SP-4103 Model Research - Volume 1


Bibliographic Essay

NACA Records


[305] In 1972 and 1973 an attempt was made to bring all the records of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics tinder one roof. It failed. Some of the files were still actively in use by NASA to continue research begun by the, NACA. Some had already been retired to federal archives and records centers around the country, inextricably mingled into NASA records with which the), had become interfiled. Some remained at the former NACA laboratories, now NASA research centers, as part of the permanent station inventory.

The most complete guide to these scattered records is the 1973 "Special Study on the Records of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics", NN-572-13, prepared by William H. Cunliffe and Herman G. Goldbeck then of the records appraisal staff at the National Archives. This 90-page typescript describes in considerable detail 3967 cubic feet of records at the Washington National Records Center in Suitland, Maryland. It also accounts, in much less detail, for another 1265 cubic feet of records either retained by former NACA research laboratories and stations or stored in their local federal archives and records centers. At the time the Special Study was prepared, it was expected that all these records would be permanently accessioned by the National Archives. To date, only the files at the Washington National Records Center and a portion of those at the San Francisco Federal Archives and Records Center have been. Except for a few classified files, these are now open to all researchers; permission from NASA is required to see the classified ones, or those at NASA centers.

All NACA records in the custody of the National Archives and Records Service, whether or not title to them has actually passed from N A to NARS, are accessioned into Record Group 255, Records of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. When a group of records is retired, the archives and records center to which it goes assigns it an alphanumeric accession number. All accession numbers for NACA records are in the same form: i.e., 57 A 415, indicating the 415th group of records accessioned by that records center in fiscal year 1957 .

Each accession has a "Transmittal of Government Records" form prepared by the NACA or NASA, identifying the office retiring the records and describing the contents of the one cubic foot records center boxes used to transfer and store the documents. The accuracy and completeness of these descriptions very considerably from office to office, and within the same office over time. Too often they are brief, inaccurate, or unclear. Still, they are in many cases the only guide available.


Washington National Records Center

The seventy accessions at the Washington National Records Center constitute the largest and most important single collection of NACA records. Most of these originated at NACA headquarters. Some are from the Langley laboratory in Hampton, Virginia, and its former subsidiary Wallops Island Research Station (now part of Goddard Space Flight Center). Title to all of these records is now permanently vested in the National Archives.

[306] The Cunliffe and Goldbeck special study of these records divides them into five categories: Correspondence Files, Publication Files, Reference Collection, Organizational Records, and Topical Files.

The 235 cubic feet of correspondence files are really the general files of the NACA headquarters. In addition to correspondence, they comprise subject files, biographies, clippings, budget material, research program information, and report files. All the material is filed according to one of three systems. Guides to these systems may be found in 63 A 29 (31), i.e., Record Group 255, accession 63 A 29, box 31.

The publications files contain 680 cubic feet of documentation on the NACA's publications (see appendix F). Besides copies of NACA reports, the files contain documents related to the distribution and editing of the reports, as well as Langley laboratory files of research authorizations under which the reports at the laboratory were prepared.

The reference collection is essentially the NACA headquarters library. In its 1426 cubic feet are reports, studies, papers, journal articles, and translations from military, academic, and industrial sources around the world. Some are classified according to an alphanumeric code; others have simply a sequential "N" number, indicating the order of their receipt by the NACA library. NASA's Langley Research Center has a complete shelf list and numeric index to this collection. The 181) drawers of 3x5 cards mentioned in the special study as being at NASA Headquarters have since been transferred to the NASA Scientific and Technical Information Facility in Linthicum Heights, Md.

The 160 cubic feet of organizational records contain material on the activities of various NACA committees and subcommittees, reports and memoranda from field laboratories and stations, biographies of key personnel, and lists of visitors to NACA headquarters and laboratories.

The topical files contain 169 cubic feet of information on patents and inventions, legal and fiscal matters, security, and Project Vanguard. Finally there are two boxes of photographs, three boxes of slides, and 23 cubic feet of miscellaneous records ranging from personnel policies through laboratory site selection.

Using the special study and the Transmittal of Government Records forms as guides to these nearly 4000 cubic feet of records, I selected 718 boxes for examination. I looked for records that promised to tell most about how NACA operated as opposed to what it did: i.e., the procedure instead of the product. Especially did I choose boxes that seemed to have material on policy, organization, administration, research procedures, committee composition, personnel recruiting and management, and relations with other agencies and institutions. Of the 718 selected, I examined 480. After sampling some accessions, I found the materials were not what I had expected and warranted no further attention. In this way I was able to delete 178 boxes from my list. Also, 64 boxes were not available for research because they had been destroyed or were missing, either misplaced within the records center or charged out to NASA and not returned. All these now appear to be irrecoverable. In the course of my research I added to my list 4 boxes that had not appeared to be interesting on the inventories but which continued important sets of files found in other boxes.

All 480 boxes were examined in Stack 3 of the Washington National Records Center, where most of them were stored. This relieved the Center staff of the necessity of carting them to the research room. Some of the boxes required only a few moments examination to show they had no material worth closer scrutiny. Most required much more time. The very best ones took two or more days to examine. Of those, I brought 11 back to my office on special loan from the National Archives to examine in detail and make extensive photostatic copies.

