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In 1946 the University acquired Willow Run airport in Ypsilanti, Michigan from the federal government for $1.00, and in fulfillment of the requirement that it be operated also as a research facility, the Michigan Aeronautical Research Center was established. It was administered as part of the Engineering Research Institute (ERI) of the University, which was created in 1920 to facilitate research in the College of Engineering.

Willow Run airport served as the main airport for Detroit and southeastern Michigan, but with the creation of MARC, some of the hangars, peripheral buildings and even part of the Terminal Building itself were used to accommodate a growing research activity. The initial thrust of the research was established in 1946 by project WIZARD, which was concerned with defense against ballistic V-2 type rockets and, later, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the Center played an important role in the development of the country's entire air defense capability. Analysis, control, system design, simulation and computation were all aspects of the work involved.

For a time, the university housed some of its students in the apartments previously used by plant workers. Many of the buildings at the airport were used by University of Michigan physicists and engineers in research for national defense, including early work in antiballistic missile defense and remote sensing, at a facility which would become the Environmental Research Institute of Michigan (ERIM) after separating from the university in 1972.

The University of Michigan

Willow Run Laboratories