NLR has been operating as an independent foundation serving both public and private organisations since 1937. Its precursor, the Government Service for Aeronautical Studies, was founded in 1919. In 1940, the then Nationaal Luchtvaart Laboratorium (National Aeronautical Laboratory, NLL) moved to newly built facilities on a site on the outskirts of Amsterdam still housing NLR Amsterdam. From 1957, additional facilities were built on a site in the Noordoostpolder in the Province of Flevoland, reclaimed from the former Zuiderzee. In 1961 the name of NLL was changed into Nationaal Lucht- en Ruimtevaartlaboratorium (National Aerospace Laboratory NLR), to include space flight.
The mission of the Foundation NLR is to provide expert contributions to activities in aerospace and related fields. NLR independently renders services to government departments and international agencies, aerospace industries and aircraft and spacecraft operators. Customers include various organisations based in the Netherlands, in Europe and elsewhere.
The work is carried out by project groups, often composed of specialists in various technological disciplines. NLR has implemented security regulations that safeguard its customers' and its own interests. Access to the facilities is limited, and research results remain confidential as is agreed.
NLR is a non-profit organization, one of the Large Technological Institutes of the Netherlands. NLR's staff of about 900 currently includes about 400 university graduates, and about 300 graduates from advanced technical colleges.
NLR co-operates with the other Large Technological Institutes of the Netherlands, in fields where NLR's technological specializations border those of others. NLR also co-operates with the Delft University of Technology, especially with the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, and with other universities.
NLR participates in several international organisations, to exchange information on developments in aerospace technology, to carry out joint research and pre-competitive development programmes, and to develop and operate joint research facilities. These activities help NLR and the other partners to continue supporting their customers effectively and efficiently.
Examples of international co-operation are: Research and Technology Organization (RTO), German-Dutch Wind Tunnels (DNW), DLR (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt)-NLR partnership, GARTEUR, European Transonic Wind Tunnel (ETW), Association of European Research Establishments in Aeronautics (EREA), INDONESIA, NASA, Programme for Harmonised Air Traffic Management Research in Eurocontrol (PHARE).
About 75 % of NLR's activities consist of research and development under contract. For its basic research programme and for the development of specialized research equipment, NLR receives government subsidies.