The Government Service for Aeronautical Studies (RSL) was founded in 1919 to increase air safety for military aviation. The rapid emergence of civil aviation, however, caused the RSL to focus on that sector too. In 1937 the RSL was turned into a foundation (the NLL and subsequently the NLR), which created a better basis for conducting scientific research for the national aircraft industry.

The arrival of the digital computer gave the research a huge boost. New facilities, such as flight and air traffic simulators were created to respond to the demand for information about military and civil aircraft usage. The NLR has responded to public concern for sustainable, safe and efficient air transport, carrying out numerous projects with national and international collaborations.