mutual protection. With such an effort, it seemed to me, the international character of science could grow.

After that, my ideas began to firm up. Why not set up for NATO a scientific advisory board similar to the Scientific Advisory Board of the US Air Force? Such a board could insure the NATO countries that they would always have the best technology at their command.'

Dr. von Kármán's ideas were well received by the Chief of Staff of the US Air Force and by Robert A.Lovett, Deputy Secretary for Defense. With this encouragement Dr. von Kármán went to Europe and undertook, in the Summer of 1950, a study of the state of aeronautical science in the member nations of NATO.

After his return, in September 1950, Dr. von Kármán wrote to Maj. Gen. Donald Putt, Deputy Chief of Staff for Research and Development, US Air Force:

'I came to the conclusion that the mobilization of science for research useful for defense is yet in a very rudimentary stage in most countries. It appears that the mobilization of scientific effort in Continental Europe can be effective only if the countries work in close collaboration with one another.'

In this same memorandum, Dr. von Kármán recommended that the Scientific Advisory Board invite the directors of aeronautical research establishments of the NATO countries to a conference in the United States, in early 1951, to exchange views. It was his own opinion, based on discussions with Gen. Gruenther, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, that it would be wisest to initiate cooperation in specific scientific fields, and that such cooperation in the aeronautical sciences would be especially timely from the NATO viewpoint.

The above proposal was passed by Gen. Vandenberg to the Standing Group of the NATO Military Committee, who agreed that the US Air Force as Executive Agent should convene such a conference. Dr. von Kármán and Scientific Advisory Board associates started work as expressed in his own words:

'... In the next few days my associates and I made plans, and in February 1951 we invited the twelve NATO nations to a conference at the Pentagon. Representatives of eight nations (Luxembourg basically represented by Belgium) showed up.'

The names by country of the delegates attending the 1951 Conference were:


CANADA Dr. J.J.Green, Mr. J.H.Parkin, Grp Capt. Truscott
DENMARK Major P.N.Brandt-Moeller
FRANCE Ing. Gen. J.Gerardin, Ing. Gen. J.E.Lafargue, Mr. M.Roy
ITALY Prof. L.Broglio, Mr F.Fiorio
NETHERLANDS Prof. H.J. van der Maas, Mr C.Koning
UNITED KINGDOM Mr E.T.Jones, Mr W.G.A. Perring
UNITED STATES Dr H.L.Dryden, Dr T. von Kármán


The Recommendation

At the series of meetings, which occupied a full week, each delegate gave a résumé of the state of research, organization and facilities in the aeronautical sciences in his country. These contributions made clear that there were many common problems as well as gaps; so that the delegates become convinced of the desirability and usefulness of cooperation. In their own words:

'In the present world situation, faced as they were with common problems of grave importance, there was an urgent need, as well as the existing potential, for working together in mobilizing to mutual advantage the scientific and technical skill, manpower and facilities of all NATO nations'.

The delegates were of the opinion that, without affecting the principles of national policies, it was possible to accomplish much by the exchange of information and by the fullest use of qualified manpower and existing research and development facilities to mutual advantage. They were convinced that it was both urgent and practicable to bring about cooperation in the field of aeronautics for the common good, and with immediate benefit to all nations concerned. The conference unanimously recommended:

  1. That an Advisory Group for Aeronautical Research and Development be established without delay within the existing NATO framework;
  2. That NATO consider the establishment of a Scientific Advisory Board covering the broad field of defence science to deal with broad policy questions, and reporting to the Defense Committee.

The report of the conference with the above recommendations was transmitted to the Standing Group on 15 February 1951, by Gen. Vandenberg, with the additional suggestion that NATO appoint the US Air Force as Executive Agent for implementation of the conference's recommendations.

Dr. von Kármán's own remarks on the outcome of the 1951 meeting were:

'At the meeting, I explained the basic purposes of the scientific advisory board, and together we worked out a proposal to the high command of NATO. In essence the NATO Advisory Group for Aeronautical Research and Development, or AGARD, as we abbreviated it, would review advances in aeronautical science, exchange important information, and recommend how the scientific talents within NATO could best be employed in strengthening overall technical ability to solve mutual defence problems. We sent the proposal to the Standing Group, the team of four-star generals and admirals from the United States, United Kingdom and France who comprised the NATO General Staff. Each member of the Standing Group ... would forward our document to his nation's joint Chiefs of Staff. When we disbanded that night, we felt the exhilaration of success in setting up a new and exciting international organization.'

Approval and Establishment of AGARD

The establishment of AGARD was finally approved by the Standing Group on 24 January 1952 but the second recommendation for consideration of a Scientific Advisory Board covering the broad field of defence science was not accepted for the time being. (However, NATO did recognise the broader need in 1957 when it established the Science Committee as a Council Committee.) The Standing Group accepted the US Air Force's offer to be executive agent but made it provisional for a two-year trial basis, after which time, if the experiment was successful, AGARD could be recommended for integration into NATO.