A few peculiarities of these files warrant mention. John Victory, whose personality infects them, was awed and inspired by the great men who served on the NACA. In filing documents, he often put into biography files materials that might better, or more [307] reasonably, have gone elsewhere. If an important man was author or addressee of or interested party to a document, his file would probably contain the document, mixed indiscriminately with letters of appointment, travel vouchers, and regrets that he could not attend this or that meeting.

Victory began a history of the NACA in the late 194Os. In the early 1950s he was assisted by Ruth Walrad, for a while the NACA historian. After that his daughter Betty helped hi m. Scattered throughout the files at WNRC are out slips indicating that documents and even whole folders have been removed, most often by Betty Victory. I have not tracked down all these removals, but I believe that most of them ended in a collection of NACA headquarters papers separately donated to the National Archives and now retained by the Modern Military Branch in the Main Building in Washington, D.C. (See National Archives)

Except for these removals by the Victorys, the files appear remarkably complete. They contain many copies of most documents, especially the important ones. Even before the modem riot of photocopying, Victory ensured that numerous carbons were made and that extra copies were always available, through retyping if necessary. Cross referencing is common in the files. Often the face of a carbon copy will contain directions to the complete files on the subject. There are considerable marginalia and, in the later years, there are buck slips, though never a many as the historian would like.

Some items I expected to find either are missing from the files or escaped my attention or my sampling. Information on the NACA staff is especially hard to come by. The Committee was traditionally opposed to organization charts and, lacking these, it is difficult to recreate the hierarchy over the years. I found no telephone directories, and the biography files on the staff are scattered and irregular. Information on facilities at Langley laboratory is quite complete, much less so for the other laboratories and stations. Controversy within the organization was seldom committed to paper. There are clues that the NACA had its share, but it seems that such unpleasantness was resolved orally behind closed committee doors, in the privacy of John Victory's office, or over drinks at the Cosmos Club. I have found only one instance in which an NACA committee submitted a minority report. On paper, at least, all else was harmony and unanimity.

Following is a summary of the most useful material found in these records. It is by no means a thorough survey of the collection, but rather a description of what was most helpful to me in preparing this study.

Probably the single most useful accession is 57 A 41.5. Its 80 cubic feet of general correspondence files, covering the years 1915 to 1942, document virtually every facet of NACA activity before World War II. These files follow meticulously the alphanumeric "Index to Files of Correspondence Division", dated 26 September 1942. This makes them doubly useful, for judicious comparison of' the index and the retirement inventory enables the searcher to go directly to the box and folder containing information on any subject in the index. These files, by no means a complete record, are by far the most comprehensive single accession. A sampling of the kind of information I extracted from this accession gives an idea of its usefulness.

Boxes 3 through 5 reveal how aeronautical problems were selected for research in the early years, and how research authorizations were originated, approved, and monitored. Box 13 has folders on "Commercial Testing, General, 1929-1940", through which , it is possible to trace the evolution of NACA policy on testing and refining prototypes for the aircraft industry. Box 14 has candid and confidential information on the campaign by Frank Tichenor in the early 1930s to abolish the NACA. It also contains copies of trip reports by NACA staff members who had visited industry plants. Boxes 16 and 17 contain folders on "Estimates of Appropriations, 1927 1943," one of the most complex and elusive subjects in the NACA's administrative history. Box 22 [308] has documentation through 1933 on "Policy, and Procedures," revealing how George control Lewis sought by personal involvement to control the Langley laboratory's research program. Boxes 64 and 65 contain unique material on the background of the Air Commerce Act of 1926, including the important role played by John Victory and the NACA. Box 66 contains correspondence with John J. Ide, the Committee's European representative. The letters to Ide from Victory and Lewis are especially useful, for the he latter two often tried to summarize for Ide what he considered the most important news in U.S. aviation and aeronautics. Boxes 75 an 76 contain copies of Victory's semiannual reports to the NACA; these are the most consistent and comprehensive periodic summaries of the Committee's administration and organization, better even than the NACA's annual reports to Congress.

In 1942 the filing system used in accession 57 415 was replaced by a far more elaborate Dewey decimal system that attempted to code all the information with which the NACA dealt. It had eight classes, of which three (000, 100, 300) were "abstract"; four (400, 500, 600, 700) were "concrete"; and one (200) was mixed, dealing mostly with personnel. Each of the classes would include hyphenated abstractions. Thus, category 600 was "Flight"; 662 was "Flight Instruments" (still concrete); but "Flight Characteristics" (an abstract) was 532. Category 300 was "Administration"; "Coordination with Universities" was 370.112; but "Classification of Firms by Commodities" was -073. The system was so complex it was unworkable. Repeated attempts to modify it failed. In February 1952 it was scrapped altogether.

Records filed under this system are in the following accessions:






60 A 635


13 through 119

62 A 35


11 through 376.8

62 A 174


400 through 577

62 A 441


600 through 617

63 A 29


618 through 852.1

64 A 186


033 through 829

59 A 2112


100 through 112


Taken together, these accessions continue the general files of the NACA begun with 57 A 415. Several guides to the filing system exist, none entirely dependable. The 1 May 1944 "NACA Filing System: Index to 'Concrete' and 'Abstract' Subjects," running to 110 pages, may be found in 63 A 29 (31). Perhaps more helpful is the 10-page "Index to the Old Files: 1943 Filing System, revised 26 0 t. 1945" to be found in National Archives, Record Group 255, Entry 11, Box 1.

