In October 1946, five engineers arrived at Muroc Army Air Field from the NACA Langley Research Center. By December, there were thirteen NACA employees at the base, detailed to the remote location for the X-1 research project. Muroc's main allure was the dry lakebed, the largest such geologic feature in the world, and seemingly endless sunny days with cloudless skies. The Army provided NACA space in one of two main hangars on South Base. Meanwhile, the Army conducted its most sensitive operations at the more remote North Base facility several miles further north on the lakeshore. In addition to NACA, elements of the Army Air Forces and aviation contractors directly involved in flight-testing and research were at South Base. Given the remoteness of the Army field, many of the engineers and women computers found rudimentary housing on the base, in barracks dubbed "kerosene flats" for the permeating odor of the heating and cooking fuel. All NACA activity between 1946 and 1954 was conducted out of the work area provided on South Base as well as several adobe revetments where rocket engines were test run.
In 1951 Congress approved funding for a NACA facility at what was now called Edwards Air Force Base. The Air Force (the Army Air Forces was reorganized and renamed in 1947) leased to the NACA just under a square mile of land located north of the Air Force's own new facilities, also on the western shore of the lakebed. Construction began on a new facility in early 1953 and by mid-1954 NACA employees had moved into the complex, a move coincident with the unit achieving independent status within the NACA. Located at the edge of the lakebed, the new structure consisted of a three-story main building flanked by two hangars and a ramp that led from the flightline directly to the lakebed. Initially, NACA aircraft wanting to use the Air Force's new concrete runway had to taxi on the lakebed to gain access to it. Only later was a long taxiway built linking the center with the main Air Force runway and complex. In any case, most operations in the 1950s benefited from the 44-square-mile lakebed expanse, and flights left and returned to the center directly from the concrete-like surface of the dry lake. The main structure of the High Speed Flight Research Station building, at 4800 Lilly Drive, housed all engineers, administrators and control rooms--even the credit union. The adjoining hangars made for good coordination among engineers, mechanics, and pilots. As the ranks of employees grew, space became scarce and the two open courtyards where employees ate lunch were enclosed to create office space.
Since 1954, new structures have been added to the center, including a Flight Loads Laboratory used for structural analysis, a Fabrication Shop to make all manner of custom parts on demand, and an additional structure known as the Research Aircraft Integration Facility with three separate hangar bays and offices. The RAIF also houses an array of flight simulators used in research projects. Set back from the flightline stands the Data Analysis Facility, which receives telemetry from test aircraft for analysis and distribution. Clustered at the northern end of the center are a variety of buildings established in support of Shuttle operations. Most visible among these are a hangar capable of housing the Shuttle, and the Mate-Demate Device (MDD). The MDD facilitates loading of the Shuttle onto the Shuttle carrier aircraft.
Additional resources about Dryden Flight Research Center:
Hallion, Richard P. On the Frontier: Flight Research at Dryden, 1946-1981. NASA SP-4303, 1984.
Wallace, Lane E. Flights of Discovery: An Illustrated History of the Dryden Flight Research Center. NASA SP-4309, 1996.
Steve Garber, NASA History Web Curator
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