ILA History

The Institute over the years

The strengths reflected in ILA’s history are still its strengths today. Find out more here about how the facilities developed over time.

The Stuttgart environment traditionally had ties to aviation. Already before 1955, thanks to team work by state government and industry, three research facilities came into being: The German Interdisciplinary Helicopter Research Institute (1953), the Graf Zeppelin Research and Working Group (1954), and the Institute for Jet Propulsion (1954), which then developed into today’s Stuttgart-based German Aerospace (DLR) Research Center.  

ILA’s founder Ulrich Senger
ILA’s founder Ulrich Senger

In early 1948, Ulrich Senger, who subsequently founded the Institute of Aeronautical Propulsion Systems (ILA), was full professor of heat convection engineering and director of the engineering laboratory. The engineering labs at the technical universities were key research and testing facilities that carried out materials research, component testing, and research on complete machinery assemblies.

Planning the first altitude test stands

While active as director and chief engineer with BBC in Mannheim, besides working on steam turbines, Ulrich Senger had also worked with stationary gas turbines and turbo compressors. He was consulting expert and advisor for the development of aircraft turbo jet engines during the Second World War, and in that capacity oversaw the development of one the first altitude test stands (1943-1944). 

In 1945, this altitude test stand was shipped to the USA and became the first test facility at what is today the Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC) Research Center in Tullahoma, Tennessee. This research center, founded in 1951, is today the largest aerospace research centers in the world.

Consoles of the altitude test stand after its dedication in 1965.
Consoles of the altitude test stand after its dedication in 1965.

In a text commemorating 125 years of Stuttgart Technical University in 1954, Ulrich Senger wrote: “As part of the aeronautical research program at Stuttgart Technical University, we are planning to set up a gas turbine and jet engine research institute linked to the engineering laboratory and using some of its premises and facilities. Among other testing activities, here we will investigate turbine and supercharger blading, complete gas turbine groups. with and without cooling, as well as heat exchangers for gas turbines.”

1955: Founding of the Institute for Aircraft Turbo Engines

When the Allies in 1955 lifted the prohibition on aeronautical research by the Federal Republic, Ulrich Senger founded the Institute for Aircraft Turbo Engines with the mission described by him and housed in the engineering lab. The aeronautical engineering department in Stuttgart Technical University’ engineering faculty, together with the Institute for Aerodynamics and Gasdynamics and the Institute of Aircraft Design, resumed work.

The altitude test stand control room
The altitude test stand control room

During the 1960s, Ulrich Senger planned and supervised the relocation of his two institutes and engineering lab to Vaihingen at the Pfaffenwaldring 6 address. He conceived the altitude test stand for aircraft turbo engines that was inaugurated in 1964. In 1968, Ulrich Senger became professor emeritus; however, he continued to direct his institutes for the time being.

1970 to 1973: Renamed as the Institute of Aeronautical Propulsion Systems

From 1970 to 1973, Rolf D. Bühler, the founder of the Institute of Aerospace Propulsion, was director of the Institute for Aircraft Turbo Engines with its altitude test stand. During this period, the Institute received its current name of “Institute for Aeronautical Propulsion Systems.” In 1973, Wolfgang Braig took up the reins of the Institute. He had worked under Ulrich Senger in the group that designed the altitude test stand. The Institute meanwhile continued to grow and it acquired a second test hangar.

Test hangar 1 with altitude test stand
Test hangar 1 with altitude test stand

An altitude test stand in international demand

German firms, such as MTU and Rolls-Royce Germany, and international manufacturers have their jet engines and engine parts tested in the high-performance test stand. Research has led to development of methods for calculating operating characteristics of compressors and turbines as well as entire turbo engines that also apply to stationary gas turbines. A special research area is dedicated to studying air-breathing combination propulsion systems for launching the space shuttles of the future.

Additional test areas were:

  • Fluid mechanics measurement device with laser
  • Experiments in the water tank for visualizing turbine fluid mechanics
  • Methods for computing fluid mechanics in turbines to capture secondary flows and cooling air exhaust

A special Low Mach Number Test Installation was designed for analyzing the turbines of large engines either at actual size or scaled down for less energy use and lower cost. 

Institute director Stephan Staudacher
Institute director Stephan Staudacher

2001: Stephan Staudacher directs the Institute

In 2001, Stephan Staudacher took over direction of the Institute. Many of the previous research subjects have been pursued since then. Added to them are:

  • Development of small gas turbines
  • Engine controls and complex engine installations
  • Studies of manufacturing processes and the logistics of aircraft engines

Under this leadership, another test hangar commenced operation, which enables a larger air supply for the large test stand installation and provides space for research into small gas turbines.

Diverse cooperations and an endowed professorship

In the years after 2010, research and teaching at the Institute also benefited from collaboration with partner institutions from science and business. Both basic research and specific enhancement to propulsion systems and turbines enjoy an international reputation thanks in large part to the continually improved physical plant.

In January 2016, the research area structural mechanics of aircraft engines received special emphasis, with a junior professorship endowed by MTU AeroEngines. This area’s research focus is on the oscillation tendency of ever more lightweight and aerodynamically highly stressed aero engine components to oscillate.


This picture showsChristian Koch

Christian Koch

Academic employee, Academic advisor, deputy head of the institute

This picture showsConstanze Schiewe

Constanze Schiewe

Technical manager altitude test facility


Institute of Aircraft Propulsion Systems

Pfaffenwaldring 6, 70569 Stuttgart

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