Compared with the Dewey decimal filing system used by the NACA between 1942 and 1952, the alphanumeric system of the Committee's final six years is a model of clarity and simplicity. A guide to it appears in an untitled 6-page typescript dated 11 March 1952. Copies may be found in 63 A 29 (31) a d as an appendix to the Cunliffe and Goldbeck special study. The system had three lettered categories. The "A" category contained the Committee's operating file : i.e., documentation on conferences, committees, visits, comments on reports, security, films, etc. The "B" category covered concrete and tangible subjects like complete aircraft, airframe components, propulsion systems, fuels, materials, equipment, and instruments. The "C" category covered abstract or intangible subjects like fluid mechanics, aerodynamic characteristics, stability and control, heat transfer, aircraft loads, structural properties and stresses, and operating problems. These files are contained in the following accessions:



63 A 101


A2-32, B1- B10, C1- C10

63 A 250


C1- C12

63 A 398


B1- B2

63 A 5036



64 A 614


A1-A28, B1

65 A 228



65 A 539



65 A 953



65 A 1125



Other accessions, though less comprehensive we e almost equally informative.

Accession 62 A 35, filed mostly in a Dewey decimal system, continues 57 A 415 through 1952. Box 40 has excellent material on Committee reorganizations and on the NACA's role in the creation of the National Science Foundation. Box 41 contains useful material on the important Unitary Wind Tunnel Plan and on the post World War II Mead committee hearings, for which the NACA gathered and tabulated much formerly scattered information about its organization and activities. Boxes 44 through 49 contain material on the short-lived but important Research and Development Board of the Department of Defense. Boxes 54 through 56 contain reports by NACA staff members after they attended professional conferences a mine of information on the aircraft industry and the scientific and engineering professions that serve it. Box 77 lists all research authorizations at the three major NACA laboratories.

Accessions 57 A 807 (1-64) and 61 A 195 (20-64) old complete files on research authorizations. The first is a Langley laboratory accession, the second is from headquarters. Some RAs require a single folder; others fill more than one box. Through them the whole NACA research process can be followed from idea through final published report. A note of caution: the Special File folders are not the treasure troves described in the special study; rather, they are gathering places for miscellaneous correspondence regarding the authorizations.

Accession 54 A 581 records, with photographs, the construction at Langley laboratory between 1929 and 1951. It offers a unique perspective on what complex and magnificent machines the wind tunnels were, and how easily the NACA engineers could have become enamored of them. Accession 55 A 344 (R25 R32, R34, R38, R40, R47) shows how reports were circulated within the NACA, commented upon, published, and distributed. Accession 56 A 635 (1-4) has more of the same.

Boxes 10 through 39 of accession 59 A 2112 re the files on the technical committees. Generally these are arranged in separate folders on Organization, Minutes, Notices [of meetings], Reports, and General. The organization folders are the most revealing. Interspersed in these records are some characteristically rich biography files of prominent committee members. Boxes 5 through 13 of accession 55 A 312 contain biography files on members of the NACA technical committees. These show clearly that aircraft-manufacturing firms were actively seeking NACA membership for their employees.

Among the best fiscal records are those in accession 64 A 125 (17-40). Box 17 is especially useful for its summary of construction at Langley laboratory. In box 23 are copies 4 all Treasury Department warrants, the only sure and complete source of information on moneys received by the NACA from Congress or other branches of the federal government. Box 35 contains excellent summaries of NACA finances year by year, many first collected for presentation to the Mead committee in 1946. Accession 64 A 518 (8-13) also has useful budget information.

[310] The following list of all the boxes I examined at the Washington National Records Center may help future researchers to reexamine the material I saw or perhaps look for new evidence:


54 A 581


55 A 312


*55 A 291


*55 A 344

(R24-R32, R34, R38, R40-47)

56 A 437

(15, 23, 27, 46 48, 59)

56 A 635


57 A 415


57 A 807

(3-9, 12-20)

58 A 411


58 A 454

(1-9), (75, 81)

59 A 2112


60 A 635

(1-13, 23-29)

61 A 195

(1-17, 20-28, 57-64)

62 A 35

(1-16, 18-77)

62 A 129


62 A 174

(8, 9, 13-20)

62 A 441


63 A 29


63 A 101

(1-2, 10-15)

64 A 125

(16-31, 33-40)

64 A 518


64 A 614


64 A 929


65 A 228


65 A 539


65 A 953

(1-2, 6-7, 31, 33-34, 36-38, 68-69)

65 A 1135

(6, 9-11)


Those with an asterisk are Langley files; all others are from NACA headquarters.

As this book goes to press, the NACA records at the Washington National Records Center are being catalogued and reboxed researchers will not in the future find the records cited in this study in the location indicated here. The records will, however, be arranged more logically and more conveniently, and a concordance will be available to translate the citations given here to the new system of boxing. Unfortunately some of the records cited in this study, considered to be of insufficient historical value to warrant permanent retention, will go to other repositories such as the history archives at NASA Headquarters and Langley Research Center or to the collection at the National Air and Space Museum; some few will b destroyed.


