École nationale supérieure de l'aéronautique et de l'espace

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This article is about one of two French engineering schools called ENSAE. For alternative uses of ENSAE see the page ENSAE.
Type Grande école
Established 1909
Administrative staff
36 (permanent professors) + 90 (invited speakers)
Students about 550
Location Toulouse, Haute-Garonne, France
Campus Suburban
Mascot Little owl
Affiliations French Ministry of Defence, GEA
Website www.isae.fr

SUPAERO - École nationale supérieure de l'aéronautique et de l'espace ® ("SUPAERO", translated as "National Higher School of Aeronautics and Space"), founded in 1909, was one of the grandes écoles in France. It was the world's first dedicated aerospace engineering school and is considered to be one of the best in Europe in that field. SUPAERO's mascot is the little owl (Athene noctua), a symbol of wisdom sacred to the goddess Athena.

From 2007 onwards, SUPAERO no longer exists as a separate institution but is grouped together with ENSICA to form a new aeronautical school: Institut supérieur de l'aéronautique et de l'espace (ISAE-SUPAERO). The aim of this move was to increase the international visibility of both of the two schools (which depend from the French Ministry of Defense), by sharing their faculty and experimental means. The enrolment process for students, the courses, and the final diploma retain a distinction between graduates of the ENSICA track and the SUPAERO track. The present article focuses on SUPAERO only.

Within ISAE-SUPAERO, the SUPAERO engineer track offers a three-year curriculum and a master's program. Since its founding in 1909 SUPAERO has produced more than 11,000 graduates; some of them have achieved fame in their field, including: Henri Coandă, the discoverer of the Coanda effect; Henri Ziegler, father of the Airbus program; Frédéric d'Allest, first chairman of Arianespace; and Jean-François Clervoy (class of 1983), astronaut.


In 1909, an engineering officer, Colonel Jean-Baptiste Roche imagined the future prospects and uses that airplanes would have in the world, and founded the École supérieure d'aéronautique et de constructions mécaniques (Higher Aeronautics and Mechanical Building School) in Paris, boulevard Victor (which is now the campus of the ENSTA). The school became in 1930 the École nationale supérieure de l'aéronautique (National Higher School of Aeronautics); then, in 1972, it was called the École Nationale Supérieure de l'Aéronautique et de l'Espace or, more simply, SUPAERO, which is the name most associated with the school.[1]

In 1968 SUPAERO was relocated to the aerospace complex in Toulouse, at the heart of a world-class scientific and industrial environment. On the same site, a large research center called the Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches de Toulouse (CERT, the Study and Research Center of Toulouse) was built at the same time. This center, associated with the School, has become the Toulouse center of the ONERA (National Office for Aerospace Studies and Research). It carries out research directed by and towards the highly demanding aeronautical, aerospace and defence sectors. Nearby SUPAERO are also located the ENAC (the French National Higher School for Civilian Air Transport), the CNES (the French space agency) and the CNRS (the French National Centre for Scientific Research).

In 1994, SUPAERO became a public institution of an administrative nature under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense. It has a Board of Directors.

In 2007, SUPAERO merged with ENSICA, another aerospace engineering school from Toulouse, so as to achieve a critical mass or size which will give more international visibility. The new entity is called the Institut Supérieur de l'Aéronautique et de l'Espace (ISAE-SUPAERO). The two schools, however, retain their recruitment process for the student body and deliver two separate diplomas.[2]

SUPAERO also offers specialization programs for engineering students from École polytechnique and is authorized to award the degree of Doctor of the National Higher School of Air and Space engineering, with its own seal.


SUPAERO offers a broad education in engineering, focused mainly on those subjects that are of interest in the air or space industry, but also touching areas that may find applications in other fields as well. As a matter of fact, more than half of the students will end up working outside the aerospace industry.

As with all engineering schools in France, someone obtaining a diploma from SUPAERO will have completed at least five years of studies after high school. The engineering degree is obtained after at least two years of studies at the school and an initial education either in elite Classes Préparatoires or at university (with excellent grades). SUPAERO delivers master's degrees as well for students coming from other schools or universities, and wishing to specialise.

First year[edit]

The first year is attended by circa 120 students coming from two years-long classes préparatoires after high school, who already possess excellent bases in higher mathematics and physics, and have successfully passed a stringent competitive examination sat by about 11,000 students annually.[3] The first year at SUPAERO aims at perfecting that knowledge and gradually giving the student skills more directly applicable in the industry. Students finish their education in advanced mathematics and physics that they have started prior to their admission to SUPAERO, and learn subjects such as quantum mechanics, lasers, advanced thermodynamics, advanced solid mechanics. They also have a ground-up education on aerodynamics and flight dynamics, with numerous practical sessions. Time is also spent on humanities: students are required to take at least two foreign languages among which one must be English but are allowed to take up to four languages if they wish to do so. They also must attend culture seminaries, which are held by specialists of the field.

At the right corner of the Bâtiment d'Enseignement stands this Mirage III fighter

The program also places a strong emphasis on practical education, with, for instance, two projects called Travaux Expérimentaux (experimental works) where students, working in pairs, discover a subject conducting experiments under the supervision of one or two laboratory assistants. The subjects range from microwave engineering, wind tunnel experiences to live flight tests in one of Supaero's planes, a TB-20 that has been modified and certified for experimental flights. Each Travail Experimental is done in ten sessions of two hours.

Near the end of the first year, students can specialise in one of the following branches: computer science, aircraft engineering, finance, advanced physics. The year ends with a personal project (called PIR, projet d'initiation à la recherche) on a subject freely chosen (which might belong either to the engineering field and/or humanities).

