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


Part I : INITIATIONS : 1936-1945



Disruptions of War




[37] FROM the beginning, work on the new Ames Aeronautical Laboratory had been pushed with an uneasy sense of urgency. On December 7, 1941, the fears that had beset the Nation burst forth in the clear and shocking reality of bloody war. This momentous event confirmed the wisdom of NACA's struggle to secure the new Laboratory and justified the speed with which its construction had been pursued.

The onset of war also changed rather completely the plan of operation. All plans for conducting basic research had now to be laid aside and every effort bent on solving short-range airplane-development problems, for it was in this way Ames could contribute the most toward winning the war. Security at the Laboratory and in all Moffett Field operations was greatly tightened and the Army agreed, at NACA's request, to provide protection for the Ames Laboratory. The danger of direct invasion of the U.S. mainland by the Japanese was considered. A possible enemy plan for such an invasion, it was thought, would be a landing at Monterey Bay with a march up the peninsula to San Francisco. Moffett Field lay adjacent to this route. 1




In the past most of NACA's work had been unclassified and freely published in the form of Technical Reports, Technical Notes, and Technical Memorandums. Technical Reports were used for major work of lasting value, and Technical Notes for research work of somewhat lesser consequence or for work the value of which might be expected to diminish with time. Technical memorandums, on the other hand, were generally reserved for translations of foreign technical articles. All of these documents, especially the Reports, were carefully prepared compositions on which editing effort was lavished.

[38] With the beginning of war the NACA introduced several new categories of classified reports which, owing to simplified format and editing shortcuts, were expected to speed the transmission of research data from laboratory to user. These categories were: Preliminary Data Report, Advance Confidential Report, Advance Restricted Report, Confidential Bulletin, Restricted Bulletin, Secret Memorandum Report, Confidential Memorandum Report, and Restricted Memorandum Report. All were commonly designated by their initials together with a number-letter code, for example: ACR 4B30.

The transmission of data from laboratory to user (aircraft company) was greatly speeded by the use of some of these reporting forms, particularly the Preliminary Data Report. Documents of this kind were hastily produced and consisted largely of raw and unedited data. But the company whose model was being tested at Ames did not have to wait even for the Preliminary Data Report. Generally the company's representative would be in attendance at the Laboratory during the tests and would telephone any critically important results to his home office. Reportedly on one occasion a company's new airplane was sitting on the ramp at the factory with engines warmed up for its first flight awaiting only word from Ames regarding the proper setting for a control surface.




Throughout its history, NACA had diligently served the aeronautical research interests of the military services and, in 1939, the Army had indeed found it advantageous to establish a liaison office at Langley. This office proved useful and, in 1941, as the first research got under way at Ames, the Army decided it should have a liaison office at the new Laboratory.2 Theophile DePort, a civilian aeronautical engineer employed at the Army Air Corps Materiel Division, Wright Field, was sent to Ames in September 1941 to establish the office. 2 This he did and remained until replaced in 1942 by Carl Tusch, also a civilian Army engineer. With the beginning of the war, the Army liaison office at Ames took on new importance, and in October 1942 Captain William A. Bennett, Jr., was placed in charge. Captain Bennett was the first of a series of military officers to hold this post, all supported by the able and amiable Carl Tusch.

Among the wartime functions of the liaison office was the coordination of research programs being conducted by Ames for Army contractors. This function included the difficult task of trying to achieve the most effective balance between the urgent testing needs of the aircraft companies and the limited test facilities existing at Ames and elsewhere. Many a company, [39] impressed with the importance of its own project, requested more time in NACA tunnels than could be justified by any fair consideration of the Army's total commitment. The Ames management did what it could to limit test programs to the bare essentials, but the Army's liaison office was in a much better position to deal with its own contractors in these matters. Sometimes the competition for time in Ames tunnels was between a Navy contractor and an Army contractor. Adjudication of such conflicts was handled by representatives of an interservice Aeronautical Board. The Navy's representative' Captain Walter S. Diehl, a highly perceptive and agreeable chap, worked so effectively with his Army counterpart that throughout the war no serious interservice conflict over Ames tunnel usage ever arose.

There was always the touchy matter of proprietary interests to deal with, and the Ames staff had to be careful not to reveal the details of, say, a new Lockheed airplane to one of Lockheed's competitors such as Douglas. But the Nation was at war, and sometimes the solution to a design problem revealed in tests of one company's airplane was essential to the success of a military airplane being built by another company. The most urgent of these problems were usually solved, often through the action of the Army liaison office or Captain Diehl.