National Archives

The main building of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., houses two important collections that supplement the holdings of the Washington National Records Center. The Modern Military Branch holds 60 cubic feet of NACA records in 191 1/3-cubic-foot archives boxes. The exact origin of this holding is unknown, but most of it is believed to be files collected by John Victory in the preparation of his [311] history of the NACA. These are supplemented by the Files of Walter Bonney, NACA director of public relations from 1949 through 1958. They are described in National Archives Preliminary Inventory NM 86, for Record Group 255, covering textual records of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. A more detailed guide to the Victory portion of this collection is a 46 page typescript inventory entitled "Files in Historian's Office (as of January 16, 1953)". Presumably, these were the files put together by Ruth Walrad, NACA historian from 1950 to 1952. She was working closely with Victory and he apparently retained these files when she left.

This collection, though uneven, is the best single source of NACA documentation except for the 4000 feet at the Washington National Records Center. Furthermore, it must be used to supplement research at WNRC, for many of the folders removed from those files seem to have found their way here. Not counting the Bonney material, this collection appears to constitute what John Victory felt was the most important documentation of the NACA's history.

Photographs are scattered throughout the NACA records, but by far the most comprehensive and the most useful collection is that in the Photographic Branch of the National Archives. This collection has been divided into five series:

The RF series (on research facilities) has about 5000 items in 23 archive boxes totaling 8.28 cubic feet. These are photographs of wind tunnels, towing tanks, laboratories, shops, offices, hangars, test stands, etc.

The RA series (on research activities) shows NACA employees at work, mostly on technical jobs like building models or setting up tests in wind tunnels. It fills 14 boxes.

The PA series records European and American aviation from 1903 through 1950. Included are photographs of important events, airplanes, and people. The 3000 items fill 14 boxes, 4.9 cubic feet.

The P series, one of the most useful in the collection, has photographs of all the airplanes with which the NACA dealt: i.e., virtually every American plane from 1915 through 1958. A card catalogue provides easy access to this collection.

The GF series is the general files, containing photographs of NACA conferences, meetings, committee members, and ceremonies.

Most NACA photographs are numbered. The NASA research centers that were once NACA laboratories maintain active files of these old photographs, and usually can reproduce them from the original negatives quickly and at reasonable cost.


Langley Research Center

Records of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory include the files of the Wallops Island facility, created in 1944 as a test site for Langley work in rocket research. Most of these records have been retired to the Washington National Records Center. The few exceptions are worth noting.

Several attempts have been made at Langley to prepare histories of the NACA and of the Langley lab. Documents collected for one of these attempts, stored in 9 oversize boxes in the Center historical archives, are describe in some detail in a 15-page typescript inventory entitled "Materials Re Langley History".

As mentioned earlier, the Langley Research Center has a complete card file to the old NACA reference library. Cards are filed by subject, author, title, and-for NACA reports and research authorizations-by number. This catalogue is probably the most complete guide to public aeronautical information for he period 1915 through 1958.

The Langley Research Center historical archives include many NACA documents not yet retired to the National Archives.


[312] Ames Research Center

The NACA records retired from the Ames laboratory are in two groups at the San Francisco Federal Archives and Records Center in San Bruno, California. The first group, records retired in or before fiscal year 1960, have all been permanently accessioned by the Archives Branch of the Record Center and are listed in the addendum to the "Special Study". The second group consists of material retired by the Ames Research Center since 1960, in which NACA records are interspersed with NASA records. These are maintained by the General Records Branch of the SFFARC.

Using the Records Transmittal forms for the accessions listed in the "Special Study", I selected 33 boxes of records to examine arriving at the Records Center, I learned that these records had been transferred to archives boxes, renumbered, and inventoried. The following are the records I examined, showing both the old and the new box numbers:



Ames Box Numbers

Archives Box Numbers


55 A 1015



56 A 193

V422-V425, V427-V428


57 A 256



58 A 296



58 A 329



59 A 117



59 A 628

1338, 1340-42, 1347, 1349, 1368


59 A 753



Not surprisingly, these records are far more technical than those of the NACA's headquarters. What is surprising is the extent to which this is true. These records testify to the success of NACA headquarters in insulating the laboratories from administrative and political responsibilities, leaving them free to pursue aeronautical research. The inter-laboratory correspondence in these files is mostly with Langley laboratory because of the similarity of the work conducted there. Correspondence with Lewis laboratory is comparatively slight, though not insignificant.

The NACA records in the General Records Branch are still stored in records center boxes in which they were retired. No inventory of them has been made. The only guide is the Records Transmittal Form, on which the dates of the records almost always appear. Using these forms, I selected and examined the following boxes:


63 A 224


61 A 565


60 A 437


61 A 303

(V7201, V7207)

63 A 277


66 A 301

(V1659, V1675, V1678)

66 A 906


These were mostly "General Files" of the laboratory unremarkable and containing few surprises. One important accession I did not examine-largely a duplicate of a file in Washington is 62 A 621, containing the memoranda of Edwin P. Hartman, NACA's [313] western coordination officer from 1940 through 1958. His papers are an invaluable guide to the west coast aircraft industry.


Lewis Research Center

The NACA records of the Lewis laboratory are stored in three different locations.

The four boxes in accession 57 A 332, stored at Federal Archives and Records Center in Chicago, contain lectures, speeches, talks, a d broadcasts made by NACA (mostly Lewis) personnel between 1944 and 1954. They are filed alphabetically by author. Accession 73 A 20 is stored at the new Federal Archives and Records Center in Dayton, Ohio. In its six boxes are speeches and technical papers by Lewis personnel between 1951 and 1959, filed chronologically by year and alphabetically within each year group.

