SP-4304 SEARCHING THE HORIZON: A History of Ames Research Center, 1940-1976





[1] Among the mementos in the Director's Office at the Ames Research Center is a fragment of canvas covering from the Wright brothers' Kitty Hawk biplane. It was presented in 1948 to the director of Ames, Dr. Smith J. De France, on behalf of Orville Wright, who had recently died. Wright had been a friend of De France and had wanted him to have a souvenir of the 1903 flight. Hanging nearby is an equally impressive token from the 1972 Apollo 16 mission, a small flag carried in the first exploration of the lunar highlands.

The two artifacts, so far removed from each other in terms of the visions and technologies they represent, are fitting symbols of the richness of Ames's history. When Ames was founded in 1939, man had been flying for only a few decades. The aeronautical pioneers were not only still alive, but were for the most part still active in their professions. The leap in aeronautical technology had been spectacular since the almost primitive beginnings, but the first 40 years of progress were to seem tame compared with the second 40 years. Ames was built in the midst of exciting technological challenges and a frightening international situation. The state of the aeronautical art in 1939 and the urgent need for a second laboratory of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) provided double impetus for the energy and creativity that characterized the new institution.




The second laboratory was conceived as a junior sibling to the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Virginia. In existence since 1915, the NACA had since 1918 operated its research laboratory at Langley Field, an Army airbase near Hampton Roads.

The NACA had made a name for itself in its first 25 years.1 The U.S. Congress formed the Committee in recognition of the need for governmental [2] support and coordination of research in aeronautics. In the decade after the Kitty Hawk flight, the nation had slipped behind Europe in aeronautical progress, a fact that became embarrassingly obvious as soon as World War I began. An organized effort to make up for lost time was needed; after trying for several years, a small group of aeronautical pioneers succeeded in obtaining the legislation that created the NACA, appended to the Naval Appropriations Act of 1915.

The NACA was simple in structure. A Main Committee acted as a steering group and an official voice for the NACA. The most prestigious names in aeronautics appeared as members, among them Orville Wright, Dr. William Durand, and at a later time Charles Lindbergh. Under the Main Committee, technical committees and subcommittees provided liaison between industry and the military, beneficiaries of NACA research, and the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, the producer of research results. Langley's early research successes had provided much of the foundation of the NACA.

For both industry and the military, and for young students of aeronautics, the technical notes, reports, and memoranda written by Langley's engineers were a major source of information in the field. The NACA's reputation for solid contributions to aeronautical knowledge became an effective way of recruiting new talent. In the normal course of events, a young aeronautical engineer interested in research sought employment with the NACA, for it was "in the NACA that the exciting discoveries were being made," as one NACA veteran put it.2

Industry, at least at that time, offered fewer research opportunities for young engineers. The NACA, possessing better research facilities than the aircraft industry and with interests ranging over the whole spectrum of aeronautical unknowns, offered far wider horizons. "If you wanted to do research, you went where the facilities were, and the NACA had the facilities," recalled another veteran whose career with the NACA began in the 1930s at Langley.3 The same situation was true a decade later, when Ames was recruiting young aeronautical engineers. "I couldn't see myself chained to a drafting board [as I would have been in industry] ," explained Charles Hall, who came to Ames in 1942 after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley.4

Once at Langley, even if one had originally planned to move on to the developing aeronautical industry, one was "hooked. Research was exciting." The average age of the staff at Langley in the 1930s was 26, and the laboratory was, by all accounts, a stimulating, creative, and productive place to work, yet relaxed and informal in atmosphere. Perhaps because of the youth of both the researchers and the field of aeronautics itself, Langley's atmosphere seemed more like a college campus than anything else. It was certainly, a former Langley employee recalled, "nothing like a company or a [3] factory." Aeronautics, the laboratory, and the staff were all in developmental stages, and the combination of forces produced exciting results.5

In a poignant way, Langley's attraction in the 1930s mirrored the way in which the airplane had captured the imagination of Americans with its debut in World War I. In the military, the romanticism of the now-vulnerable and impractical cavalry had been quickly transferred to the aviators. Postwar barnstorming had continued the mystique, as had Lindbergh's 1927 flight to Paris. More prosaically, however, the late 1930s brought growing industrial efforts to develop aircraft capabilities and, even more crucial, the conviction of both aeronautical experts and military observers that steady progress in the field was absolutely necessary for the military security of the United States. Visitors to Europe, among them Dr. George Lewis, the NACA's director of aeronautical research, had noted with alarm the spurt of progress made there. In its 1937 report to Congress, the NACA concluded, after describing its early experimental facilities,


The possession of such equipment was one of the chief factors in enabling the United States to become the recognized leader in the technical development of aircraft. Since 1932 this research equipment has been reproduced by foreign countries and in some cases special research equipment . . . abroad . . . is superior to the equipment existing at Langley Field. This condition has impressed the Committee with the advisability of providing additional facilities promptly as needed for the study of problems that are necessary to be solved, in order that American aircraft development, both military and commercial, will not fall behind.6


As the international tensions increased, a Special Committee on the Relations of the NACA to National Defense in Time of War was established in 1936. Its chairman was Maj. Gen. Oscar Westover, chief of the Army Air Corps. The recommendation was that another research laboratory be built, since Langley was vulnerable to attack from Europe and was also outgrowing both available electric power and land. The laboratory had grown from 3 employees in 1918 to almost 500 by the end of 1938.7 In late 1938 a successor committee on future research facilities recommended to Dr. Joseph Ames, the chairman of the NACA Executive Committee, that the second aeronautical laboratory be built as quickly as possible. The committee recommended a site in Sunnyvale, California, at Moffett Field, then operated by the Army Air Corps. The estimated cost would be $11,000,000.8 Early in 1939, the request for appropriations went to Congress.

[4] Meanwhile, Smith De France, the assistant chief of aerodynamics a Langley, had been sent to Moffett Field to inspect the proposed site. He spoke with Army personnel regarding the project. At the same time Lewis assisted by the NACA's financial officer, E. H. Chamberlin, made specific estimates of both the needed facilities and the required funds.9

Unexpected difficulties arose in Congress, however. Although appropriations for additional facilities at Langley encountered no opposition, the appropriations subcommittees in both House and Senate balked over the second research laboratory.10 After rejection in the second deficiency bill for 1939, the funding request was attached to the third deficiency bill, and Lewis; Dr. Charles Abbott, vice-chairman of the NACA Executive Committee; and Col. Charles Lindbergh, also an NACA member, presented the case for the West Coast laboratory. All three men possessed considerable prestige and presence and argued the case eloquently. Included in the request were additional funds for Langley and for research work at academic and scientific institutions. Both Lewis and Lindbergh, having recently returned from Europe, could attest to the growing threat of German air power.

At this juncture John Victory, executive secretary of the NACA, sensed that it might aid approval of the appropriations request to remove the designation of the California site from the bill. Legislators from other geographical areas would then, perhaps, see the request less as a plum for California than as a justifiable appropriation based on the increasingly grim international situation. Whether the deletion had the intended effect is unknown, but on 9 August 1939, the bill providing funds for a second laboratory became law. The NACA was to determine a site within a month of the bill's passage, and not surprisingly, Moffett Field was chosen.11

The choice of the site resulted from several considerations. Being on the West Coast would at least protect the new laboratory from the possibility of European attack, although the threat from Japan was certainly considered by the NACA.12 Other factors, however, offset the vulnerability of the coastal site. The report of the Special Research Committee of Future Research Facilities in December 1938 had listed criteria for site selection. Moffett Field fit the requirements: location on a military base to take advantage of existing airfield facilities; low-density air traffic and good flying weather; adequate and economical electric power, which had been a problem at Langley; and accessibility to the western aircraft industry, industrial centers, and academic institutions of repute.13

Location near the growing aircraft companies was of prime importance. By 1939 almost half of the aircraft industry was on the West Coast, and those engineers from Langley who met regularly with the western companies were well aware of the time and energy travel consumed. A trip from Langley to San Diego took four days by train or nearly 30 exhausting hours by airplane. Another factor was the competitive relationship that had devel- [5] -oped between the NACA and the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. Pasadena was easily accessible to the California aircraft industry, but its facilities were strained with industrial research requirements. Moffett Field both answered industry's needs and reasserted the NACA's research preeminence.14 Though other sites were considered, Moffett Field had clearly been the preference from the beginning, and as soon as the announcement of the site was made, already laid plans were implemented.

