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

 

PART II : A NEW WORLD OF SPEED : 1946-1958

1954-1957

 

10

People and Events

 

[223] FOR various reasons, some of which have been mentioned, the services of a number of key personnel were lost to Ames between 1954 and 1957. Charles Frick and William Kauffman resigned in 1956; and William McAvoy, NACA's senior test pilot, having survived exciting incidents and close calls during his 35 years of test piloting at Langley and at Ames, retired on July 31, 1957. He was replaced as Chief of the Flight Operations Branch by George Cooper. In 1954, by virtue of excellent work on second-order flow theory, Milton Van Dyke won, simultaneously, a Fulbright Award for Research and a grant from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fund. These awards offered the privilege of carrying on a year's advanced study abroad, which Milt proceeded to take at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1955, Walter Vincenti won the Rockefeller Public Service Award, which also carried with it a year at Cambridge; and in December 1956, a few months after his return, he resigned to assume a professorship at Stanford. Vincenti's leaving was a distinct loss to the Laboratory.

In May 1954, Carl Bioletti took leave from his job as Assistant Director of the Laboratory to spend the better part of a year sailing among the tropical islands of the Pacific. Carl was an unusually intelligent person with a healthy skepticism for the motives and objectives of mankind. Inasmuch as man in any case was probably on the wrong track, there would be little harm and perhaps some gain, he felt, in his sailing off to the South Seas. Besides, he wanted to pursue his travels before old age either foreclosed the activity or dimmed its pleasures. Carl returned in fine fettle in May 1955 but, after a few months, was again claimed by the temptations of the sea. In September 1955, he resigned. Carl always undervalued his services to the Laboratory. He was missed during his excursions at sea and people at Ames were pleased when he returned to the Laboratory in March 1956, apparently none the worse for his experience.

The total responsibility of the Assistant Directorship rested exclusively with Russ Robinson after Carl's first departure and it was not until Carl resigned that Merrill Mead, of the 6- by 6-foot-tunnel staff, and Manley....

 


[
224]

Merrill H. Mead [left]. Andre G. (Jeff) Buck [center]. Angelo Giovannetti [right].

Merrill H. Mead [left]. Andre G. (Jeff) Buck [center]. Angelo Giovannetti [right].

 

....Hood were assigned to Robinson as Technical Assistants. The position of Assistant Chief of the Theoretical and Applied Research Division which Manley vacated was assumed by Robert Crane.

The Unitary Plan wind tunnels, which were completed during this period, became an operating division of the Laboratory and the Unitary Plan Project Office was dissolved in March 1956. This change, and all of the others mentioned, are reflected in the Ames organization chart of September 1957.

Special events at Ames during this period included an inspection in 1955 and a conference on the Automatic Stability and Control of Aircraft, also in 1955.

The Engineering Services and Technical Services Divisions were vital adjuncts of the Ames research organization and were made up of people who as much as any others at the Laboratory lived by their wits. Heading the Engineering Services Division was Andre G. (Jeff) Buck, who had joined the Laboratory staff in the early days and ever since had managed to get his fingers into most of the design and construction work that took place. Jeff, a man of mellow voice and pleasant disposition, served the many needs of the research divisions with great effectiveness and unvarying good humor. Often the ingenuity which he and his staff brought to their assignments produced results which in themselves represented research contributions.

The Engineering Services Division held responsibility for most of the facility design and construction at the Laboratory. Assisting Jeff were Charles Harvey, Assistant Division Chief; Angelo Giovannetti, Chief of the Construction Engineering Branch; Alfred Wilson, Chief of the Construction Inspection Branch; Merrill Nourse, Chief of the Electrical Branch; and J. S. W. (Sam) Davidsen, Chief of the Mechanical Engineering Branch.

As head of the Electrical Branch, Nourse occupied a position which Buck, himself, formerly held. It was concerned not only with the selection....

 


[
225]

Organization Chart of Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, September 1957.

Organization Chart of Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, September 1957.

 

[226] ....installation, and operation of the huge motors and control units required to drive the Laboratory's wind tunnels but also with the solution of the even more sophisticated electrical problems associated with the design of the new and specialized forms of research equipment. Sam Davidsen also had many opportunities to demonstrate his skill in the design of specialized research equipment. It was he who often was expected to build complex new equipment at little, or no, cost-who, at the behest of some scheming research engineer, at times attempted to build a new facility item out of available materials before the project had either been approved or budgeted by Head quarters. Sam's design ingenuity was matched only by his knowledge of where to scrounge parts for his new productions.

Attached to the Engineering Services Division was an important but somewhat anomalous element known as the Photographic Branch. This Branch of the Ames organization was headed by Fred Swartz who, late in 1953, had taken over the job from Howard Kirschbaum. Fred was responsible for the extensive photography required for records and reports, and he was also involved in photography as used in the research process. The use of photography at Ames increased rapidly over the years and was accelerated by the development of gun tunnels, ranges, and other short-period test facilities.