The remaining NACA papers from Lewis are stored in Lewis Research Center's Plum Brook Station, located on Lake Erie near Sandusk , Ohio. There they are stored with the 7500 cubic feet of records maintained by Lewis. Shelf lists kept by the Records Management Office provide a guide to this material. The boxes whose numbers are listed in the addendum to the "Special Study" contain the bulk of the NACA records.


High Speed Flight Station and Western Coordinating Office

The records of the High Speed Flight Station and the Western Coordinating Office are stored in 10 accessions in the Federal Archives and Records Center in Laguna Niquel, California. The three accessions of WC records, totaling 8 cubic feet, are largely duplicated in the files of the Ames Research Center and NACA headquarters. Most of the records of the High Speed Flight Station are detailed test data and published research results available elsewhere. The 24 cubic feet of material in accession 62 A 729 are administrative and organization I records of the station. These records are described in Richard P. Hallion, On the Frontier., Flight Research at Dryden, 1946 1981 (NASA SP-4303; in press).


NASA Headquarters History Office

The History Office in NASA Headquarters holds two small collections of NACA files. One filing cabinet of uncertain origin contains a S range mixture of papers, some of which seem to be holdovers of the NACA history project of the early 1950s. To these have been added published and unpublished papers related to the NACA's later history, including some materials gathered by Walte Bonney. These files have an interesting photograph collection and draft chapters o the Victory Walrad history of the NACA.

The documents gathered in preparation present study were collected by Walter Bonney between 1971 and 1975 and by thee author between 1975 and 1978. They now fill most of two filing cabinets, about 15 cubic feet. When the project is completed, they will be boxed as a single collection and retired to the Washington National Records Center in a single accession. They include NACA documents, copies [314] of documents from other agencies, note cards, transcripts of interviews, drafts of outlines and the narrative manuscript, and comment by readers before publication. People interviewed by Bonney in researching the history of the NACA were:


Ira H. Abbott

Sandwich, NH

28 Oct. 1971

John V. Becker

Hampton, VA

27 March 1973

Steven E. Belsley

Moffett Field, CA

24 Sept. 1974

T. Melvin Butler

Hampton, VA

29 March 1973

Smith J. DeFrance

Moffett Field, CA

27 March 1973

J. R. Dempsey

[Everett, MA]

1 Nov. 1971

John E. Duberg

Hampton, VA

28 March 1973

Ira A. Eaker

Washington, DC

11 Feb. 1974

Edward I. Carrick

Hampton, VA

27 March 1973

Aubrey Harris

Moffett Field, CA

23 Sept. 1974

Leonard S. Hobbs

Hartford, CT

27 Oct. 1971

Manley Hood

Moffett Field, CA

23 Sept. 1974

Richard E. Homer

Waseca, MN

3 May 1972

Jerome C,. Hunsaker

Boston, MA

2 Nov. 1971 (notes only)

R. T.Jones

Moffett Field, CA

24 Sept. 1974

S. PaulJohnston

Bozman, MD

19 Oct. 1971

Arthur Kantrowilz

Averett, MA

1 Nov. 1971

Grover Loening

Washington, DC

15 Nov. 1971

Laurence K. Loftin

Hampton, VA

28 March 1973

Axel T. Mattson

Hampton, VA

29 March 1973

Mark R. Nichols

Hampton, VA

29 March 1973

Irving W. Pinkel

Cleveland, OH

22 Sept. 1973

Russell G. Robinson

Moffett Field, CA

24 Sept. 1974

L. Eugene Root

Moffett Field, CA

25 Sept. 1974

Robert C. Seamans

Washington, DC,

23 Feb. 1973

Igor Sikorsky

[Stratford, CT]

26 Oct. 1971

Abe Silverstein

Cleveland, OH

21 Oct. 1972

Cleveland, OH

20 Sept. 1973

Hartley A. Soule

Hampton, VA

28 March 1973

Clarence A. Syvertson

Moffett Field, CA

25 Sept. 1974

Floyd L. Thompson

Hampton, VA

27 March 1973

Richard T. Whitcomb

Hampton, VA

27 March 1973

Charles Zimmerman

llampton, VA

30 March 1973




U S. Air Force Academy, Victory Papers

In 1961 John Victory retired to Colorado Springs, Colorado. There he planned to work at the U.S. Air Force Academy, writing his history of the NACA. He deposited some 24 boxes of his papers with the Academy's Special. Collections Branch and began working with them. Soon, however, he soured on the project and abandoned it. He left the papers at the library but never offered them to he academy. The boxes were closed and stored in a basement while attempts to get proffer, first from Victory and then from his widow, proved unavailing.

In March 1977 I visited Mrs. Victory, then 86, and her daughter Betty, in Tucson, Arizona. She gave me an enlightening interview, a p offer that opened up her late husband's papers, and three more boxes of his papers that she still had around the house. These I delivered to the Air Force Academy, where I was then able to view all 27 boxes.

This collection consists of the personal files Victory kept in his NACA office and at home. By far the richest are boxes I through 3, the correspondence files. These leave the reader with a certain respect for the loyalty arid single mindedness with which Victory strove to advance the NACA, and an accompanying distaste for the pomp and circumstance he came to value so highly. These files clearly show what a turning point World War II was for Victory and the NACA. After the war Victory spent most of his time traveling, vacationing, making speeches, associating with "important people", and arranging inspections and celebrations. His greatest direct contribution to the NACA during these years was his tireless campaign to obtain higher salary scales for the Committee's scientists and technicians. This last is documented in box 21, which also contains what appears to be an early outline of his history of the NACA.