Though officially opened only six years previously, Moffett Field already had an interesting history. It had been conceived as a base for the Navy's rigid airships in 1931. At that time, the Navy was building ZRS-4 and ZRS-5, later christened the Akron and Macon. The Akron was to be assigned to the Lakehurst, NewJersey, base; the Macon was to be based in Sunnyvale. Local communities in California had donated 100 acres for the base, and the government had bought 750 additional acres. The new base was expected to provide needed jobs both in its construction and maintenance, and local firms foresaw steady orders for supplies and materials. The Pacific Gas and Electric Company proudly announced that the electric load at Sunnyvale would be 2200 horsepower, "enough to supply a good-sized town." Nearby inhabitants were awed by circulated sketches of the giant hangar that would be built to house the airship. It would be, as one drawing conceived it, able to contain San Francisco's St. Francis Hotel four times over. The hangar's length was the equivalent of four city blocks, its width greater than one block, and its height about equal to that of a 16-story building.15

The giant hangar was finished and in due course the Macon was assigned to the base. But in 1933 the Akron crashed off the East Coast, leaving the Macon as the country's only rigid airship. Commanding the Akron when it crashed was Rear Adm. William Moffett, who had been influential in both the Navy's commitment to rigid airships and the selection of the Sunnyvale site for the Navy's western base. In his memory the U.S. Naval Air Station, Sunnyvale, was renamed Moffett Field. The base was considered completed in January 1935, but the next month the Macon crashed off the coast at Point Sur, 150 kilometers south of Moffett Field. The crash ended the Navy's involvement with rigid airships and made the base surplus to the Navy. In October 1935 it became an Army air training base. Interestingly, one of the first Army squadrons sent to Moffett Field was from Langley Field.

In 1939, as Moffett Field was being chosen by the NACA for its laboratory, the Army was busy constructing barracks and mess halls to accommodate a continuing expansion.16 The Navy still held out hope for rigid airships in the future and requested that the NACA buildings, should they materialize, be located outside the still-present mooring circles. It was, perhaps, the last official documentation regarding Moffett Field's original purpose.17

[6] In early December, the Army gave the NACA use of 62 acres of land, retaining title to the land with the War Department.18 The NACA purchased another 40 acres from local farmers and immediately began surveying building locations.

The southern end of San Francisco Bay today bears no resemblance to its appearance in 1939. Instead of a continual stretch of suburbia intermixed with industry, small communities interrupted agricultural land in an almost rural atmosphere. The land acquired for Moffett Field was completely undeveloped, as was the additional acreage that the NACA bought. Adjoining the government property were farms, fruit trees, and dairy cattle; the pastures would be concrete in 20 years. Instead of the extensive freeway system that now crisscrosses the area, a less intimidating Bayshore Highway took one to the main gate of Moffett Field, where the construction going on appeared hive-like in its activity.

Planning was under way at Langley in the fall of 1939 for the facilities at the new laboratory. The design group was headed by Smith De France, who, it was rightly assumed, would head the new installation.19 Through the winter of 1939-1940, however, De France remained at Langley, designing the buildings and wind tunnels to be constructed at Moffett Field, and also continuing to plan Langley's own projects.

Liaison was provided initially by a representative from the NACA Washington office, Russell G. Robinson, who had been sent to California to inaugurate the NACA's Western Coordination Office. That office was intended to be a partial answer to the problem of distance between the western aircraft industry and academia and NACA headquarters. The aim was to provide a regular two-way channel of information that would make for more efficient research and a greater awareness of mutual needs. Robinson, already on the scene, was a logical person to provide on-the-spot assistance in practical arrangements with the Army at Moffett Field and to deal with any problems that might arise during initial construction.

At Moffett Field in the last months of 1939, Robinson juggled Western Coordination Office planning with construction details at Moffett Field and maintained a steady correspondence with Langley over building eccentricities caused by Moffett Field's geography: the high water table and the possibility of earthquakes. De France requested Robinson to obtain local technical articles on earthquake construction, and building specifications were then adjusted for maximum protection. Moffett Field military buildings were closely examined for cracks that could provide information on construction pitfalls. 20

While on the West Coast, Robinson also publicized the new laboratory at surrounding universities, with the result that the original roster of Ames employees included a fair sampling of local talent. Stanford University, one of the few institutions in the country at that time with both a wind tunnel [7] and a widely known body of aeronautical experts, became an important source of professional manpower for the laboratory. The Stanford connection rose naturally from earlier association with the NACA. Dr. William Durand, one of the original members of the Main Committee, was a highly respected member of the Stanford faculty. Prof. Elliott Reid, another aeronautical engineer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering (which then included aeronautics) had worked at Langley in the early 1920s. The location of the NACA's second laboratory so close to Stanford was to prove important in the dynamics of the laboratory and in the continued growth of aeronautics at the university. Indeed, two of the driving forces behind Ames in its early years were Stanford graduates who had been working at Langley, but who returned to the area as staff for the new laboratory-H. Julian Allen and John Parsons.

This local connection with an academic institution, which Langley did not have in its early years, was an advantage that should not be overlooked when assessing the distinctive sense of community that seems to have characterized the new laboratory. As one early Ames employee recalled, "My roommate and I took the civil-service test together, graduated together from Stanford, and began work at Ames together on the same day."21

Another source of local talent, if not quite so close as Stanford, was the University of California system. Berkeley provided personnel, as did the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Southern California. Active recruiting for Ames tended to confine itself to the West Coast, though of course anyone taking the civil service test could ask to be put on the roster for potential employment at Ames. Especially during the war, however, when Ames recruited directly and the civil service test was waived, efforts were focused on hiring engineers from nearby universities. De France, writing to an inquiring author in 1945, listed the University of California and Stanford as the two schools most heavily represented at Ames. In response to a question regarding wartime recruitment of personnel, De France named 13 universities where Ames had recruited, the farthest afield being Arizona and Washington.22

Construction continued at the new site, and in April 1940 it was announced that the new laboratory would be named after Dr. Joseph S. Ames, the recently retired chairman of the NACA. Ames had been influential in the conception of the NACA and had been one of the original members of the Main Committee. He was highly respected in physics, which he taught at Johns Hopkins University, and revered as an individual. The honor was both well deserved and timely; Ames died only a few years later.

As progress was made at Moffett Field, planning of the future facilities for Ames continued at Langley. The NACA, trying to make up for the time lost in obtaining congressional sanction for the laboratory, now felt that it was more advantageous to keep most of the staff at Langley until the move [8] to California could be made with efficiency. De France, named engineer-in charge in June 1940, thus did not arrive at Ames until August. He had bee, preceded by John Parsons, who had been put in charge of the various construction projects, and by a few others from the Langley group who would eventually form the nucleus of the early Ames staff. This Iogistical coordination eased the way greatly-planning could continue without the designer! having to cope with the raw realities of the building site, and those involved in the actual construction were kept busy by continuing directives from Langley.

