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





[31] In November 1944, when it was becoming obvious that the war would soon be over, President Roosevelt asked Vannevar Bush, director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), to recommend policies that would ensure continuing governmental encouragement of and financial aid to scientific research. The war, Roosevelt observed, had been responsible for a great mobilizing of the scientific and technological resources of the country. Bush's OSRD, a wartime innovation, represented "a unique experiment of team-work and cooperation in coordinating scientific research and in applying existing scientific knowledge to the solutions of the technical problems paramount in war."1 Roosevelt intended that lessons learned in managing research during the war not be forgotten during peace.

Roosevelt asked the right person, for Bush's career had involved just such relationships of research and management. A New Englander, Bush had engineering degrees from Tufts University. During World War I, he had been a junior faculty member at Tufts and had done submarine-related research for the Navy. In the next decade he attained prominence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1938 he was appointed to the NACA, and in late 1939 succeeded Joseph Ames as its chairman.

In June 1940 Bush had obtained Roosevelt's approval to form the National Defense Research Committee, a civilian organization involved in the development of new weapons. A year later the committee was absorbed into the Office of Scientific Research and Development, and Bush resigned his chairmanship of the NACA to devote himself to the OSRD. The OSRD reported directly to the President and had its own funds to work with.2 Such assets produced remarkable technological results: workable radar, the proximity fuse, fire-control mechanisms, amphibious vehicles, and, of course, the atomic bomb.

In his varied capacities, then, Bush had been on both sides of government-sponsored research. A renowned engineer and scientist himself, [32] Bush was sensitive to the problems of research and the difficulties in bureaucratizing the process of scientific work. As a director of research organizations-the Carnegie Institution of Washington, the NACA, and the OSRD- he experienced the opposite side of the coin in confronting the need to form broad organizational policies to govern research.

With the aim of perpetuating the wartime achievements in scientific and technological research, the President asked Bush to turn his attention to four major questions:


1. What could be done to publicize, for the public good, the contributions to scientific knowledge made during the war?
2. How could the government aid a continuing effort in the war against disease?
3. How could the government aid research by public and private organizations?
4. What could be done to discover, encourage, and develop scientific talent in the younger generation to assure that scientific research would continue to progress at the same level it had during the war?3


The questions Roosevelt placed before Bush had a certain refreshing simplicity to them, but they were timely, and timeless, questions. They embraced many facets of national concern: national security, health, the issue of government aid to private institutions, the relationship between public and private research organizations, and federal support for the development of scientific talent.

That Roosevelt addressed himself to such questions in the closing days of the war, even before peace had brought time for reflection, is testament to his wisdom. The answers that Vannevar Bush and his committee framed in June 1945 for President Truman reflect both sound judgment and the context of the times. Science, properly funded and inspired, could solve the problems and insecurities of the coming decades. It was indeed an "endless frontier," as Bush was to call it. The policies that grew out of the report Bush submitted formed much of the federal attitude toward research and development for the next 20 years, and the history of Ames during that period reflects this.

Bush's recommendations were plainly worded and pragmatic. First, science is a proper concern of government, and the government should take steps to nurture science in the best possible environment. The government should support the universities generally, as well as those scientific areas where large outlays of funds were crucial. The wartime advances against disease were possible because of "a large backlog of scientific data accumulated through basic research in many scientific fields in the years before the war."4 The key to continued scientific progress was a strong foundation in [33] basic research that was helped, not hampered, by federal intervention. Guiding policies were necessary: to ensure support where needed, to encourage the current generation in scientific directions, to develop programs at universities not necessarily geared toward specific problem-solving, but toward building strong foundations in basic research. Medical schools should be heavily supported, the continued scientific education of those who had just served in the war should be financed, and measures should be taken by a civilian-military advisory board to disperse the results of wartime research that were no longer crucial to national security. Better liaison among the military, universities, industry, and the government should be developed to coordinate research and to promote mutual awareness of both needs and accomplishments.

Bush's final recommendation was for the formation of an agency with a broad base of power and intellect and stable funding to further basic research in sciences. Five years later the agency Bush had envisioned, the National Science Foundation, was formed, underlining the national commitment to support science. It was in this postwar period of faith in the potential of basic research and the government's dedication to the solid advancement of science that Ames reached maturity as a research laboratory.