The 36 feet of records in this collection are described in a 36-page manuscript record (MS 20) prepared by the Special Collections ranch of the USAF Academy Library. Included are a biographical sketch of Victory narrative descriptions of the 12 series into which the collection has been divided, and a folder-by-folder inventory.

Also available is the transcript of three revealing interviews of Victory, conducted by Alfred F. Hurley in 1962 while preparing his biography of Billy Mitchell.


Johns Hopkins University, Dryden Papers

The papers of Hugh L. Dryden are gathered in the Milton S. Eisenhower Library at Johns Hopkins University. Consisting of 85 linear feet of materials in 196 archives boxes, these records document Dryden's life from his precocious boyhood writings to his activities as Deputy Administrator of NASA, the post he held at the time of his death in 1965. They are described in The Hugh L. Dryden Papers, 1898-1965: A Preliminary Catalogue of the Basic Collection, compiled and edited by Richard K. Smith (Baltimore, 1974). The collection is weak on NACA records and adds little to the Dryden material in the NASA History Office.


Smithsonian Institution

The papers of Jerome C. Hunsaker are collected in the National Air and Space Museum. Walter Bonney examined the entire collection in 1972 and 1973, and inventoried those items relating to the history of the NACA in a series of typescript descriptions now included in the records of this study.

[316] The papers of Charles D. Walcott are in the Smithsonian archives, Record Unit 45, Walcott correspondence.


National Archives, BoB Records

The records of the Bureau of the Budget, Record Group 51 in the National Archives, are a rich and unique source of information, on the executive branch of the federal government. Since 1922, this central and cooperatively impartial agency has reviewed and administered the preparation and presentation of the president's budget, first as part of the Treasury Department and since 1939 as part of the Executive Office of the President. The federal government runs money, and this is where the executive branch determines who gets what.

The files of the Bureau of the Budget are, a one might expect, remarkably orderly and complete. They are described in R. Michael Reynolds, compiler, "Series Title Inventory of the Records of the Office of Management and Budget", a 15-page typescript prepared in 1975. Using this guide and the advice of the staff of the Legislative, judicial, and Administrative Branch of the National Archives, I selected and examined records on the NACA from the following series:



General Subject Files, 1921-1938


General Records of the Directors, 1939-1946


Legislative History Files, 76th 79th Cong., 1939-46


Legislative History Files, 80th 82d Cong., 1947-52


Legislative History Files, 83d 86t Cong., 1953-60


Legislative History Files, Public La s, 80th Cong., 1947-48


Legislative History Files, Public La s, 81st Cong., 1949-50


Legislative History Files, Public La s, 82d Cong., 1951-52


Legislative History Files, Public La s, 83d Cong., 1953-54


Estimates and Budgetary Administration Records


Division of Administration Management, Government Organization Branch (Boxes 22,160)


General Records of the Director, 1947-1960


General Records of the Director 1947-1960


Subject Files of Independent Agencies Assigned to the Military Division, 1953-1960


Office of Management and Organization, Government Organization Branch (Boxes 23, 27)


The most useful kind of document in the e files is the internal memorandum. Typed on blue paper, so that they are easy to find in the files, these memoranda are gems of clarity, candor, and conciseness. In them, staff members summarize for their superiors or for colleagues in other branches of the bureau the essential history and issues Of a given subject. The director of the Bureau had to meet regularly with the heads of all branches of the federal executive. To so competently, he needed a quick study of each branch's special interests and problems. These memos were the vehicles for that information.

These files contain so much useful information that attempting a summary is futile. A few general comments will suggest the range of the material. The legislative history files trace laws and proposed laws from first suggestion as far as they go, either into law or failure. The General Records of the Director usually offer perspective on [317] policy at the highest level of an agency. The General Subject Files are mines of information on what work an agency performed and how it related to other branches of government. The NACA's budget was handled by the military division of BoB, and its activities were always judged in that context. The Estimates files reveal the conflict between agency requests and BoB concessions, though never as clearly as the historian might hope.




Primary Works

The publications of the NACA are the best primary source on Committee activities and achievements. The Annual Report, published in 44 volumes from 1915 through 1958, provides a brief outline of Committee membership, policy, activities, facilities, and budget, along with a summary of the state of aeronautical research. Bound with each Annual Report are the Technical Reports published in at year.

The Committee's other reports are described in appendix G. They are inventoried in Index of NACA Technical Publications, 1915 -1949 (Washington: NACA, 1949) and in supplementary volumes that carried the index through 1958. Eugene B. Jackson and Ruth L. Jackson, Author Index to Index of NACA Technical Publications, 1915-1949 (Washington: NACA, 1951) may be used as a companion to the 1949 index.

Prints of the annual NACA appropriations hearings are the best congressional documentation of the NACA. These hearings were held before the Independent Offices Appropriations Subcommittee (variously titled) of the House Committee on Appropriations. After 1950 there were some revealing authorization hearings as well. The single most informative congressional publication is the Mead committee hearings following World War II: Senate Special Committee Investigating the National Defense Program, Investigation of the National Defense Program, Hearings on S. Res. 55, 79/2, 1946, Part 33. Here the NACA summarized and defended its entire record in bidding for a position in the postwar scheme of things. Uncharacteristically, it came under close scrutiny and severe criticism.