Until De France arrived, the day-to-day administrative details were directed by Edward R. Sharp, another Langley man. Even before he arrived in California in early 1940, Sharp had been helping with problems encountered by Parsons at Moffett Field. One of them was the rerouting of a county road that ran through the site of the planned 16-foot wind tunnel. The road was on the acreage the NACA had bought and obviously needed to be rerouted, but the contract for constructing the tunnel had been let and the county had done nothing. Sharp, still at Langley, asked John Victory the executive secretary of the NACA, to help. Victory somehow moved the county authorities to action, and they moved the road.23 Construction of the 16-foot tunnel, one of the first two wind tunnels built at Ames, began in May. By that time Sharp was at Moffett Field acting as De France's administrative officer. The county road is a good example of one of the Washington office's strengths. Correspondence among Sharp, De France, Lewis, and Victory during the construction phase attests to the efforts of the Washington office to expedite the planning and to lend weight where needed. Also striking, however, is the leeway given De France in making decisions and in choosing his future staff.24

Throughout the spring and early summer, a steady stream of correspondence between Sharp and De France dealt with the many details of construction and staffing. Specific persons were requested by Sharp and promptly sent by De France in a continuous transfer to Ames as the new laboratory was able to absorb personnel.25 Travel involved more adventure then than now. Even so, H. Julian Allen, who arrived in April, perhaps had more than his share: "He burned out a bearing in the middle of the Arizona desert but found an old Scotch machinist who turned out a bearing on a wobbly old lathe. This enabled him to proceed to Bakersfield where he had a brother, and from there he wired New York to send him a new bearing airmail. This was a little slow in coming and so he only arrived here after driving all night.'"26

Sharp happily reported that the military personnel at Moffett Field were most cooperative in all matters. The commanding colonel had provided storage space for NACA tools and had promised more space when needed. Sharp reported, "Relations with the army are as sweet as you could ask for.

[9] I think they have gone far out of their way to receive us well and to assure us of their fullest cooperation.... I certainly hope we can keep these fine relations and never 'get in their hair."'27 This was a better start than had been made at Langley, where the laboratory's early years had been colored by several misunderstandings with the Army.28 At that time, of course, the NACA itself was so young as to be regarded by some in the military as an upstart civilian group whose function might better be performed within the military organization.

Back at Langley, De France had his hands full coordinating the various design projects. Although Sharp at Moffett Field continued to request more staff, De France needed to juggle his personnel into locations where they could work most effectively. As he wrote Sharp in late June 1940, "It is expected that we will start transferring the remainder of the engineering force on July 15, but all of the personnel will not come at the same time. In other words, the departure from Langley Field will be staggered so as to continue the engineering work and have people familiar with the contracts available to handle any correspondence either from Langley Field or Moffett Field." The problem was complicated because De France's design staff was not only busy with plans for Langley's new wind tunnels and those at Ames, it was also planning the NACA's new engine research laboratory near Cleveland. Indeed, De France intended to continue designing for Cleveland after his staff moved to Ames. His closing lines had almost a harried note:

We are so busy here at Langley Field that we do not know which way to turn. The design work . . . is more than can be handled with the present organization. It will be necessary to organize this design work in sections and increase the design and drafting force. We are planning on doing some of the design for the new engine research laboratory at Moffett Field; therefore it is evident that the force which we are planning on having at Moffett Field by August 1 or shortly thereafter will not be any too large for handling the extra design in addition to that at Moffett Field. 29


The Move to Moffett Field


By the end of August 1940, however, one could speak of a real staff at Ames. De France and 22 others had arrived from Langley. The NACA had hired, through the usual civil service procedures, additional junior engineers and support staff. The entire contingent assembled at the end of the summer for the first Ames staff picture, taken outside the new Flight Research Building. Of the 51 people in the group, half had worked with each other at Langley. A few of them were Stanford graduates. This academic connection....



January 1940. The first building erected at Ames, the construction shack served as headquarters for the engineers and crews fighting California's winter mud as they laid out and built an aeronautical laboratory.

January 1940. The first building erected at Ames, the construction shack served as headquarters for the engineers and crews fighting California's winter mud as they laid out and built an aeronautical laboratory.


....should not be overemphasized, but it doubtless strengthened ties, both organizationally and individually. Both institutions would gain from the relationship. One should note, however, that it has, over the years, made for a subtle feeling of exclusion among more recent employees who lack such academic ties.30

What of the Langley people now building the new laboratory? Langley was, by all accounts, still small enough and informal enough to be tightly knit. Camaraderie had been reinforced by its isolated location in rural Virginia; closeness had probably been an act of desperation. Despite its growth over the years, however, the sense of small community had remained, so it must have been a hard decision for those who moved to California. Those who did, however, had actively wanted to go, and morale among them was high. H. Julian Allen, who was to head the Theoretical Aerodynamics Section, had demanded transfer on threat of resignation. At Langley it had....



August 1940. The Langley contingent arrived and was joined by other newly hired junior engineers.

August 1940. The Langley contingent arrived and was joined by other newly hired junior engineers. The group, still remarkably small, gathered outside the completed Flight Research Laboratory for the first staff photo. (1) Smith De France, (2) Harry Goett, (3) Harvey Allen, and (4) Jack Parsons.


....been "considered a plum" to be chosen by De France as part of the design team for the new laboratory, and selection led almost certainly to transfer. Those who went were excited by the opportunity to "make a name for yourself or fall flat on your face," as one employee put it.31 The sense of urgency to get the laboratory into operation seems to have been common to the group.

If the feelings implied in the phrase the Ames family had positive results, there were also negative implications. Previously, whatever competitiveness had existed at Langley was either self-contained within small groups or was directed toward the Army's research and development laboratory at Wright Field in Ohio, or the Guggenheim laboratory in Pasadena, or Headquarters. Now the Langley staff was split, and the California contingent reassembled with a new identity. With the creation of the new laboratory came a sense of rivalry between those who remained at Langley and those who came to Ames, as well as the extremely rapid development of a strong [12] sense of Ames's own identity. This sense of identity and feeling of community, especially among the first employees, led one later director to refer repeatedly to the "Mayflower group" at Ames. Even today, the sense of the 'inner circle is strong among the more recent employees, who express a certain resignation to what they see as permanent exclusion.32

The sense of separation from Langley seems to have been almost immediate. Though Edward R. Sharp, who returned to Langley in the fall of 1940, referred for a while to Ames as "my other laboratory,"33 his attention too was quickly diverted to planning the new facilities for the Cleveland laboratory, which he later headed. But many of those involved in Ames's early stages of construction and growth stayed there for the rest of their careers. Those who helped build the laboratory identified strongly with it Langley Field and Washington were a continent away. Not only did geography reinforce a sense of separation, but the rivalry inherent in the relationship between Langley and Ames emphasized the distance between Ames and the Washington office of the NACA. If Ames officials felt less hampered by Washington's bureaucracy than their counterparts at Langley, the Ames staff was also in a less favorable position to campaign for pet projects and funds. In any event, it is clear that among the early characteristics of Ames as an institution were a strong sense of community, a competitive aspect to its relationship with the Langley laboratory, and a slightly independent attitude with regard to Washington.34

Also significant in the formation of a distinctive personality within the new institution was its first head. Smith De France had been in charge of the early planning for the laboratory and had been sent by Washington to inspect the Moffett Field location long before the bill establishing Ames had gotten out of congressional subcommittees. George Lewis, the director of aeronautical research in the Washington office, probably selected De France. His choice seems to have been a wise one. Older employees who worked under De France invariably mention his name when describing the sense of unity at Ames. During his long career, De France's character and strict standards permeated the laboratory, and if employees stood in awe of his uncompromising attitudes toward excellence and frugality, the respect and affection they also felt for the man were genuine.

