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

 

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

1950-1953

 

 

5

The Environment

 

[173] A SUBSTANTIAL relaxation of world tensions occurred at the end of the war, but unhappily this favorable situation did not long prevail. Our relations with the Soviet Union and China soon became strained, and the cold war was on in earnest, and the dire necessity of maintaining our technical and military lead over the Soviets was very evident. The Korean war began in 1950 and the aircraft companies, all of which had suffered a business letdown at the end of World War II, were soon again busy designing and building new and advanced types of airplanes and missiles. The Korean armistice was signed in July 1953, but Russia shortly exploded its first H-bomb and tensions continued to mount.

Many technical advances in the field of aviation were made during this period. Service airplanes were regularly diving to supersonic speeds in the early fifties and, in October 1953, the 50th anniversary of powered flight, first Douglas El Segundo's new bat-wing XF4D and then North American's new F-100 reached approximately sonic speeds (754 mph) in level flight. At the same time research airplanes were going even faster. The first airplane to travel at a rate of twice the speed of sound was Douglas El Segundo's D-558 II which, dropped from a mother airplane and flown by NACA test pilot Scott Crossfield, reached Mach 2.01 in level flight on November 20, 1953. Less than a month later this record was exceeded by the Bell X-1A, which went to Mach 2.5 (1612 mph).

Missile development was also proceeding apace. The first target intercept by a homing Lark missile was made in January 1950; in September 1953 the first target intercept was made with a heat-seeking Sidewinder missile. The first full-guidance flight of the radar-guided Sparrow missile was also made early in 1953. Even more significant was the establishment in December 1953 of a Nike-Ajax battalion in the Washington area. This was the first operational surface-to-air missile system in the United States. Missiles were also being used to explore the upper atmosphere. The Army was achieving record altitudes (up to 244 miles) with its two-stage, V-2+ Wac Corporal vehicle; while the Navy's Viking and Aerobee missiles, the latter....

 


[
174]

The North American F-100

At left [above]: The North American F-100. Below: the Douglas F4D-1, two of the first Mach 1 fighters.

the Douglas F4D-1


 

....often carrying animals, were reaching many miles into the sky. Most important of all missile development was the reactivation in 1951 of the intercontinental ballistic-missile project which had been stopped in 1947 with the cancellation of Air Force Project MX 774. As Air Force Project Atlas MX 1593, the renewed ICBM program moved ahead with considerable vigor.

During this period there was discussion in military and technical circles regarding the possibility and desirability of launching a small earth satellite. The matter was brought up by Dr. Fred Singer in August 1953 at the Fourth International Congress of Astronautics and was seriously considered by a special international committee (CSAGI) established in May 1952 to coordinate plans for an International Geophysical Year. NACA itself had become interested in problems of flight beyond the earth's sensible atmosphere and in July 1952 instructed its laboratories to initiate studies of means for attacking these problems. Later, as a result of such studies, NACA proposed the development of a hypersonic, high-flying research airplane (the X-15) as a joint project between itself and the military services.

[175] The period 1950-1953 was one of considerable frustration for NACA. The Committee felt that a crisis existed with respect to maintaining the Nation's supremacy in the air; yet congressional appropriations committees seemed unwilling to grant NACA the facilities,1 and more particularly the manpower quotas, to meet this crisis. At a time when the backlog of vital research work had never been so large, NACA's manpower quota was held constant or if anything decreased. At Ames the staff in 1953 stood at 1120- lower than it had been since 1949.2 To make matters worse, the manpower quota, low though it was, could not be filled.

There had been no increase in Civil Service salaries for some time; and NACA, in acquiring scientific talent, was at a serious disadvantage with respect to the industry and the military services, the latter being able to get research work done by contracting. In the competition for technical man" power, the only factor favorable to NACA was the Government ruling in April 1950 allowing NACA, alone among Federal agencies, the privilege of granting selected employees time off with pay to pursue university studies that could be expected to contribute to their work for the agency. This privilege, while very valuable to a few, altered but little NACA's unfavorable manpower position.

The national requirements for scientific manpower were expanding rapidly and could not, it seemed, be fully met. Every aircraft company was enlarging its technical staff to cope with advanced design work and with research-and-development contracts given to it by the military-particularly the Air Force. The Air Force had established a new Air Research and Development Command which was launching into all manner of research either in its own facilities or in industry and universities via contract. With military support or sponsorship, a number of universities were setting up rather large research organizations whose function had little to do with education. Thus, with Federal funds, which the military seemed able to command, many agencies and people were being drawn to the field of aeronautical research. With some justification, therefore, NACA's Chairman Hunsaker could complain to Congress, as he did in his Annual Report of 1951, that "the military research and development program has been increased threefold but to date the funds and manpower authorized for NACA have not expanded to support adequately the military need."

In the production of aeronautical research information, NACA still occupied a preeminent position but its preeminence now came more from product quality than from dominance of output. Many in NACA felt that [176] research quality would certainly suffer if, as in the military, research was second in importance to operations or, as in the industry, second to production and profit-making. Nor were they sure that a university, departing from its traditional role of teaching and associated small-scale fundamental research, had any special qualifications for managing large research and development operations. But the field of aeronautical research had expanded tremendously and there was a need for the services of every competent agency and person. NACA had repeatedly tried to expand its own university contract operations and had repeatedly been turned down by Congress. At this stage, NACA could still take some satisfaction from the fact that, in the field of aeronautical research, no other agency in the country had the magnificent research facilities or the breadth and depth of experience that it possessed.


1 Years later members of Ames management were to acknowledge that almost all of the facility items they had requested over the years had been approved by NACA Headquarters and Congress, though sometimes only after a delay of a year or two. The delays they then also admitted were often beneficial, as some of their initial proposals were overblown and technologically premature

2 See app. A.


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