Second year[edit]

The second year is attended by the first years, as well as a number of students coming from other French or foreign universities, and military officers (about four or five each year), thus bringing the total number of students to about 150. Academically speaking, the second year is quite similar to the first. Students continue their education in engineering, now learning automation, structure mechanics, signal processing, furthering their knowledge in aerodynamics and flight dynamics (with at least one practical flight in one of the DR-400 of SUPAERO's fleet), etc. In February, students specialise in one of the following branches:

At the end of the second year, the students have a one-month project done in a team of four, with no courses to attend. The project is strictly experimental and related to engineering topics (in a sharp contrast to the first-year project where "everything" is possible). The projects are sometimes studies done for industrials, under the supervision of a professor. Students can skip the project and do a three-months internship instead.

Third year[edit]

The third year can either be done at SUPAERO, or in a foreign university, or be spent in a year-long internship (in which case, the student comes back one year after to do his third academic year). This year is attended by students coming from the second year, as well as about thirty students coming from the École polytechnique.

In their third year, students choose a domaine (major) in one of five fields, then choose a further specialisation (approfondissements, in-depth option). The domaines are:

  • Systèmes Aéronautiques (Aeronautical Systems)
  • Systèmes Embarqués (Embedded Systems)
  • Systèmes Energétiques (Energy Systems)
  • Systèmes d'Information et de Décision (Information and Decision Systems)
  • Systèmes Spatiaux des Satellites et Lanceurs (Satellites and Launchers Space Systems)
  • Systèmes Complexes et Simulations (Complex Systems and Simulations)

The in-depth options are:

  • Aérodynamique (AE - Aerodynamics)
  • Automatique (AU - Automation)
  • Ingénierie Financière (IF - Financial Engineering)
  • Systèmes Informatiques (IN - Information Systems)
  • Génie Industriel (GI - Industrial Engineering)
  • Sciences de l'Univers (SU - Space Science)
  • Propulsion (PR - Propulsion)
  • Signal et Images (SI - Signal and Image Processing)
  • Structures (ST - Structural Mechanics)
  • Télécommunications et Réseaux par Satellites (TR - Satellites Telecommunications and Networks)

All these options are taught by invited guests coming from all over France, and working in corporations such as Airbus, Alcatel Space, Dassault, EADS, the French space agency (CNES), as well as research laboratories: ONERA, LAAS/CNRS, or the INRIA, for instance.

Eligible students can also take additional courses to obtain a research-oriented master (formerly known as the Diplôme d'Études Approfondies) in a field compatible with their education. This will enable them to start a Ph.D. after the end of the year. Also, some students may choose to take additional courses in management at the end of the year to obtain the DESIA (Diplôme d'Etudes Supérieures en Ingéniérie des Affaires).

In third year, courses end in mid-March. To complete their studies, students must do an internship of at least five months, but six months are not unusual. The graduation ceremony takes place invariably on the first Friday of October, and is followed by the traditional prom ball on the next Saturday.


SUPAERO delivers Mastères Spécialisé as well as the MSc in Aeronautical Engineering taught in English, for people having a bachelor of science or another MSc.[4] The courses last at least three trimesters.

International cooperation[edit]

SUPAERO collaborates with the following 39 universities:

Student activities, events[edit]

Many events are organized annually by the students of the school among which the best known are:

  • The Trophée Aérien, an international flight rally
  • Supaerowing, an international rowing competition that is held on the Garonne.
  • The Convention, the first and most famous role-playing convention in France;

Students also take part in the annual Tournoi des Grandes Ecoles, a sports competition gathering students from all Grandes Ecoles in France, accompanied by their mascot, the toothed owl.

SUPAERO has also distinguished itself in the field of robotics, having ranked third (in 2003) and first (in 2004) at the Eurobot Open [1][2], and coming up regularly in the top-ranking teams of the French Robotics Cup.


Students and the faculty are usually involved in long-term projects lasting many years, aiming at promoting a team spirit between the various departments of the school. A notable project is the Petit Canard (the Duckling), a training twin-jet aircraft prototype constructed in the '70s.[5] In the late '90s, SUPAERO provided the primary ground stations at Cayenne for the HETE and HETE 2 satellites [3]. Currently, many of the projects revolve around micro-drones.

However, the bulk of the research is generally performed and published as coming from the ONERA offices of Toulouse (which are located next to the school) and near Paris, or other laboratories such as the LAAS or the INRIA with which SUPAERO has privileged links. This accounts for the serious underestimation of the number of published papers and patents obtained by the school. Indeed, a vast majority of the professors at SUPAERO share their time between the school (for the teaching part) and nearby laboratories (for the research part). Similarly, most PhD students from SUPAERO actually do their research in collaboration with other labs and are likely to publish as members from other institutions. Limiting schools and universities to (mostly) teaching, and doing the research in dedicated labs is a typical French mindset and SUPAERO is no exception to the rule. This is discussed further in the article dedicated to education in France.

Famous alumni[edit]

During the 5 years preceding the first world war, SUPAERO produced 303 qualified engineers, 52 of which were foreigners. Among them are found some great names in aeronautics:

References and footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Once a nickname, the name SUPAERO (in capitals) is now endorsed by the school as part of a trademark (no. 03 3 239 011 deposited on July 30, 2003 at INPI), now belonging to ISAE-SUPAERO (http://bases-marques.inpi.fr/Typo3_INPI_Marques/getPdf?idObjet=3239011_201236_fmark).
  2. ^ ENSICA-SUPAERO merger project (in French)
  3. ^ Official Website of the Mines Competitive Exam
  4. ^ http://www.isae.fr/en/isae_training_offer2.html
  5. ^ The Petit Canard at the CAEA museum

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 43°33′56″N 1°28′27″E / 43.56556°N 1.47417°E / 43.56556; 1.47417