De France was born in Michigan in 1896. He left college during World War I to train as an aviator with the Canadian Flying Corps. When the United States entered the war, he flew with the 139th Aero Squadron. Subsequently, he completed a degree in aeronautical engineering at the University of Michigan and went to work for the NACA at Langley. After early work with dirigibles, he was assigned the task of designing a full-scale wind tunnel capable of testing actual airplanes instead of models. With a test section of 30 by 60 feet, the tunnel became the largest in the world. De France [13] was put in charge of it, and in 1939 held the title of assistant chief of aerodynamics.

He was regarded by those who worked with him at Langley as a fine engineer, a hard worker, and a thoroughly professional civil servant. By the time he was named engineer-in-charge at Ames, De France already had a reputation for making sure the government got its money's worth. Neither manpower nor facilities were ever wasted under his supervision, and if this made for a somewhat strict and sober atmosphere at times, it was one those associated with him could respect. De France stood by his own standards, demanding equal devotion to those standards from others, and apparently he received it. One Ames veteran has compared him to a strict parent: "He demanded obedience to his rules, but you knew what the rules were and they were good rules. Since you knew what was expected of you, you obeyed the rules."35

The Ames family was very much a De France family, held together by his idea of what a research laboratory should be, how it should be run, and how its employees should perform their duties. An interesting perspective on De France's uncompromising attitude is given by an incident in 1943. Ames was running on two shifts for the war effort, paper was in short supply, and employee time was, obviously, at a premium. Nevertheless, De France issued a memorandum requesting the entire staff of Ames to read an address that had recently been given at the Cleveland laboratory by the director of research there, because he felt it "applies also to this laboratory." Since the address was lengthy-23 pages-De France must have felt strongly about the material in it.36

Much of the circulated address was a history of the NACA and referred to the planning and building of the Cleveland laboratory. But De France's philosophy was reflected in the address. The best of facilities, the speaker remarked, would not produce results without the best in workers: "An excellent laboratory staffed by mediocre personnel will yield mediocre results. A mediocre laboratory staffed by excellent personnel will give excellent results." De France had been adamant about getting the best facilities and personnel for the new laboratory. The care he took in planning paid off as construction remained remarkably close to both cost estimates (at least initially) and to scheduled operational dates.37

The same speech also defended regulations: "Rules of procedure and regulation are required.... If you think they are unnecessary or that they hamper you. . . in your work, discuss the matter with your supervisor or with me." De France's rules were known to everyone, and they were respected. He also demanded from his workers a great deal of self-reliance and self-motivation. "Each man is expected to supply the drive to keep his project going. Don't expect either the men who supervise your work or those you supervise to supply the push necessary to get your work completed."

[14] The result was a self-disciplined laboratory, and if its organization sometimes seemed vague to outsiders, the work did not suffer.

Another of De France's traits also helped shape the character of the laboratory. In 1924, soon after De France went to Langley Field, he was flying a new engineer around the laboratory in a Curtiss Jenny. The newcomer, in the copilot's seat, froze at the controls while De France was beginning a landing approach. The plane crashed into the marshy land surrounding Langley Field, and the young engineer was killed. De France spent a year in a Washington hospital; he lost an eye and sustained multiple facial fractures. He never flew again, honoring a promise to his wife. Thus the head of one of the country's aeronautical laboratories denied himself the efficiency air travel afforded. The significance for Ames, however, was that De France's lack of rapid transportation to the East Coast reinforced any tendency toward isolation that location and independent outlook already encouraged. A journey from coast to coast in the 1940s was certainly more time-consuming by any mode of travel than it is today, but by train it was particularly inconvenient. As a result De France did not go east, either to Langley or to Washington, often. In April 1942, when he was planning a trip, it was remarked that it was the first time he had left the laboratory since he arrived in August 1940. 38

Three other original Ames employees were also influential in the formation of Ames's personality. One was John Parsons, a Stanford graduate who had gone to Langley shortly after his graduation. He had worked with De France in the 30- by 60-foot tunnel.39 Parsons's health was uncertain, and early 1940 correspondence between Parsons at Moffett Field and De France back at Langley indicate that Parsons was driving himself almost past his physical limits, and that De France was concerned about him. Despite his health, Parsons projected such enthusiasm and energy that he inspired others. He was tireless in pursuing construction details and in reporting almost daily to De France in long, handwritten letters. In the early years Parsons acted as a real catalyst in keeping up construction momentum and, like De France, in setting uncompromising standards of quality. The example of Parsons added greatly to the energy generated at Ames in its early period.40

Another striking influence on Ames was H. Julian Allen, also a Stanford graduate and Langley veteran. Allen's force of personality and ability to inspire his co-workers is still spoken of by all who knew him. At Langley, Allen had acquired his nickname, "Harvey." With a nearly total incapacity for remembering names, he greeted one and all jovially as "Harvey," and the name stuck, m return, to him.

Allen had distinguished himself in his early work at Langley, where he had been since 1936. He became legendary for his ability to generate exciting, often brilliant aerodynamic theory. The best-known work from his [15] Langley period was the development of a general theory of subsonic airfoils. The ability to calculate the distribution of pressure on airfoils made low-drag characteristics easier to, obtain. In 1940, Allen requested transfer to the new California laboratory, and though Langley was undoubtedly reluctant to lose him, he was put in charge of the theoretical aerodynamics research group at Ames. This group, though not attached to any of the wind tunnels, was very much involved in planning research facilities, carrying out sophisticated aerodynamic and structural design, and supplying calculations and specifications to the contractors.

Allen provided an especially good contrast to De France, balancing De France's sobriety with a hearty enthusiasm that never failed to encourage those around him. Where De France provided a steadying paternalistic influence, Harvey Allen's talent lay not only in his own work, but in his gift for rallying people to enthusiastic involvement in whatever puzzle lay before them. While Ames personnel respected "Smitty " De France, they loved Harvey.41 In getting the laboratory off to an energetic start, Allen's role was decisive. In producing sparkling theoretical work spanning both aeronautical and astronautical decades, his genius added greatly to Ames's reputation.

Harry Goett, who was the first head of the two 7- by 10-foot wind tunnels at Ames and later the division chief for the Full-Scale and Flight Research Division, had an equally strong influence on Ames's research atmosphere. Allen and Goett had been at Langley together, and indeed had lived together in bachelor quarters noted for loud classical music and Allen's imaginative cooking. At Ames, the close friends were in frequent competition, Allen controlling the high-speed area of research and Goett in charge of low-speed investigations.42

Both men, by all accounts, inspired their subordinates to research excellence in completely different ways. While Allen nudged and chivvied with avuncular good humor, Goett rigorously demanded. Where Allen was effusive with praise, Goett was restrained and could sometimes be overwhelming, especially to young engineers who were cowed by his often brusque manner. "Is your brain frozen? " demanded Goett of a newly hired engineer who had plotted data without allowing for necessary approximations caused by a poor scale system.43 Like Allen, however, Goett was determined to force his research team to think creatively. The combination of the two men and the competition between them, as Goett's startled young engineer reflected years later, were real elements of strength in Ames's early years.


Early Facilities


The Flight Research Building was put into operation in August 1940, only two weeks behind schedule. It housed not only the flight research [16] engineering staff, which was about to resume the deicing research started at Langley, but also doubled as an airplane hangar and maintenance shop.

