SP-4302 Adventures in Research: A History of Ames Research Center 1940-1965


Part I : INITIATIONS : 1936-1945



Plans and Preparations




[31] LANGLEY experience was, of course, the dominant influence affecting the selection of facilities for the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory. The principal function of the Laboratory would be research in the field of aerodynamics, and high-speed aerodynamics would be emphasized. Dr. Lewis requested that space along the western boundary fence be reserved for a seaplane towing basin in case it was later decided that Ames should have such a facility.

One of the high-priority items on the Ames facility list was a 16-foot wind tunnel that would develop airspeeds of 500 mph or more. This facility was needed to deal with the design problems of high-speed airplanes then being developed for the Army and the Navy. A couple of workhorse 7- by 10-foot tunnels would be needed, of course, and even these should be fairly fast, perhaps 250 to 300 mph. Then, with Smitty DeFrance doing the planning, it was not surprising that a gigantic 40- by 80-foot so-called "full scale" tunnel appeared on the list. In this facility, full-scale airplanes could be tested with engines running.

The 16-foot and the 7- by 10-foot tunnels were needed first; the 40-by 80-foot tunnel, because of the time required to design and build such a huge facility, must come a little later. Delayed also must be the 12-foot low-turbulence pressure tunnel then under consideration, and a supersonic tunnel of some type yet to be determined. All of these tunnels except the 7-by-10's represented an extrapolation considerably beyond existing experience and thus constituted a very real challenge to designers.

Flight research had from the first been a basic element of NACA's activity. One of the duties of NACA as stated in its founding act was to "supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight with a view to their practical solution . . ." and NACA had always felt an obligation to prove, in actual flight, the practicality of ideas and devices developed in its Wind tunnels Thus, flight research was an important part of the original [32] plans for Ames; indeed, it was given top priority in the facilities-construction program since Ames designers believed it could be started earlier than wind-tunnel research. Construction of the flight research building began late in February 1940; and this unit, the first permanent structure at Ames, was completed early in August.

A technical services building, to house essential machine-shop and model-shop activities, was the second unit to get under way. This building was started in April and completed in October. Construction work on the 16-foot tunnel and the first 7- by 10-foot tunnel began in May; and on the second 7- by 10-foot tunnel, in July. The first test piles for the 40- by 80-foot tunnel were also driven in July. A contract for a utilities building was let in September 1940.

Instrument work required at the Laboratory was first carried out in the flight research building. Later, in July 1941, a contract was let for a science building to house a much-expanded instrument-development activity.

Of the buildings originally planned for the Ames Laboratory, the last to be put under construction was the administration building. It was felt that an administration building would at first be more of a convenience than a necessity and thus priority was given to research facilities. Administrative activities were housed in the construction shack for a while but were transferred to the flight research building when it was completed in August. The administration building itself was not completed until October 1943 and the associated auditorium and cafeteria were not ready for use until January 1944.




During the first year of Ames history, the organizational arrangements tat the Laboratory were rather informal. Staff was being acquired and almost everyone was busy with some phase of facilities design and construction. There was no research. This troubled DeFrance somewhat as he was afraid his research men, then occupied with mundane construction matters, might lose touch with the current state and subtle arts of aeronautical research. To counter any tendencies of this kind, he organized evening seminars in which research reports from Langley were reviewed.

In 1941, as research work at the Laboratory became imminent, DeFrance began to organize his staff along research functional lines. Following the Langley pattern, he took steps to build a research group around each of the major facilities. One exception to this plan was a Theoretical Aerodynamics Section which dealt mostly with basic theory and thus did not require much experimental equipment. Of course even in the experimental groups, theory would be used in planning experimental programs and in analyzing results, but most of the new knowledge gained by these groups would he in the form of experimental data.

[33] The major elements of the organization which DeFrance had established by mid-1941 were as follows:



Smith J. DeFrance

Construction Division

John F. Parsons, Chief

Research Division

Donald H. Wood, Chief

16-Foot Tunnel Section

Manley J. Hood, Head

7- by 10-Foot Tunnel Section

Harry J. Goett, Head

Theoretical Aerodynamics Section

H. Julian Allen, Head

Flight Research


Administrative Division

Arthur B. Freeman, Acting Administrative Officer

Clerical and Files Section

Manie G. Poole, Head

Personnel Section

Walter O. Peterson, Head

Procurement Section

Eugene C. Braig, Head

Stockroom Section

Frank J. Clarke, Head

Technical Shops Division

Edward W. Betts, Chief

Machine Shop

Harry Downs, Head

Erection Shop

George E. Bulifant, Head

Aircraft Maintenance

Raymond E. Braig, Head

Technical Service Groups

Electrical Section

James A. White, Head

Photographic Section

Howard W. Kirschbaum, Head

Instrument Section

James V. Kelley, Head

Drafting Section

Edward H. A. Schnitker, Head



At this stage, the flight research staff consisted mainly of two pilots, W. H. McAvoy and L. A. Clousing; one research engineer, L. A. Rodert; and a very small Aircraft Maintenance Section which, headed by R. E. Braig, was a part of the Technical Shops Division. This group operated effectively as a team but was not formally organized for research until July 1942, when three sections were established as follows:


Flight Operations Section: William H. McAvoy, Head
Flight Engineering Section: Lewis A. Rodert, Head
Flight Research Section: Lawrence A. Clousing, Head


The Aircraft Maintenance Section remained, as before, under Ray Braig.