Secondary Works

The history of the NACA is a part of the broader history of aeronautical research, which is in turn a branch of aviation history. I do not pretend to have mastered, nor even read, the vast literature on this topic. My sampling of it suggests that it is more vast than helpful. A few works, however, warrant special mention either as being particularly good or as having influenced my own thinking on the NACA. Most of these are cited in the notes; some appear here for the first time or are repeated for emphasis.

No satisfactory up to date bibliography of aviation exists. Peter Fearson, "Aviation Past and Present", Journal of Transport History 4 (Feb. 1977), 47 54, is a masterful review article on the major works on aeronautical history over several decades. Eugene S. Ferguson, Bibliography of the History of Technology (Cambridge, Mass.: Society for the History of Technology and MIT Press, 1968), pp. 240-43, lists the principal bibliographic tools and a sampling of the histories in the field,

John D. Anderson, Jr., Introduction to Flight: Its Engineering and History (New York: McGraw Hill, 1978), while not as strong on history as its title suggests, is nevertheless a conscious and commendable attempt to explain the state of the art, with some historical asides on how it got there. Exploring in Aeronautics: An Introduction to Aeronautical Sciences, NASA EP-89 (Washington: NASA, 1971), presents similar material in simpler form with fewer equations. J. H. Stevens, The Shape of the Airplane (London: [318] Hutchinson and Co., Ltd., 1953) is more successful in tracing the evolution of aeronautical technology, but views it from a decidedly British perspective. Nationalistic bias is a principal weakness of nearly all aviation literature.

By far the best work in its field is Ronald Mille and David Sawers, The Technical Development of Modern Aviation (New York: Praeger, 1970), an outgrowth of the classic study by John Jewkes, David Sawers, and Richard Stillerman, The Sources of Invention (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1959). Miller and Sawers' study is rich in its perceptions of the technical progress in aviation but, by focusing on commercial success as the yardstick of progress, it subordinates technological innovation to the dictates of the marketplace. Oliver Stewart's Aviation: The Creative Ideas (New York: Praeger, 1966) attempts to focus more directly on technological concepts, regardless of their commercial acceptance, but it suffers from the author's disproportionate familiarity with British aviation and from an apparent inability to weigh the contributions of his friends and countrymen impartially. J. L. Nayler and E. Ower, Aviation: Its Technical Development (Philadelphia: Dufour Editions, 1965) the British counterpart of Miller and Sawers escapes economic determinism and presents the British story knowingly, but its topical arrangement makes it difficult to trace the historical evolution of aviation as a whole. Charles H. Gibbs Smith, The Aeroplane: An Historical Survey of Its Origins and Development (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1960) is letter on the history but concentrates overmuch on the early period, devoting half t e narrative to the period before World War I. Research and Development Contributions to aviation Progress (2 vols.; Washington: Department of the Air Force, 1972) attempts t identify and trace the impact of the major inventions and innovations in aeronautical technology. It is a stimulating and thoughtful analysis, but it serves the purposes of its institutional authors (the Department of Defense, NASA, and the Department of Transportation) too well to escape suspicion.

Four model studies of specialized topics in aeronautics are worthy of special mention. Robert Schlaifer, Development of Aircraft Engines and S. D. Heron, Development of Aviation Fuels (bound together with common subsidy, Two Studies of Relations between Government and Business) (Boston: Division of Research, Graduate School of Business Administration, Harvard University, 1950) are thoughtful and informed studies replete with historical insights. Schlaifer's is the more detail d and scholarly of the two, but it relies of necessity on received opinions from unidentified sources. Heron writes from personal experience. Peter W. Brooks, The Modern Airliner: Its Origins and Development (London: Putnam, 1969) is a classic in the field and reserves the praise it has received. C. Fayette Taylor, "Aircraft Propulsion: A Review of the Evolution of Aircraft Power Plants", Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, 1962 (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1963), pp. 245-99, an insider's version, should be compared with the less technical but more analytical treatment by Schlaifer.

A. Hunter Dupree, Science in the Federal Government: A History of Policies and Activities to 1940 (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1957) forces a large and unwieldy topic into pleasantly digestible form. John B. Rae, Climb to Greatness: The American Aircraft Industry, 1920-1960 (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1968) is the best work to date on a badly neglected subject. Nick A. Komons, Bonfires to Beacons: Federal Civil Aviation Policy under the Air Commerce Act, 1926 -1938 (Washington: Federal Aviation Administration, 1978) is the most helpful of the four volumes in the FAA history, untangling as it does the complex story o the Air Commerce Act of 1926. Irving Brinton Holley, Jr., Buying Aircraft: Materiel Procurement for the Army Air Forces, United States Army in World War II, Special Studies ( ie (Washington: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 19 ) delivers far more than its title promises. It provides the best explanation of army , aircraft procurement policies from inception through the end of World War II, and it elucidates in remarkable detail the complex interactions between technology, military operations, the government [319] bureaucracy, and the aircraft manufacturing industry. Edward W. Constant's The Turbojet Revolution (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 980) addresses that important topic from the perspective of paradigms of technological change but falls to explain why U.S. jet development lagged behind that of Germany and Great Britain.