In the fall of 1940, three wind tunnels were under construction. In May work had started on one of two 7- by 10-foot wind tunnels and a 16-foot tunnel.* In August, the second 7- by 10-foot tunnel was started. The construction would take over a year and involve all the technical staff in some way or another. For many of the young research engineers, the challenges were real and involved problems they had not been trained for. "I was asked to go monitor the pouring of the concrete for the flight apron, to make sure the contractors were proceeding correctly," recalled Walter Vincenti, whose specialty was theoretical aerodynamics. "I had never been involved in concrete pouring before in my life. But we found ourselves doing all kinds of practical, applied engineering which we had no training for. When something came up, you did it." Equally removed from the Theoretical Aerodynamics Section's normal activities were jobs such as stress-analysis of reinforced concrete beams used in constructing the laboratory's buildings. It was a standing joke, Vincenti recalled, "for a while we were known as the Reinforced Aerodynamics and Theoretical Concrete Section."44 If assignments at Ames were varied, quick changing, and sometimes unconventional, it was because the mayor concern was to produce working wind tunnels as quickly as possible. Through the 1940-1941 winter, construction continued in a quagmire of mud with no roads.

The 7- by 10-foot tunnels45 presented no particular problem-Langley had one in use at the time, so the designers at Ames were familiar with the construction details and, indeed, had begun working out the specifications while still at Langley. The practicality of the Langley 7- by 10-foot wind tunnel, at the time in heavy demand for military testing, had made approval of two that size at Ames easy to obtain. The 7- by 10-foot tunnels at both laboratories were the workhorses,46 highly useful for stability-and-control testing, and utilized for both industry and the military. Eight-foot wing-span models were used, and tests were run for drag, lift, lateral force, and pitch, yaw, and rolling moment. The airspeed in these tunnels was usually 400-480 km/hr. In April and August 1941, the two new Ames 7- by 10-foot wind tunnels were put into operation.

The 16-foot tunnel was a new design, and to no one's surprise, the designers encountered problems. Sixteen-foot tunnels had been approved for both Langley and Ames and were built simultaneously. Their size permitted the testing of full-scale aircraft components; the higher speed range was also essential as flight speeds continued to increase. Otherwise similar to the [17] tunnel at Langley, the Ames 16-foot tunnel was to be powered by a larger motor, which would produce a speed of 1100 km/hr. The tunnel was put into operation in October 1941. "At every stage," an early employee recalled, "we were doing things we didn't know how to do, because the field was developing so fast. We were working beyond the limits of our knowledge;. . . you couldn't learn it in a university."47 Calibration tests on the tunnel extended into 1942, and eventually the fan-support struts had to be reshaped. Later, the 16-foot tunnel was to prove invaluable in complementing flight research to investigate the problem of aileron flutter. Oscillating shock waves, producing pulsations in the airflow over a wing, were a serious problem in high-speed flight. The pulsations caused both a buffeting of the aircraft and a buzz, or flutter, of the ailerons. Flight research using the Lockheed P-80, one of the earliest jet fighters, showed that the intensity of aileron flutter increased with speed; it was feared that if the speed were high enough, the wing might fail. The 16-foot tunnel research, in conjunction with flight research, produced significant data that eventually resulted in effective aircraft modifications.48

While construction and initial tests on the first three wind tunnels progressed, De France and his staff were also designing a tunnel similar to the one he had built and directed at Langley, a low-speed, full-scale tunnel in which an entire airplane could be tested. The 30- by 60-foot tunnel at Langley was the largest in the world, but the new tunnel at Ames was to have a test section of 40 by 80 feet. The tunnel, begun in March 1942 and completed in June 1944, is still the largest wind tunnel in the world. Its bulk on the western boundary of Moffett Field balances that of the equally huge rigid-airship hangar on the east. Supporting facilities had also been constructed during the first year, including an electrical substation to supply the needed 40,000 horsepower. By autumn 1941, there were also buildings to house technical services, utilities, and a science laboratory.49

Early in 1941 Ames was already being termed "part of the national defense system" in local newspapers, and it was obvious that the laboratory would quickly be used to full capacity with defense-related work.50 By the fall Ames had used up the original appropriation of $10 million, which had been, admittedly, $1 million less than the NACA had requested in 1939. Though no changes had been made in the original plans for the facilities at Ames, construction costs had greatly increased and were fluctuating widely. Many companies were reluctant to commit themselves to such a long-term project as the 40- by 80-foot tunnel with the uncertainty of prices.51 The lone bid on the tunnel - a staggering $6,164,000 - was made by tile Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel Company; in October it was being considered by the NACA's main office. A request for an additional $6 million was approved in October, and the cost of the laboratory rose to $16,200,000. By the end of 1945 the cost of facilities at Ames had passed $22 million.52

[18] The organization of the Ames staff was beautifully simple. There was one division - the Research Division. Subordinate groups were defined as facilities became available, following the Langley pattern of organizing research groups around the various wind tunnels. As the three tunnels neared completion, therefore, a 7- by 10-foot tunnel research section was created, as was a 16-foot tunnel group. A third section, Theoretical Aerodynamics under Harvey Allen, was designing facilities and the equipment to be used in them, while continuing theoretical aerodynamic studies that would eventually generate the need for added facilities. One staff list, probably dating from late 1940, showed the majority of personnel as "unassigned to section."53 In addition to the three research sections, a small flight research unit consisted of two test pilots, a research engineer, and a few aircraft maintenance men.

The improvisations that would be needed during the war were probably achieved more easily because of the flexibility of the early Ames organization. If the need arose, men and jobs could be shuffled for maximum efficiency. As more facilities became operational and yet more planned, the organizational structure became increasingly differentiated and complex; but in the early years the main division was between theoretical high-speed aero-....


September 1941. After a year of operation, Ames boasted the Flight Research Laboratory (in foreground), two 7- by 10-foot wind tunnels, and behind them, a 16-foot tunnel.

September 1941. After a year of operation, Ames boasted the Flight Research Laboratory (in foreground), two 7- by 10-foot wind tunnels, and behind them, a 16-foot tunnel. The field directly behind the center triangular plot would soon become the site of the 40- by 80-foot full-scale wind tunnel.


[19] ...-dynamics and applied research focused around the growing set of wind tunnels.

As the 40- by 80-foot tunnel began to take shape, the original Research Division was split. The new Theoretical and Applied Research Division included all the earlier wind tunnels. John Parsons, who had been in control of construction at Ames from the very beginning, became head of the new Full-Scale and Flight Research Division, which encompassed the incomplete 40- by 80-foot tunnel and the Flight Research Branch, with its test pilots, research engineers, and aircraft.54 This reorganization represented little change in operations. Since Parsons was in charge of construction, he had always been responsible for the 40- by 80-foot tunnel, and since the tunnel was not yet complete, his job remained primarily that of construction engineer. The intent, however, seems to have been to differentiate between low-speed, full-scale research and higher-speed aerodynamic research and testing. Interestingly, Harvey Allen, whose specialty was high-speed theoretical aerodynamics, was one of the designers of the huge, low-speed tunnel, a typical example of the versatility of both the researchers and the functional structure of the laboratory. Organizational charts, even when they existed, did not necessarily present a true picture of daily operations. As an early employee remembers, "it was all very loosely organized.... After the war, when the civil service people came out to try to regularize things, [they] were driven crazy trying to write job descriptions. They were completely baffled [when] they encountered this mad research organization.... I don't remember seeing an organization chart the whole time I was at Ames."55


The War


The entry of the United States into World War II in December 1941 came as a surprise to very few. Much of the anxiety regarding construction at Ames had come from the expectation that demands on defense-connected organizations could only increase, whether the United States became formally involved in the war or not. The two 7- by 10-foot tunnels were in operation when war was declared, and calibration tests were in progress on the high-speed 16-foot tunnel, which the military was anxiously awaiting, since it would be used in testing of new military aircraft.