After obtaining Standing Group approval for AGARD, Dr. von Kármán was appointed chairman of the Group, and he started an intensive drive to get the nucleus of an organization in operation as quickly as possible. In April 1952 AGARD established an office in NATO Headquarters, Palais de Chaillot, Paris.

Dr. von Kármán notified the Standing Group that he proposed to hold the first meeting of AGARD during the period 19 — 21 May in Paris and asked them to invite their governments to appoint representatives or national delegates. The Standing group on 3 April 1952 notified all members of the Military Committee of this proposed initial meeting of AGARD and invited all respective governments to appoint one or two scientific delegates as permanent members of AGARD.

Replies from the nations were expedited by intensive efforts involving personal contacts in the different countries by visit, telephone, cable or letter to assure appropriate attendance at the first meeting. Dr. von Kármán remarked:

'... It wasn't until February 1952 that AGARD was approved, and I could throw myself into the job of setting up the organization. A task force led by Frank Wattendorf and consisting of Col. Paul Dane of JATO fame, Col. John J.Driscoll, and June Merker, my personal assistant, went to Paris to set up the office, and in May 1952, with the help of Rolland Willaume, our able assistant in Paris, we organized the first General Assembly of AGARD, a meeting of the scientific representatives of twelve nations. I was personally thrilled to see the enthusiasm with which the entire scheme was being greeted. AGARD would be an important nucleus in the modern revival of the internationalism that my father had dreamed of a half century ago.’

The Early Years 1952 — 1964

First General Assembly — Paris, 1952

The inaugural meeting of AGARD was held at the Museée de l'Homme, Palais de Chaillot in Paris, 19 through 21 May 1952, with the delegates of eleven nations as follows:

  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Greece
  • Italy
  • The Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Turkey
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

The main objective of this first meeting was to select the technical fields and the specific subjects within these fields on which the initial effort of AGARD should be concentrated. Suitable fields of aeronautical activity suggested by Dr. von Kármán were:

1. Aerodynamics and Aircraft Design

2. Propulsion

3. Aircraft Materials

4. Electronics and Communications

5. Aeromedicine

6. Geophysics and Meteorology

7. Armament and Instrumentation

The three broad types of problems into which the activities of AGARD might be classified were:

  1. Fundamental research problems
  2. Applied research problems concerned with the mission of the Air Forces within NATO.
  3. Coordination of means of research within NATO.

These three categories were further broken down into typical examples as follows:

Fundamental Research Problems:

  1. The problems of combustion
  2. Problems concerning shock waves
  3. Aerothermodynamic problems of flow at very high Mach number
  4. Unconventional lifting systems
  5. Boundary layer control
  6. Flutter in high speed aircraft
  7. Aerodynamics of turbines and compressors
  8. Modern problems in aircraft materials
  9. Problems of physics of high altitude
  10. Infra-red research.

Applied Research Problems:

  1. Methods of experimentation in flight
  2. Aeromedicine — the human element in flight
  3. Electronics in air defence
  4. Meteorology of high altitudes and polar regions
  5. Take-off and landing problems involved in operations in Europe and North Africa.
  6. Aerodynamic problems in modern armament.

Coordination of Means of Research:

  1. Wind tunnels
  2. Engine and rocket testing facilities
  3. Experimental flight test facilities
  4. Utilization of missile ranges

At this inaugural meeting, in addition to discussions on general matters of policy, talks were given on the present status of selected items in typical areas for each of the proposed AGARD activities. Research on combustion was chosen as representative of Fundamental Research; flight testing techniques and aeromedicine provided two examples in Applied Research; and wind tunnels were considered important for Coordination of Means of Research.

It was recommended by Dr. von Kármán that working groups or panels be established in these four areas to conduct studies and reviews culminating in specific recommendations for further action.

The National Delegates agreed to the above recommendations, and decided to establish an Executive Committee to plan the implementation during the interim period. At the close of the meeting, Dr. von Kármán on behalf of the delegates thanked Mr. Roy, Prof. Pérès and Ing. Gén. Gerardin for their help in making the first meeting in Paris so successful.


First Executive Committee Meeting

The members of the first Executive Committee were:

  • Dr. Theodore von Kármán, Chairman
  • Mr. Maurice Roy, France
  • Mr. C.Koning, Netherlands
  • Mr. E.T.Jones, UK
  • Dr. Frank Wattendorf, ex officio

This Committee held its first meeting in London, in the Ministry of Supply, on 30 May 1952, to carry out the general resolutions of the First General Assembly. First the Committee finalized the resolutions in a form suitable for presentation to the NATO Standing Group; then it drew up a set of by-laws and operating procedures to supplement the Charter established by the Standing Group; finally it suggested initial activities for the four Panels recommended by the National Delegates as follows:

Combustion Panel (Fundamental Research)

  1. Publication of a survey of the combustion problems in propulsion today (e.g. flame holding problems at high velocity).
  2. Preparation of a survey of the fundamental problems in combustion, emphasizing their aerothermodynamic aspects.
  3. Preparation of a roster of research scientists concerned with the problems of combustion.

