SP-4103 Model Research - Volume 1




[xi] The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics was an undeniable success. Its name is permanently linked to such dramatic innovations as the NACA cowling, the low-drag airfoil, the transonic wind tunnel, and the X-series research aircraft of the 1940s and 1950s. Equally significant in the evolution of flight were the incremental developments over the years: the NACA family of airfoils, solutions to the problems of aircraft icing, improved ducts and inlets, techniques of streamlining, and proper engine placement on wings and fuselage. The NACA contributed significantly to every United States aircraft built during this country's rise to world preeminence in aviation.

The reasons for this success were many. First among them were the people of the NACA. During years of association with the NACA, from my early days as a test pilot to the culminating period of 1955-1958 when I served as chairman, I never knew a more devoted, hard-working, productive staff. The same may be said for my colleagues and predecessors who served without compensation on the NACA Main Committee and its many subcommittees. Their contributions far outweighed any rewards they received.

The second major reason for the success of the NACA was its institutional structure. Although it was an independent agency directly answerable to the President, it remained remarkably free of the political forces that push and pull so many federal bureaus off course. The committees and staff of the NACA tried to focus on the needs of American aviation, particularly the aviation branches of the military services and the commercial aircraft industry. The NACA fulfilled those obligations without reference to special interests.

A third reason for the success of the NACA was its mission: "the scientific study of the problems of flight with a view to their practical solution. At once sweeping in its implications and narrowly focused in its goals, this mandate guided the NACA throughout its 43 years. It told the Committee what to do without dictating how it was to be done, and it gave the Committee latitude to select its problems even as it insisted on practical applications of the results. The NACA established and maintained its reputation in Congress and the Executive Branch by adhering to this mission.

[xii] The story of this remarkable organization is told for the first time in Model Research, which constitutes the official record that the NACA has long deserved. Here are not only the facts and figures that define and particularize the NACA's achievements, but also a story that brings the agency to life in the context of its times. The book traces the NACA from its modest beginnings in World War I through the successes and disappointments of World War II to its transformation into the nucleus of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. In these pages appear the gifted persons who made the NACA work Joseph Ames, George Lewis, Hugh Dryden, John Victory, and Jerome Hunsaker, my immediate predecessor as chairman.

Not everyone will agree with all of Professor Roland's interpretations. But I recommend the book nevertheless. The Committee that emerges from these pages is much like the one I knew, and its story is too important to dismiss over differences of interpretation. The NACA was a complex institution that appears different from different perspectives, but its reputation is secure enough to withstand analysis and criticism by any scrupulous historian. The book should stimulate further research on the NACA, and I hope historians will continue to find the NACA as interesting and significant to study as I did to serve.