In terms of research being done or contemplated, the war brought one immediate change. The basic research through which the NACA had made its reputation was virtually phased out as all the laboratories concentrated on specific, immediate problems. The aircraft companies and the military asked the NACA for information and testing. The Washington office in turn assigned these tasks to one or more of the laboratories.

Deicing research became even more critical. Ice forms on all aircraft that enter certain weather conditions. It increases the gross weight of [20] aircraft, puts a burden on propellers and power plants, changes the aerodynamic properties of wings, and hampers radio reception and visibility. For years commercial operators had canceled or rerouted flights to avoid such hazards, to the detriment of their schedules. Bombers, transports, and troop carriers operating worldwide would encounter icing conditions somewhere every day, and their missions could not so easily be canceled or rerouted. The aircraft companies and the Army and Navy were eager to combine forces with the NACA to solve the many-faceted problem.56

Research into thermal methods for deicing had been started at Langley Field as early as 1927. Early experimentation with steam, piped through the leading edge of the wing, had showed that method to be impractical. Direct heating with engine exhaust gas had proved more successful, and both branches of the military had donated aircraft to be converted to carry experimental wing-and-tail systems.

When construction of facilities was just beginning at Ames, the decision was made in Washington to transfer deicing research to the West Coast. The principal reason was to be near a sure source of ice-carrying clouds, which California's geography was expected to provide. The Langley engineer who had been most heavily involved with the deicing work, Lewis A. Rodert, moved west with the initial group from Langley and continued his work with the small flight research section-himself and two test pilots. Typical of the informality then existing within the organization, Rodert continued his research at Ames a year before the official research authorization came through. 57


A C-46 Flying Laboratory, used for deicing research at Ames.

A C-46 Flying Laboratory, used for deicing research at Ames. Deicing research at Ames during the war resulted in immediately applied aircraft modifications that saved lives and airplanes and quickly made the reputation of the new aeronautical laboratory.



The electrically heated shoes on the propeller blades of the C-46 removed ice as it formed and increased the speed of the C-46 by 16 mph.

The electrically heated shoes on the propeller blades of the C-46 removed ice as it formed and increased the speed of the C-46 by 16 mph.


By early 1942 the Ames researchers had moved to colder country and established what became the Minnesota Ice Research Base for flight testing of aircraft equipped with deicing apparatus. The Army contributed two bombers, a B-24 Liberator and a B-17 Flying Fortress, and later a C-46 transport. The Army, the NACA, and the aircraft companies worked closely together experimenting with various methods and devices. While Ames was involved in testing in flight, the new engine research laboratory at Cleveland had built a wind tunnel to be used in deicing research. Research in the tunnel, which became operable in 1944, assisted the Minnesota team by checking test results under controlled conditions and by adding to the general body of information on the subject. The data that were obtained made it possible to install deicing equipment on most military aircraft, with satisfactory results. But as Edwin P. Hartman noted, the deicing research was "not at all representative of NACA research projects. Seldom before had [22] NACA's work been carried so far into the hardware stage or so far in achieving a complete and satisfying solution to a major operational problem."58 After the war, the research continued as the NACA sought more precise data on the various characteristics of the equipment they had developed.

For Ames, though, the early success of the deicing research was particularly welcome. Atypical though it might have been as a research story, the very fact that a workable solution to a hardware problem was achieved went a long way to impress both industry and the military with the effectiveness of the new laboratory. It was a dramatic way to enter the scene, and if far removed from the type of research Ames would usually deal with, in terms of publicity and acclaim there could not have been a better debut. The coordination among the NACA, industry, and military personnel, by all accounts, was of the best. The wind-tunnel research at the Cleveland laboratory also illustrated the way in which the NACA could marshal additional forces when necessary. Though the NACA perhaps wished for more exact solutions and considered the research still "in progress" even as deicing equipment was being built into military aircraft,59 the successful research established Ames in the most favorable light with the rest of the aeronautical world. After the war, the NACA received the Collier Trophy for its deicing work, impressive public recognition of its contribution.

Though the deicing research done by Ames was perhaps the most dramatic of its early research tasks, the laboratory assisted the war effort in other less dramatic ways. The wind tunnels, as soon as they were operational, lent themselves to preliminary design testing of aircraft prototypes, a process that made it possible to evaluate aerodynamic characteristics and handling qualities and to refine designs. Once a model had been produced, the wind tunnels were used in "clean-up" jobs requested either by the military or by their industrial contractors. Often wind tunnel research on existing aircraft accompanied flight research. The technique was the same as that used in the deicing research; wind tunnel testing added detailed measurements under controlled conditions and investigated alternatives to optimize design and improve performance. A constant stream of requests resulted in round-the-clock wind-tunnel use, as models were tested, adjusted, and retested. Wartime needs carried Ames far from the basic aeronautical research for which it had been built, perhaps establishing early a continuing dialogue between the institution and the aircraft industry. It is interesting to speculate on possible different turns in the relationship established with industry, had the wartime tradition not been established.

Good relations with the military were not an accidental by-product of the icing research. Quite early Langley Field had established an Army liaison office to ease relations between NACA personnel and the Army. A Langley historian has noted that the laboratory's major hurdle, in its earliest years, had been its relations with the military.60 Though time and the liaison office [23] had done much to establish more cordial relations, care was taken to prevent any incivility from developing at Ames. When the first tunnels were about to go into use, therefore, the Army established a liaison office at Ames, staffed with personnel from Wright Field. The liaison office not only opened a regular channel for Ames-military communication, but also served as a buffer for any problems Ames might have with the Army's industrial contractors. The liaison office, juggling scheduling difficulties, was therefore kept constantly aware of commitments and priorities, also removing some of the pressure from Ames in dealing with industry's demands on Ames expertise and facilities.61

Ames enjoyed another institutional aid in external relations. In 1940, while the laboratory was materializing, the Washington office had laid plans to form a Western Coordination Office to deal with industry and academia on the West Coast. This development was perhaps overdue, for the NACA had developed the reputation of being "an eastern organization . .. not responsive to the needs of western industry."62 The Western Coordination Office, energetically and perceptively headed by Edwin P. Hartman, became an invaluable source of information for the head office in Washington. Very often the reports Hartman made to Washington resulted in Ames being detailed to a requested research task because of a specific need of the industry coupled with Hartman's awareness of what was currently happening at the Laboratory.63 Ames from the first avoided strains in its relationship with industry and the military.

In April 1942 the Army left Moffett Field and the Navy returned. With responsibility for Pacific coast security, the Navy planned to patrol the coast using nonrigid airships, or blimps. The Moffett Field hangar was the logical place to moor them. The transfer was accomplished routinely, and relations with the Navy proceeded as cordially as had those with the Army.