Although, during the war, there were numerous opportunities for the development of trouble in the relations between NACA and the western aircraft companies, such relations were actually improved during that period. The management of western companies had originally thought of NACA as an "eastern" organization which, though faithfully serving the interests of the Government, and perhaps industry in the East, was not very responsive to the specific needs of western industry. Expressions of antipathy toward NACA by western aircraft people were modestly restrained except in a few cases such as those of Clarence (Kelly) Johnson of Lockheed and Mac Laddon and Harry Sutton of Consolidated.3 These individuals appeared fairly hostile toward NACA. The atmosphere changed, however, soon after the establishment of Ames. DeFrance visited the aircraft companies, listened to their problems, and assured them that Ames was prepared to cooperate with them in a full and friendly fashion. Such cooperation, he made clear, would be within the scope of the Laboratory's broad responsibilities and would not be servile in character. At Lockheed, Smitty closeted himself with Kelly for a "frank discussion" from which both emerged smiling. As a result of this moment of understanding, the two men developed a mutual respect and a lasting friendship.

The sincerity with which DeFrance promised his cooperation and the fullness with which he honored those promises did much to improve industry's relations with NACA in general and with Ames in particular. NACA-industry relations were further improved by NACA's coordination activity, [40] begun in 1940 by Russ Robinson, and even more by NACA's decision to include industry representatives on its technical committees. In 1939 the airframe and engine manufacturers had only two representatives on NACA technical committees,4 but by 1944 the number had risen to 49. A major change of policy was taking place: no longer would NACA listen only to the counsel of sister Government agencies.




Soon after the war began, the Navy found it desirable to use nonrigid airships (blimps) for patrolling our western shores in search of enemy submarines and mines. Quite a number of blimps were acquired for this purpose and the problem of finding hangar space, and a suitable operating base, for them arose. The answer was pretty simple. The Navy had to have its Moffett Field base back from the Army. The big airship hangar was still there and was only poorly utilized in housing Army airplanes. With Army agreement, the Navy reacquired the base and recommissioned it as an air station on April 15, 1942.5

Shortly after the Navy took over, two additional blimp hangars, only a little smaller than the original airship hangar, were built on the other side of the runway and large helium storage, handling, and purifying facilities were also installed. Now the blimps could be handled as well as the spherical balloons used for training blimp crews. But the Moffett Naval Air Station had a long runway and other capabilities beyond those required for the blimp operations. The Navy therefore used the station for both lighter-than-air and heavier-than-air activities; by the end of the war it had become a major overhaul base for Navy airplanes.

The tenor of Ames relations with the Navy was as amicable as it had been with the Army. The Navy granted NACA a use permit for the space occupied by its research facilities and all the other relationships between Ames and the military continued much as before.6




As the Ames staff expanded and new facilities came into operation, certain changes in the Laboratory research organization became necessary. These changes were made in May 1943. The Ames research activities which heretofore had all come under the Research Division, headed by Don Wood, were now divided, as follows, into two divisions:



From left to right: James V. Kelley, John P. Houston, and Donald H. Wood.

From left to right: James V. Kelley, John P. Houston, and Donald H. Wood.


Theoretical and Applied 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

12-Foot Tunnel Section


Supersonic Wind Tunnel Section


Full-scale and Flight Research Division

John F. Parsons,* Chief

Flight Operations Section

William H. McAvoy, Head

Flight Engineering Section

Lewis A. Rodert, Head

Flight Research Section

Lawrence A. Clousing, Head

40- by 80-Foot Tunnel Section


*Also Chief of Construction Division.


At the same time that these changes were being made, Art Freeman, who had been Acting Administrative Officer since E. R. Sharp left in 1940, was appointed Administrative Officer. Early in 1944 the Ames organization Was further defined by the addition of a Service Division organized as follows:


Service Division

James A. White, Chief

Electrical Section

Andre G. Buck, Head

[42] Instrument Section

James V. Kelley, Head

Instrument Development Section

Howard W. Kirschbaum, Head

Photographic Section

Fred H. Swartz, Head

Drafting Section

Edward H. A. Schnitker, Head





As the war progressed, a desperate manpower shortage arose not only at Ames but throughout NACA. It arose primarily from the fact that NACA employees and prospective candidates for employment by NACA were being drafted into the military services. These draft actions appeared to be contrary to the wishes of the military and to earlier agreements between NACA and the military.

Shortly before Major General Oscar Westover's accidental death in September 1938, he submitted a report to NACA as Chairman of the Special Committee on the Relation of the NACA to National Defense in Time of War.7 This Westover report expressed the need for maintaining the efficient functioning of the Committee's organization in time of war and recommended a plan, to go into effect upon declaration of an emergency, whereby the Committee's staff would be stabilized and increased if necessary to meet the needs of the Army and the Navy. The Westover recommendations were approved by NACA and incorporated in the Mobilization Plan of the Aeronautical Board-a top-level military board concerned with aeronautical matters of joint interest to the Army and the Navy.8

The Mobilization Plan, which in 1939 was approved by the Secretaries of the War and Navy Departments as well as by the President, specified among other things that, during any emergency declared by the President, the Committee's research laboratories should be placed at the service of the Aeronautical Board and the Committee should execute the projects requested of it by the Aeronautical Board. It did not say, however, that NACA's operations would be managed by the military. This point NACA in its later relations with the military services sometimes felt the need to emphasize. More important, however, the plan established a draft deferment basis for essential members of the NACA staff.9