The Technical Services Division performed vital and heroic services in furthering the purposes of the Laboratory. The Division was headed by E. W. (Red) Betts with Ray Braig and George Bulifant as assistants. All three were experienced and competent men who had come from Langley to help found the Ames Laboratory. Other men in the Division, in particular John Houston and Walter Quigg, had also come from Langley for the same purpose. Their experience had from the first proved a great asset to the Laboratory and their contributions had been substantial.

The Technical Services Division had charge of all the shops-machine, model, and structural fabrication-as well as of the maintenance, modification, and inspection of all aircraft operated by the Laboratory. The Machine Shop Branch was headed by Henry Citti; the Model Shop Branch, by William Ward; and the Aircraft Modification Branch, by Walter Quigg. And there were several other branches in the Division. The work of the various branches was by no means routine. Nearly every item the shops were asked to construct was of a highly specialized character that only a wild-eyed research engineer could dream up. The work of the model shop-the construction of test models of airplanes and missiles-became ever more complex as wind-tunnel speeds increased and as new materials and fabrication techniques were developed and exploited.

The contribution of the Technical Services Division, and more particularly of Red Betts, its chief, was well illustrated by the Laboratory's experience in building the blades for the compressor powering the supersonic legs....

 


[
227]

From left to right: Clindon G. Glass, Raymond E. Braig, and Edward W. (Red) Betts.

From left to right: Clindon G. Glass, Raymond E. Braig, and Edward W. (Red) Betts.


George E. Bulifant.

George E. Bulifant.

 

....of the Unitary Plan facility. This compressor, which was 22 feet in diameter and designed to absorb over 200,000 horsepower, was to contain nearly 1200 solid-chrome-steel blades. Heretofore aluminum alloy had most commonly been used for compressor blades; but in this case, to avoid trouble from high operating temperatures and fatigue, it was considered necessary to make them of alloy steel. But trouble was encountered in finding a manufacturer who could build the blades or one who would even think of attempting the task. One manufacturer thought it might be done with a tracer-controlled planer and made a bid for $2000 per blade-a total of $2,400,000 for the job. Ames, desperately short of money for the Unitary Plan facility, couldn't pay this huge amount for compressor blades and, in....

 


[
228]

Red Betts' airfoil milling machine.

Red Betts' airfoil milling machine.

 

....any case, seriously doubted that the manufacturer would be able to deliver the blades on time or at all.

Milling a twisted, cambered, steel blade with precision was an extremely difficult task because, for one thing, the blade would deflect while the thin tip sections were being milled. Red Betts figured that, if all the carving could be done immediately adjacent to the blade support, the deflection problem could be eliminated. This would take a new type of machine in which the blank from which the blade was to be carved would gradually be extruded upward through a tight-fitting hole in a massive mounting block. The milling cutters, controlled by a template-an enlarged wooden model of the blade-would do their cutting immediately above the mounting block. Thus, as the blank moved up through the block, the blade would be carved out from tip to base. Devising machining operations was something at which Red was good. Like Harvey Allen, he was not satisfied with administering an activity but had to get personally involved in it. In fact, the routines of administration were not greatly to his liking

Anyway, Red sold DeFrance on the idea of building a machine such as he had conceived and using it to carve out the blades for the Unitary compressor Red and Sam Davidsen set out to visit the big machine-tool companies to see if they would build a machine according to Red's specifications.

[229] The big companies, Pratt & Whitney and Cincinnati, agreed that the machine was feasible but were too busy to undertake its construction. The Danly Machine Specialties Co., however, agreed to build it at a price not to exceed $600,000.

Red Betts' machine was built and installed at Ames in June 1953. It was a huge success. Shortly Ames operators were carving out four blades in a 24-hour day. When the additional butt milling, sanding, and inspection were included, the cost per blade came to about $650. Thus, on this job alone, Red's machine not only paid for itself but in addition saved NACA $1 million according to one estimate.1 Also it assuredly saved a great deal of time in getting the Unitary tunnels into operation.

But the saving on the Unitary tunnel compressor was only a beginning of the contributions of Red's machine. In October 1956, about a year after the Unitary tunnels went into operation, the blades of the 11- by 11-foot tunnel compressor were wiped out by a blade failure and had to be replaced. This calamity provided additional work for the machine, and there was yet more to come. Red's machine has been in operation almost continuously since it was built and has saved Ames and NACA several millions of dollars and much valuable time. Its development was all in the day's work for Red, who received no monetary reward nor any special acclaim for his outstanding contribution.

 


1 H. D. Citti and J. S. W. Davidsen, associates of Betts, gave this estimate of the savings in an Ames internal memorandum dated July 1, 1968.


previousindexnext