Aside from influencing the direction that early investigations took, the war very visibly affected Ames in other ways. Clothed in blackout window shades ordered early in 1942,64 Ames continued its mushroom growth in facilities and personnel. From the original 51 people at work in September 1940, the laboratory had grown by February 1943 to 341. In August 1945 the wartime high of 844 people was reached.65

In atmosphere, however, the laboratory remained almost as informal as it was the day Charles Hall first reported for work in 1942:


The day I showed up, I went down to personnel to sign forms. Helen Davies was head of personnel, and the ad building in those days was in the old hangar. As Helen was about to take Brad Wick and me out to the 7- by 10- and the 16-foot wind tunnels, De France walked by and said hello. Davies introduced us, and [24] said she was taking us over to the tunnels. He said [he'd take us] so he [did] and gave us a tour of each wind tunnel. He [dropped] Brad off at the 7-by 10- and took me over to the 16-foot. When I got to know the people better a year or two later [I found out] they thought I'd really had an in and was a good friend of De France....66


Selective service also came to Ames, as to all NACA laboratories.67 The NACA had been designated an "essential industry" before the war began. This implied that deferments for the staff would be almost routine. In the early days of the war, Langley had also fought to retain some of their young model-makers, who lacked the professional legitimacy of engineering degrees but who were increasingly irreplaceable.68 Indeed, most of the staff of both laboratories remained at their jobs under "essential occupation" status for some time. In February 1944, however, state control of deferments was ended. California's Selective Service Board had been extremely cooperative in granting continued deferments to the Ames staff, and the NACA Washington office had been helpful, providing conservative timetables showing when particular staff members would be available for the draft. In 1943, for example, the executive secretary of the NACA proposed to the state board that only 16 out of 97 eligible men be released over the next year.69 Ames had been, until 1944, more successful than the other laboratories in getting deferments from the board.70

In the end most laboratory personnel were inducted into military service and continued in the same jobs. Those at Langley and Cleveland joined the Army; but because Ames was on a Navy base, Ames personnel joined the Navy. There were some complications. Civilian superiors at times became military subordinates, and reports one had written in one's civilian identity were sometimes too confidential to be read in one's military identity. The Ames staff, one veteran admitted, made life as difficult for the Navy as the Navy made it for them. Ames's nonchalance in the face of military regulations and protocol became a source of frustration to the Navy.71 The Selective Service Board's solution, however, was the best alternative under the circumstances. In the event that there was an immediate emergency, the Ames staff, which had received basic training, could have been of use at Moffett Field. Also, Navy morale was undoubtedly a consideration -the position of Moffett Field and the role of the Navy in protecting the Pacific shores would have made it difficult to justify continued civilian status for those at Ames.

To help ease the manpower shortage at Ames, the Navy assigned some 200 men, from machinist mates who had seen combat to engineering students from the Navy's V-12 college programs, to the laboratory. Alfred J. Eggers was one of the V-12 Navy men. Years later he remembered his [25] dawn arrival at Moffett Field as part of the "Ames detachment," still slightly puzzled about his assignment. His introductory tour of the wind tunnels by Harvey Allen opened a new "wild Buck Rogers world"; he was to remain at Ames almost 20 years as one of its most imaginative and productive researchers.72

The pressure to build a laboratory quickly in wartime and its distance from Washington were potential areas of tension in the relationship that developed between Ames and the Washington office. Quite early one detects an impatient note running through correspondence. Whether this impatience was shared by the other laboratories is difficult to know, but within the Ames staff, it is marked.

A specific issue that created sharp and vocal annoyance was small purchase authorizations, which had to be cleared by the Washington office. Ames personnel argued that the delay in obtaining authorization from Washington was handicapping them in obtaining materials. In July 1941 Ames received a very conservatively couched permission to make emergency purchases where it was impossible to take the time to receive authorization from Washington.73 This was the result of a sternly phrased letter from Ames to Washington pointing out the handicap under which they operated.74

Later in the year, after what was evidently a reprimand from Washington for Ames's indulgent use of that emergency authorization, one administrative assistant at Ames wrote a heated memorandum on behalf of his superior berating the Washington office. The reprimand from Headquarters, he maintained, was based on "procedure standpoint," not "supplies and results." It must be "thoroughly understood," he went on to say, that "neither I nor any member of the purchase section can be held responsible for our failure to obtain items needed by the various sections of the Laboratory, under our present purchase procedure." That they had overstepped their authorization he was prepared to admit, but only "to get results.... We are in a better position to know what the Laboratory needs and what are fair prices."75 In 1944 the Washington office granted authority to all laboratories to make routine purchases for amounts up to $500. Any repair or alteration cost, however, still had to be cleared through the Washington office, and the paperwork for even the self-authorized purchases was extensive.76

Another example, probably from the immediate postwar period, concerned the issue of pay and travel vouchers. Originally these had been processed in Washington, but Headquarters had decided to delegate at least part of the work load to the laboratories. Ames objected, though it expressed willingness to cooperate in the plan. "The Committee," an Ames reply pointed out, "will be operated more efficiently if the final actions of certain functions and procedures are centralized." Ames, it seems evident, felt that [26] its function as a research laboratory was being undermined by bureaucracy, from which it wanted protection by the Washington staff. Even more evident in this memorandum, however, was the subtly expressed conviction that Ames was unique and that Washington did not understand that uniqueness. There was a slight tone of aggrieved isolationism in the conclusion of the memorandum:


Uniformity in these matters can be satisfactorily obtained only by having someone in the Washington office work with and study thoroughly the problems at each laboratory and to then set up a procedure that is workable for all. It cannot be obtained by taking the ideas of one laboratory and attempting to apply them to the other two without first studying the problems of all three. It cannot be obtained by someone in Washington arbitrarily determining the policy without visiting each laboratory and carefully studying the problems of each laboratory.77


The problems of bureaucracy, of course, are always present and the NACA was certainly no worse than any other government agency. It was probably better than most. But what is striking is that Ames, early in its history, seems to have asserted its distance, differences, and self-determination. Whether Ames was truly burdened by the Washington office is moot; it seems to have believed itself so.

The end of the war saw Ames with five wind tunnels. Both the huge 40- by 80-foot tunnel and the high-speed 1- by 3.5-foot tunnel were completed in 1944. At the opening of the 40- by 80-foot tunnel in June 1944, a formal dedication of the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory was held. In a way the late dedication was symbolic of the very conditions and circumstances through which the laboratory had come into existence; the energy demanded in establishing Ames and in dealing with the crisis of almost immediate war had left little time or concern for traditional formalities.


* Wind tunnels are measured by their test section size. Thus the test section of the 7- by 10-foot tunnel was a rectangular 7 feet high and 10 feet wide in cross section, while that of the 16-foot tunnel was circular, with a 16-foot diameter.