Aeromedical Panel (Applied Research)

  1. Aeromedical indoctrination of aviation personnel.
  2. Survey of NATO aeromedical scientists and aeromedical research laboratories and facilities.
  3. Publication of a bi-monthly information exchange bulletin.

Flight Test and Instrumentation Panel (Applied Research)

  1. Evaluation of flight techniques and associated instrumentation used by the NATO nations, with a view towards preparing a NATO flight test manual.
  2. Study of trends and desirable future requirements in flight test techniques and associated instrumentation.
  3. Survey of flight test problems of primary interest to the NATO nations.
  4. Exchange of instrumentation between NATO nations.

Wind Tunnel and Model Testing Panel (Coordination of Means of Research)

  1. Publication of a wind tunnel design handbook incorporating high speed experience.
  2. Exchange of instrumentation and calibration models between NATO nations.
  3. Recommendations on expediting the common use of wind tunnel and model test facilities of the NATO nations for solving their important aerodynamic problems.

First Report to the Standing Group

It was Dr. von Kármán's policy from the beginning to keep the Standing Group fully informed by personal contact, in the form of periodic briefings, as a complement to normal correspondence. To start this procedure, in June 1952, he went, accompanied by Dr. Wattendorf and Col. Dane, to Washington, where he gave the Standing Group and the Military Committee a comprehensive briefing on the formation of AGARD, including the First General Assembly, and the course of action outlined by the Executive Committee. The Standing Group expressed complete satisfaction that the programme was well under way in such a short time, approved the planned approach, and agreed that the Research and Development

Committee of the Standing Group would work with the AGARD staff wherever it would be helpful. Subsequently, Dr. Wattendorf and Col. Dane met the Research and Development Committee in the first of a series of periodic meetings.

Dr. von Kármán told the Standing Group that conditions for research were more favourable in some countries than in others; however, he believed that conditions could and should be created in all NATO nations for participation in aeronautical research. This was important since no one nation could be self-sufficient. He visualised AGARD as the clearing house to consider how best to organize research and development for the mutual good of the NATO countries. He said that there were three different categories of problems:

  1. fundamental research,
  2. applied research and,
  3. coordination of means of research.

The National Delegates had decided to establish panels in:

  1. combustion research as a pilot venture in category,
  2. flight test and aviation medicine as examples of category,
  3. wind tunnels as examples of category.

For initial activities, these were fields in which there was an urgent need combined with a possibility of tangible accomplishments within the two-year trial period.

Coordination with the Standing Group was also discussed, including the mechanism of feeding-in technical problems raised by the Military Committee. It was decided that the best method would be to continue the procedure of periodic briefings of the Military Committee by the Chairman; and periodic staff meetings between the Research and Development Committee and the AGARD Director and senior staff.

During the Summer of 1952 effort was concentrated on establishing the four Panels as soon as possible, with nationally-appointed experts. Problems were selected which showed promise of tangible accomplishments in the two-year trial period.

By the end of 1952, the first four Panels, with international membership from NATO nations, had been formed and all had started work.

The End 1952 — 1997

Fortunately the Directors of AGARD in Paris and the Heads of the DRG Support Group in Brussels realised from the beginning that coordination was essential, even though their mode of operation was different. So the two groups had intensive contacts and made sure that their activities were complementary and duplication of effort was avoided. Through this coordination several joint activities took place which led to very positive results for the NATO nations in the area of research and development. The joint conferences on subjects like the goals and the management of research often seemed non-committal, but in the final analysis the contacts made during those conferences and the proceedings were important in developing a common understanding. Through those efforts the NATO community was continuously strengthened.

The political events of 1989 and the following years, during which the relations between the NATO countries and the (now former) Warsaw Pact countries rapidly improved, was a reason for the NATO Council to examine the structure of its organization. Elements of this process were the research and technology agencies and organizations of NATO. It seemed natural to join the AGARD organization and DRG into one organization, and in 1996 the two organizations were joined into the new NATO Research and Technology Organization (RTO).

In April 1997 the new RTO organised an AGARD Conference on "Future Aerospace Technology in the Service of the Alliance" at Paris. This meeting was held at the École Polytechnique, Palaiseau, near Paris. A welcome address was given by Gen. J-P. Douin, Chief of Staff of the French Armed Forces.Gen. K.Naumann, Chairman of the Military Committee, responded. He also thanked the French authorities for their hospitality to AGARD during the 45 years of its existence. The Board Meeting was preceded by a Multi-Panel symposium, withover 1000 participants, which covered three topics in the form of three simultaneous inter-disciplinary symposia.

Mr Xavier SolanaAt the closing ceremony of that Conference the Secretary-General of NATO, Mr Xavier Solana,  officially announced the absorption of AGARD into the new R&T Organization. The last words of his speech were:

"Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with great appreciation that I hereby formally disband the AGARD National Delegates Board, noting that its responsibilities have been assumed by the NATO Research and Technology Board".


See also: