Dr. Nicolai retired at the rank of Colonel from the USAF after 23 years where he served as an R&D officer and instructor at the USAF Academy He spent 33 years as an aerospace engineer, designer, and educator of over 3000 aerospace engineers in aircraft design. He was the author of four seminal textbooks on aircraft design.
Among his achievements in the field of aerospace engineering, Dr. Nicolai designed and developed the DARPA low-signature, nuclear-armed Advanced Cruise Missile (code name TEAL DAWN). Convair San Diego built 460 of them and they were deployed in 1990 as the USAF AGM-129A and decommissioned in 2012. He also designed the 500 lb, unmanned, AFFDL X-56 flutter research vehicle to explore high aspect ratio HALE flight technologies.
Among his awards, Dr. Nicolai is a Lockheed Martin Fellow, an AIAA Fellow, and is recipient of the AIAA Aircraft Design award, the SAE Kelly Johnson Aircraft Design award, the S. Cal. Engineering Council Kelly Johnson Aircraft Design Award, the AIAA Summerfield award, NATO/AGARD Outstanding Service award, LM Aero Presidents award, and LM Skunk Works Golden Skunk award.
Dr. Nicolai received the Aerospace Engineering Alumni Merit Award in 2020. It is one of three CoE Alumni Awards given by the Michigan Engineering Alumni Board honoring alumni who have contributed substantially to their field.
He was a major gift donor to the Aerospace department in support of graduate students. A display in his honor can be found in the FXB student lounge.