Chapter 1. The Beginnings, 1939-1945


1. See Alex Roland, Model Research: The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, 1915-1958, NASA SP-4103 (Washington, 1984).
2. Similar statements have been made by several ex-NACA researchers, among them Walter Vincenti, Russell Robinson, and Harry Goett.
3. Harry Goett interview, 3 Dec. 1981.
4. Charles F. Hall interview, 10 Aug. 1982.
5. I am grateful to Russell Robinson for valuable accounts of the atmosphere at Langley Field in the 1930s and for an insider's perspective on the relationship between Langley and the Washington staff of the NACA. See interview, 4 Nov. 1980. The unpublished manuscript by Michael Keller, "A History of the NACA Langley Laboratory, 1917-1947," written in 1968, also yields similar description of Langley. NASA History Office Archives.
6. Quoted in J. C. Hunsaker, Forty Years of Aeronautical Research (Smithsonian Institution: Washington, D.C., 1956), p. 261.
7. Personnel statistics, Langley Field, 63-A-224, V-6631, San Bruno Federal Record Center (henceforth SBFRC).
8. See the 25th Annual Report of the NACA, 1939 (Washington, D.C., 1940), p. 38.
9. Smith De France to Langley engineer-in-charge, 23 Feb. 1939, 75-A-1324, 21896, box 5, SBFRC.
10. See Edwin P. Hartman, Adventures in Research: A History of Ames Research Center, 1940-1965, NASA SP-4302 (Washington, 1970), pp. 11-12. Hartman's official history of Ames's first 25 years is an invaluable source, especially for technical details on many of the research investigations conducted by Ames. Hartman, for many years head of the Western Coordination Office of the NACA and NASA, had a unique vantage point for understanding both technical and administrative perspective. See also Alex Roland, Model Research: The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, 1915-1958 (Comment Edition, April 1980), pp. 238-240.
11. See Hartman, Adventures in Research, p. 19, for a description of Victory's rewording of the appropriations request.
12. See Roland, Model Research, p. 233. As Roland notes, both Dr. Lewis and John Victory felt that the new laboratory should be located inland, presumably as extra protection against attack.
13. See the Report of the Special Committee on Future Research Facilities, 30 Dec. 1938, app. D. Quoted in Hartman, Adventures in Research, pp. 20-21.
14. See Roland, Model Research, pp. 233-236, for a detailed examination of the Issues regarding the GALCIT-NACA relationship.
15. P. G. and E. Progress, vol. 8, no. 5, Apr. 1931, p. 1.
16. See typescript memorandum on Moffett Field, in 74-A-1624, box 163100, SBFRC. See also From Lighter Than Air to Faster Than Sound: The Silver Anniversary of Moffett Field, 1933-1958 (U.S. Navy, 1958).
17. Smith De France to Langley engineer-in-charge, 23 Feb. 1939, 75-A-1324, 21896, box 5, SBFRC.
18. See Hartman, Adventures in Research, p. 25. Hartman notes that the assistant secretary of war issued a permit to the NACA for the construction of a research laboratory on 7 Dec. 1939.
19. De France was not formally named engineer-in-charge at Ames until mid-1940, but it was generally assumed by all concerned that he would be the choice of the Main Committee.
20. Russell G. Robinson to Smith De France, "Information Desired on Moffett Field Station," 20-21 Dec. 1939, 75-A-1324, 21896, box 5, SBFRC.
21. Walter Vincenti interview, 31 Oct. 1980.
22. Smith De France to George Gray, 28 Dec. 1945, 74-A-1624, V-1624, SBFRC.
23. Edward R. Sharp to John Victory, 12 Feb. 1940, 63-A-224, V-6630, SBFRC.
24. Correspondence among Sharp, John Parsons, De France, George Lewis, and Victory during the early construction period in 1940, 75-A-1324, 21896, box 5, SBFRC.
25. Memoranda between Sharp and De France attest to the efficiency of the building and staffing process, May-July 1940, in 75-A-1324, 21896, box 5, SBFRC.
26. Sharp to De France, 15 Apr. 1940, 75-A-1324, 21896, box 5, SBFRC.
27. Ibid., 15 Apr. 1940.
28. Keller, "History of Langley Laboratory," chap. 2, p. 16.
29. Smith De France to Edward Sharp, 29 June 1940, 75-A-1324, 21896, box 5, SBFRC.
30. In conversations with younger Ames employees, many spontaneously mentioned the "closed club" atmosphere there.
31. Russell G. Robinson interview, 4 Nov. 1980.
32. See n. 30.
33. Correspondence between Arthur B. Freeman and Sharp, 1940-1941, 63-A-224, V-6630, SBFRC.
34. This impression is based on interviews with Mildred Cardona Macon, Walter Vincenti, and Russell Robinson, and in the tone of correspondence among those involved in the early activities. See correspondence of Arthur B. Freeman in 63-A-224, V-6630 and correspondence of John Parsons, 75-A-1324, 21896, box 5, SBFRC.
35. Mildred Cardona Macon interview, 11 Sept. 1980.
36. The address was given in Jan. 1943 by Addison Rothrock; the entire address was retained in De France's files, 63-A-224, V-6630, SBFRC.
37. See various construction contracts, 1940-1941. Especially interesting is a report, "Cost on All Job Orders through Nov. 1944." Estimates and actual costs are surprisingly close, in 63-A-224, V-6630, SBFRC. See also construction correspondence of Smith De France in 75-A-1324, 21896, box 5, SBFRC.
38. Ruth Scott to Arthur B. Freeman, 7 Apr. 1942 63-A-224, V-6630, SBFRC.
39. See Hartman, Adventures in Research, p. 26 for biographical information on Parsons.
40. Additional information on John Parsons from Walter Vincenti interview, 7 Nov.
41. Both men are unfailingly mentioned by interviewees as key figures at Ames, Harry Goett. The affection felt for Allen is striking, and seemingly universal.
42. Goett interview, 3 Dec. 1981.
43. Charles Harper interview, 10 Sept. 1982.
44. Vincenti interview, 7 Nov. 1980. See also Hartman, Adventures in Research, p. 45.
45. Much of my descriptive information on the early wind tunnels I owe to George Gray, Frontiers of Flight (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948), whose clear description of NACA research and facilities provides an excellent introduction for the layman to the field of aeronautical research. See also Hartman, Adventures in Research, for descriptions of the 7- by 10-foot tunnels and the 16-foot tunnel, pp. 45-46.
46. See Hartman, Adventures in Research, p. 31.
47. Vincenti interview, 31 Oct. 1980.
43. Hartman, Adventures in Research, p. 66-68.
49. See the memorandum prepared by John Parsons, Chief, Construction Div., for De France, May 1945, for a listing of the specifications regarding Ames's early facilities, in 74-A-1624, V-4823, SBFRC.
50. P. G. and E. Progress, vol. 18, no. 2, Feb. 1941, p. 2.
51. San Jose Mercury News, 3 Oct. 1941, p. 4.
52. See Note 9, construction memorandum.
53. See "Organizational Breakdown, Ames Aeronautical Laboratory,"in 74-A-1624, V-4823, SBFRC.
54. Hartman, Adventures in Research, p. 41.
55. Vincenti interview, 31 Oct. 1980.
56. See Gray, Frontiers of Flight, chap. 14, for a detailed description of both the problem and the solution. See also Hartman, Adventures in Research, chap. 9, in the World War II deicing research.
57. Hartman, Adventures in Research, p. 35.
58. Ibid., pp. 76-77.
59. Gray, Frontiers of Flight, p. 324.
60. Keller, "History of Langley Laboratory," chap. 2, pp. 16-22.
61. Wright Field, the Army's aeronautical research laboratory, was the logical source of liaison personnel for the office at Ames. See also Hartman, Adventures in Research, pp. 37-38.
62. Hartman, Adventures in Research, p. 39.
63. Robinson interview, 4 Nov. 1980. Hartman's role as Western Coordination Officer was discussed from the perspective of the Washington office in the 1940s. At that time Robinson was working in the office of the coordinator of research, S. Paul Johnston.
64. See correspondence of Arthur B. Freeman, "Job Orders, 1941-44," in 63-A-224, V-6630, SBFRC.
65. See "Personnel Statistics, 1940-45," Also see De France to George Gray, 8 Nov. 1945. In correspondence of De France, 74-A-1624, V4823, SBFRC.
66. Charles F. Hall interview, 10 Aug. 1982.
67. The Ames details occur in a letter from De France to Gray, 28 Dec. 1945, in 74-A-1624, V-4823, SBFRC.
68. See file on "Selective Service-Langley," in 63-A-224, V-6630, SBFRC.
69. Victory to Col. Kenneth Leitch, state director of Selective Service, 4 Feb. 1943, 63-A-224, V-6631 SBFRC
70. De France to Gray, 28 Dec. 1945, 74-A-1624, V-4823, SBFRC.
71. Vincenti interview, 18 July 1980.
72. Alfred J. Eggers interview, 6 Oct. 1982.
73. E. H. Chamberlin, financial officer, Washington office, to A. B. Freeman, Ames administrative officer, 30 July 1941, 63-A-224, V-6631, SBFRC.
74. Freeman to Chamberlin, 28 July 1941, 63-A-224, V-6631, SBFRC.
75. E. C. Braig to Freeman, 22 Oct. 1941, 63-A-224, V-6631, SBFRC.
76. Chamberlin to Freeman, 29 June 1944, 63-A-224, V-6631, SBFRC.
77. Unsigned memorandum on pay vouchers, undated, in a file that covers 1941-1945, in 63-A-224, V-6631, SBFRC.