The facility now known as Langley Research Center was founded under NACA in 1917, making it the first government aeronautical laboratory in the United States. Construction began near Hampton, Virginia at Langley Field later that year. The current site comprises close to 800 acres of land in the Hampton area, including a wide array of wind tunnels and other aircraft test facilities.
Construction began on Langley field in 1917, but the chaos of mobilizing for war in Europe delayed completion of the facility for 3 years. In April of 1920, President Wilson concurred with NACA's suggestion that the facility be named "Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory" in honor of Dr. Samuel P. Langley (1834-1906), the third Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and the facility was officially dedicated 11 July 1920. Until the establishment of Ames and Lewis (Now Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field) in the 1940s, Langley was NACA's only aeronautics research facility.
Langley Laboratory's first wind tunnel, a replica of a ten-year-old British design, became operational in June 1920. The tunnel was the first of a series opened at the site. By 1922, the Langley's Variable Density Tunnel became the first wind tunnel in the world to use the principle of variable density air pressure to test scale model aircraft. In the 1940s, the tunnel was deemed obsolete, and gutted to serve as a pressure tank to support the operation of the Vertical Wind Tunnel and Low Turbulence Wind Tunnel.
In 1930, the world's first full-scale tunnel was built on the site. Since that time, the Harrier VTOL fighter, the F-16, the American supersonic transport, the Space Shuttle and Lunar Landing Test Vehicle have all been tested in the facility, which is still in use today, modified to allow new testing procedures.
In 1948, the center's name was changed from Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory to simply Langley Aeronautical Laboratory. On 1 October 1958 the laboratory, as a NACA facility, became a component of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and was officially renamed "Langley Research Center." Three years later, the slotted throat wind tunnel for transonic speed research at Langley became a part of the facilities increasing list of aeronautics research facilities.
The Lunar Landing Research Facility came into operation at the center in July 1965. The huge structure (76.2 m (250 ft) high and 121.9 m (400 ft) long) would be used to explore techniques and to forecast various problems of landing on the moon. The facility enabled a test vehicle to be operated under one-sixth g conditions. Originally, the 250-foot high frame was designed to test the Apollo Lunar Lander and to train Apollo astronauts. By 1972, however, the structure was converted to an Impact Dynamics Facility, where crashes are conducted under controlled circumstances. The impact runway can be modified to simulate other grand crash environments, such as packed dirt, to meet a specific test requirement Additional historic additions to the Langley Research Center include the 8-Foot High-Speed Tunnel (built 1935) and the Rendezvous Docking Simulator (1963).
On the Langley grounds today, an anechoic chamber serves for noise-reduction tests, and a transonic wind tunnel is used to study problems that occur in transonic speed ranges. In 1985 the US Department of the Interior designated the Variable Density Tunnel, Full-Scale Tunnel, Eight-Foot High Speed Tunnel, Lunar Landing Research Facility, and Rendezvous Docking Simulator as National Historic Landmarks. Today, the focus of Langley's research is aviation safety, quiet aircraft technology, small aircraft transportation and aerospace vehicles system technology. It supports NASA space programs with atmospheric research and technology testing and development.
Additional resources about Langley Research Center:
Hansen, James R. Engineer in Charge: A History of the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, 1917-1958. NASA SP-4305, 1987.
Hansen, James R. Spaceflight Revolution: NASA Langley Research Center from Sputnik to Apollo. NASA SP-4308, 1995.
Schultz, James. Crafting Flight: Aircraft Pioneers and the Contributions of the Men and Women of NASA Langley Research Center. NASA SP-2003-4316, 2003.
Steve Garber, NASA History Web Curator
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