Ideas for NACA research projects literally came from anyone who cared to offer them. All ideas were considered but the most fruitful generally came from staff members of the NACA laboratories, from military or other Government agencies, from universities, or from the aeronautical industry. Another important source of ideas was a system of technical committees and [34] subcommittees which reviewed all of NACA's research work and advised NACA management regarding the appropriateness and priority of proposed research projects.1

The technical committees and subcommittees, each dealing with a special area of aeronautical research, were appointed by NACA and included representatives from all the aeronautical interests earlier mentioned. These groups advised NACA on research and performed the vital additional function of coordinating the aeronautical research not only of the NACA laboratories but of the Nation. Their coordination came not through coercion- they were only advisory-but through information. If there was any duplication of research effort, it was deliberate and purposeful for, through the NACA technical committee system, the directly interested agencies of the Nation were kept informed of what was being done in Government and university laboratories.

The executive function of NACA's research operation rested in the Headquarters Office of the Director of Aeronautical Research. This office had for years been occupied by Dr. George W. Lewis. It was Dr. Lewis and his staff, acting with the approval of the NACA Executive Committee, who made the final decisions as to which of the carefully considered research projects would be undertaken by NACA and by which laboratory. The individual laboratories were given much freedom in carrying out the research authorizations assigned to them by Headquarters; nevertheless their work was subject to some monitoring and coordination by Headquarters, and they were generally expected to make regular progress reports to the technical committees.

The first research authorization was assigned to the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory in 1941. This authorization, Research Authorization No. A-1, [35] covered a study of means for protecting airplanes from the hazards of icing. 2 The deicing work at Ames was actually a carryover from Langley and was undertaken by the Flight Research group nearly a year before the authorization was formalized. Out of this work came Ames' first research report (ref. A-l) dated April 1941 and entitled "Preliminary Report on Flight Tests of an Airplane Having Exhaust-Heated Wings," by Lewis A. Rodert, William H. McAvoy, and Lawrence A. Clousing. Many more reports on the subject of ice protection were written; the work encompassed by these reports is described in chapter 9.

The first wind tunnel to operate at Ames was the 7-by-10 No. 1. It was near midnight on March 13, 1941, when power was first released through the drive motors of the tunnel and the fan began to turn. Nothing untoward happened. Smitty DeFrance and Andre (Jeff) Buck stood behind the control panel as the test engineer brought the tunnel up to speed. "What is that red button for?" Smitty asked Jeff. "Why, that's the emergency stop button," Jeff replied. "It cuts the power off in one fell swoop when you push it." He had no more than completed his explanation when Smitty reached over and pushed the button. Jeff and the other engineers present stood by with mouths agape as the wheels of their new baby ground to a halt. Smitty's act, though impulsive, was not irresponsible or careless. He felt that emergency equipment of this kind had a very important function and that its performance should be checked out before an emergency occurred. Coming out of their shocked surprise, the engineers began to appreciate Smitty's motives and were pleased that their new tunnel had passed the test so well.

Although the first run was made in March, it was not until August 29 that the first research program, on Consolidated's new XB-32 bomber, got under way. The intervening period was spent in tunnel calibration tests and in overcoming a long-period flow oscillation arising from some minor fault of the original design. The first wind-tunnel test report published by Ames, a report which covered the XB-32 tests in the 7-by-10 No. 1, was authored by Roy P. Jackson and George L. Smith, Jr. 3

Calibration tests of the 7-by-10 No. 2 got under way in July 1941 and benefited from the experience gained in the No. 1 tunnel. Thus No. 2 was able to begin its first research program on August 20-a few days earlier than No. 1. This program involved tests of a model of the North American XB-28 bomber.

The 16-foot tunnel made its first run, a pilot-head calibration, on [36] August 22, 1941. That was the earliest of a series of shakedown and calibration tests that lasted until March 1942. The 16-foot tunnel was a very advanced and complex facility; its shakedown period was thus considerably longer than that of the more commonplace 7-by-10's. The period was further prolonged by airflow disturbances arising from interference between the fan blades and the large motor-support struts. Never before had a wind-tunnel fan been required to absorb so much power, and the support struts were unable efficiently to remove the airstream swirl produced by the fan. The struts had to be reshaped.


1 In 1941 the NACA technical committee system consisted of the following:

Committee on Aerodynamics
Subcommittee on Seaplanes
Subcommittee on Propellers for Aircraft
Subcommittee on Rotating-Wing Aircraft
Subcommittee on Meteorological Problems
Special Subcommittee on Lightning Hazards to Aircraft
Special Subcommittee on Deicing Problems
Committee on Power Plants for Aircraft
Subcommittee on Fuels and Lubricants
Special Subcommittee on Supercharger Compressors
Special Subcommittee on Exhaust Gas Turbines and Intercoolers
Special Subcommittee on Induction-System Deicing
Committee on Aircraft Materials
Subcommittee on Metals Used in Aircraft
Subcommittee on Miscellaneous Materials and Accessories
Special Subcommittee on Metals for Turbo-Supercharger Wheels and Buckets
Special Subcommittee on Welding Problems
Committee on Aircraft Structures
Special Committee on Jet Propulsion

2 Research Authorization No. A-l, "Investigation of Ice Prevention and Elimination on Airplanes,', was conveyed in a letter from G. W Lewis to the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, Aug. 7, 1941.

3 Restricted Memorandum Report for Army entitled "Wind-Tunnel Investigation of Sealed-Gap Ailerons on XB-32 Airplane Rectangular Wing Model Equipped with Full-Span Flaps Consisting of an Inboard Fowler Flap and an Outboard Retractable Balanced Split Flap, by Roy P. Jackson and George L. Smith, Jr. Dec. 13, 1941.