During the early part of the war, draft deferments for essential NACA personnel were achieved without much trouble and the aircraft companies, moreover, allowed NACA to recruit from their engineering staffs such men as they could not themselves withhold from the draft. As the war progressed, [43] however, serious objections to NACA deferments began to appear in the local draft boards, in the lower military echelons, and even in the office of General Lewis B. Hershey, Director of Selective Service. Along in 1943 it became evident that no further deferments would be granted NACA personnel.10

The military, it may be noted, allowed NACA to recruit technically trained men from the continuous flow of military personnel returning through redistribution and rest centers from service abroad and a considerable number of such men were employed. But most of these recruits were technicians, few were engineers, and scarcely any had any experience in aeronautical research. It was not a good trade for NACA to give the military an experienced aeronautical research scientist and to receive m return a toolmaker or, possibly, a road-building civil engineer. The measure of the Laboratory's desperation in the personnel matter was indicated by Art Freeman's instructions to departing recruiters: "If their body is warm, hire them."

Something more was clearly needed to obtain the highly qualified but draft-eligible college graduates. In 1943 NACA referred the problem to the military at the highest level and asked for a recommendation. Down came the recommendation from the military to put all NACA personnel in uniform-thus presumably putting NACA completely under the dominance of the military.11 NACA, with John Victory as spokesman, replied that the recommended solution was not acceptable to NACA because it was against the law to force men over a certain age into uniform and because it would destroy the independence of NACA that was needed for efficient operation. Another solution was requested and this, when it was offered, was that irreplaceable draft-eligible men in NACA be inducted into the military or military reserve forces and reassigned to work in NACA laboratories under NACA management. This plan, known as the Joint Army and Navy Plan of 1 February 1944, was approved by all parties concerned and put into effect. At both the Langley Laboratory and the Engine Research Laboratory in Cleveland, draft-eligible men were inducted into the Air Corps Enlisted Reserve At Ames they were inducted into the Navy and put on active-duty status.12

Although the plan was rather late in being developed, it was, nevertheless, very useful to NACA. Within the year following its approval, about 150 of the Ames staff were in the Navy. The plan as applied at Ames was reasonably successful, but Navy regulations did impose certain odd requirements on the individuals involved. The Navy, for example, insisted that all [44] members of the Ames contingent undergo the standard 6-week "boot camp,' training, and from the standpoint of NACA research this was largely lost time. Also, after working a full day in the Ames laboratories, the men were given regular assignments of Navy duty such as Shore Patrol. The commissioning of officers within the Ames contingent was also rather arbitrary and gave no consideration to the man's duties and status within NACA. Of lesser consequence, and somewhat amusing, was the requirement that the Ames contingent abide by the Navy's precise scheduling of haircutting. Thus an individual might be required to appear at the Navy barbershop on Tuesday at exactly 3:42 p.m., regardless of any important activity he might at the time be carrying out for NACA.

The Joint Army-Navy-NACA Plan did not, of course, solve all of Ames, manpower problems. There were basic shortages in all categories, particularly nonprofessional ones composed of people who could not readily be withheld from the draft. Also many of the people recruited were inexperienced and some were not well qualified for their jobs. Women were recruited to fill certain positions normally held by men and often proved to be very efficient workers. Much in-house training was required, however, and both daytime and evening classes were set up for this purpose.

These, then, were some of the war-induced conditions to which, as best it could, the new Ames Aeronautical Laboratory had to adjust.


1 According to recollection of DeFrance.

2 Letter, NACA (Dr. G. W. Lewis) to AAL (Ames), Sept. 10, 1941, advising of intention of Air Corps to establish a Liaison Office at Ames.

3 The author's personal observations made through direct contact with the cited individuals.

4 L. S. Hobbs (Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Co.) and Arthur Nutt (Wright Aeronautical Corp.)

5 U S. Navy publication: Moffett Field 1933-1958 Silver Anniversary.

6 Revocable Permit NOy (R)-45929 dated Apr. 11, 1945. Executed by direction of SecNav Apr. 6, 1945, and accepted by NACA Apr. 11, 1945.

7 Report of Special committee on Relation of the National Advisory committee for Aeronautics to National Defense in Time of war, submitted to Chairman NACA Aug. 19, 1938. Report signed by O. Westover (Chairman) A. B. Cook, and w. R. Gregg.

8 Plan was transmitted to President Roosevelt with letter dated June 22, 1939, from Harry H. Woodring secretary of War, and William D. Leahy Acting secretary of the Navy. It was approved by the President on June 29. 1939.

9 Ibid.

10 Deduced by Ames from Selective Service Bulletin 169, dated Mar. 25. 1944.

11 According to the recollection of John F. Victory.

12 "Plan for the Use of Military Personnel in the Operation of Research Facilities of NACA." Signed by Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War; Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy; and Jerome C. Hunsaker, Chairman of NACA. Approved by the President [Roosevelt] on Feb. 10, 1944, and named "Joint Army Navy NACA Plan of 1 February 1944."