The Aerospace Engineering Department at U-M is centrally located in the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Building, a highly modern 100,000 square-foot complex that includes classrooms, teaching laboratories, research laboratories, faculty and staff offices, and a student learning center. Not only do students in the program benefit from this outstanding facility, but the building also has a lot of history behind its name.
By 1982, the Aerospace Engineering department was already familiar with greatness: Its professors and alumni included names like Kelly Johnson, Ed White, Edward Stalker, and Felix Pawlowski. In its rich, 68-year history, many had passed through the program, but few would be remembered like François-Xavier Bagnoud.
François was born in 1961 in Geneva, Switzerland and spent his childhood attending The American School in Paris. Passionate about flight from a young age, François was already a licensed and accomplished pilot by the time he completed secondary school, and it was no surprise when he travelled to Ann Arbor to study aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan in 1979.
During his time at Michigan, François went above and beyond the requirements of the typical undergraduate. On top of his coursework, he founded the University’s student branch of the American Helicopter Society and wrote “Helicopter Theory for Private Pilots”, which is still widely used by pilot trainees in Europe. In addition to these accomplishments, François successfully completed his Bachelor’s in Aerospace Engineering in only three years, graduating in 1982.
Following graduation, François embraced his enthusiasm for flight and joined his father working at Air Glacier, Switzerland’s largest private Alpine rescue and mountain flying company. At 23, he became the youngest professional IFR (Instrument Flight Related) pilot for both planes and helicopters, and, in addition to his normal pilot responsibilities, flew over 300 successful operations in both the Alps and Paris.
Tragically, on January 14, 1986, less than four years after graduating from the University of Michigan, François was killed in a helicopter accident in the desert of Mali, West Africa. At only 24, he died following his loves of flight and rescuing others.
To honor his death, François’ parents, Countess Albina du Biosrouvra and Bruno Bagnoud, and his close friends from Michigan, founded the François-Xavier Bagnoud Foundation.
“My son François was passionate about rescuing people,” writes his mother on the Foundation’s website, FXB.org. “As a helicopter pilot, it was his job – but also his life. When he died, I wanted to keep François’ passion alive by promoting the things that fascinated him, and by rescuing orphans and people around the world from extreme poverty. And so FXB was born, with the ultimate aim to bring about peace and security in the world by focusing on children, youth and women.”
The organization’s efforts have helped thousands in the years since its inception. In addition to extensive work abroad, the FXB Foundation also generously donated the funding for the current home of the Aerospace Engineering department, the François-Xavier Bagnoud Building, as well as the adjacent Wave Field sculpture by artist Maya Lin. The Foundation has also provided a number of graduate student fellowships, a chaired professorship, the Center for Rotary and Fixed Wing Design, and the FXB Aerospace Prize of $250,000. This generosity has launched the careers of dozens of aerospace engineers and spawned hundreds of fond memories of the University of Michigan, a place dear to François’ heart.
François-Xavier Bagnoud lived a life of enthusiasm, generosity, selflessness, and humble heroism, and he is honored throughout the halls of the building that holds his name and the inspiring legacy he leaves behind.
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