The best book on the NACA is George W. Gray, Frontiers of Flight. The Story of NACA Research (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948). Gray, a professional writer widely respected for his ability to translate complex technical topics into clear, simple prose, was hired by the Committee on a short-term contract to record NACA contributions in World War II. The project stretched out over a number of years and grew to encompass all the Committee's technical achievements up to the time of publication. The Committee staff provided Gray with the material; he provided the words and music. The result is a sympathetic, straightforward, topical report stronger on clarity and technical accuracy than on analysis and interpretation. Still, it is as fine a summary of the NACA's claims for itself as is likely to be prepared.

A more historical, and even more sympathetic, so many of the NACA record is that of Jerome C. Hunsaker, "Forty, Years of Aeronautical Research", first published in the Smithsonian annual report for 1955 and reprinted in the Forty-Fourth Annual Report of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, 1958 (Washington: NACA, 1959), pp. 327. Written by Walter T. Bonney, the NACA public affairs officer, on the occasion of Hunsaker's retirement as chairman of the NACA, this essay sings the Committee's praises and ignores its problems and shortcomings. Tie companion piece, James H. Doolittle, "The Following Years, 1955-1958", on pages 29-31 of the NACA annual report for 1958, completes the story in the same laudatory tone.

A more critical review of the Committee's history may be found in Arthur L. Levine, "United States Aeronautical Research Policy, 1915-1958: A Study of the Major Policy Decisions of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics", unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia, 1963. I am indebted to Dr. Levine for many good ideas. His dissertation, however, should be used together with Ira H. Abbott, "A Review and Commentary of a Thesis by Arthur L. Levine Entitled 'United States Aeronautical Research Policy, 1915-1958: A Study of the Major Policy Decisions of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics' dated 1963", NASA History Office HHN 35, 1964. Abbott is one of the old NACA hands but unlike many of his engineering colleagues he writes a clear, sometimes eloquent, prose; he understands history; and he is familiar with how and why headquarters operate. His defense of the NACA is informed and persuasive; it also reveals more about the Committee than he intended.

Two general histories of the NACA begun by insiders were left unfinished. From 1949 until his death in 1974, John Victory worked on a history of the Committee. In the early 1950s he was joined by Ruth Walrad, then serving as NACA historian. Between them they drafted several chapters, copies of which are in the NASA History Office and in Victory's papers at the U.S. Air Force Academy. The drafts, apparently by Walrad, do not begin to tap the wealth of information in Victory's mind and in the extensive notes he compiled over the years.

Walter T. Bonney's "So Much, So Quietly....: A History of The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, 1915-1958" was the product of nearly four years of research, including interviews with many former NACA colleagues. Bonney outlined this manuscript in considerable detail but completed drafting only two of a projected 33 chapters before his death in 1975. The outline and draft chapters make it possible to project the book he had in mind, and his extensive research data suggest how he planned to document his case.

The literature on the laboratories is not as satisfactory as that on the Committee as a whole. The best of it is Richard P. Hallion, On the Frontier Flight Research at Dryden, 1946-1981, NASA SP-4303 (Washington, NASA, in press), prepared by the leading authority on the history of high-speed flight. Several publications record the history of [320] Langley, mother laboratory to all the other NACA researchers, without providing the full interpretive history it deserves. David A. Anderton, Sixty Years of Aeronautical Research, NASA EP-145 (Washington: NASA 1978) is a profusely illustrated summary of highlights in Langley's history. Michael David Keller "From Kitty Hawk to Muroc: A History of the NACA Langley Laboratory, 1917-1947", NASA History Office HHM -15, 1969, is a well-researched and well-documented, but uncritical, narrative based on Keller's earlier "Fifty Years of Flight Research: A Chronology of the Langley Research Center, 1917-1966", NASA History Office HHN-65 1966. Two old NACA hands made preliminary sketches of Langley histories: Milton Ames, "Report on the History of Langley Research Center, 1917-1967", NASA History Office HHM-25, 1972, and Hartley Soulé, "Outline History of Langley Research Center, 1915 1958", HHN-40, 1966.

Edwin P. Hartman was for years the head of NACA's Western Coordination Office, and his reports on the west coast aircraft manufacturers are models of clarity and comprehension. His Adventures in Research: A History of Ames Research Center, 1940-1965, NASA SP-4302 (Washington: NASA, 1970) is an insider's appreciative memoir, rich in detail, illustrations, anecdotes, and technical understanding. Its shortcomings in documentation and analysis will be redressed by Elizabeth K. Muenger's forthcoming history of Ames Research Center, 1940-1970. B. R. Luczak "A Management and Procedural Analysis of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics", unpublished paper submitted to the Stanford University Graduate School of Business Administration, 1950, is strong in describing day-to-day working of the Ames laboratory but falls far short of what its tide promises.

Joseph A. Shortal, A New Dimension: Wallops Island Flight Test Range: The First Fifteen Years, NASA Reference Publication 1028 (Washington: NASA, 1978) is an exhaustive catalog of technical activities at Wallops by one of t e center's veteran engineers. No one has undertaken a history of Lewis laboratory, but John D. Holnifeld's unpublished manuscript, "The Site Selection for the NACA Engine Research Laboratory: A Meeting of Science and Politics" ([Cleveland 1967), is a use introduction.