The issues of advance planning, efficient management, dedication to basic research, proper liaison among concerned groups, coordination of research efforts, encouragement of supporting institutions, and continual attraction of new talent are themes running through the postwar period at Ames. The first years of its existence had been highly colored by the circumstances of its inception and the abnormal conditions caused by World War II. As the war drew to a close, the Ames staff was turning toward new concerns.




At the somewhat tardy dedication ceremony in 1944, Ames had five wind tunnels -the 7- by 10-foot tunnels, the 16-foot tunnel, the 40- by 80-foot tunnel, and the high-speed 1- by 3.5-foot tunnel. The last two were the newest and represented, in a sense, the two diverging directions of research undertaken at Ames. The 40- by 80-foot tunnel proved highly useful for testing full-scale aircraft during the last year of the war. One of the first aircraft tested in it was the Ryan XFR-1, which was powered by a reciprocating engine and an auxiliary jet engine. The first U.S. aircraft with a jet engine, the Navy fighter lacked stability and control under certain conditions, and as such was unusable. Testing in the 40- by 80-foot tunnel and in flight identified the flaws and led to modifications that corrected them, to the delight of the Ryan company and the Navy.5



1943. Ames continued to construct wind tunnels even as it ran triple shifts to keep up with wartime demands for aircraft testing.

1943. Ames continued to construct wind tunnels even as it ran triple shifts to keep up with wartime demands for aircraft testing. The 40- by 80-foot tunnel was completed in 1944, and the 12-foot pressure tunnel was completed in 1946.


It had been planned, however, that Ames would concentrate on high-speed problems, and it was toward those questions that aeronautics was turning. One of the major projects at prewar Langley had been the development of airfoil shapes that would allow airflow close to the wing surface, the so-called boundary layer, to remain laminar, or streamlined, over the entire wing. This became especially critical at high speeds. In the late 1930s a Langley research group had also experimented with various airfoil shapes to reduce as far as possible the detrimental compressibility effect of shock waves forming adjacent to the wing surface at transonic speeds. (The transonic region is usually defined as flight speeds between roughly 0.8 and....



1943. The giant entrance cone of the 40- by 80-foot wind tunnel under construction.

1943. The giant entrance cone of the 40- by 80-foot wind tunnel under construction. For almost 40 years a closed-system tunnel, a 1979-1982 expansion created an additional 80- by 120-foot test section with an open-intake air system. The wind tunnel remains the largest in the world.


....1.2 times the speed of sound, which itself varies, according to altitude and temperature, from 960 to 1230 km/hr.) As it turned out, the method for calculating airfoil shapes for laminar flow was also applicable for delaying the formation of shock waves on wings at transonic speeds. However, these research questions were for the most part shelved during the war as both laboratories dealt with the day-to-day clean-up work on aircraft.6

That basic research on high-speed problems was about to become crucial was made increasingly obvious by another major development in aeronautics. The jet engine, which was still in the experimental stage in Britain and Germany when war broke out, operated most efficiently at higher speeds. Therefore, if jet engines were to achieve their highest potential, aircraft that could operate at much higher speeds would have to be developed as well. Both the development of the jet engine and the accompanying problems of high-speed flight were issues that the NACA, involved [36] as it had been in the increasingly frantic requests for new aircraft designs by the military, felt it could not devote itself to wholeheartedly. In March 1941, however, a special committee on jet propulsion had been appointed by the NACA's Main Committee. Stanford's Dr. William Durand was named chairman. At 82, he had come out of retirement and rejoined the NACA at the request of Vannevar Bush.

Under the aegis of the special committee, investigation of current jet propulsion research led NACA to sponsor specific projects. In 1943 a testing facility went into operation at the Engine Research Laboratory in Cleveland. Research was closely guarded and only those directly involved in the work knew any details. By 1945, however, jet-propulsion research had become a major activity at Cleveland. Aerodynamic and thermodynamic problems related to the higher speeds were being attacked simultaneously at both Langley and Ames.

The NACA has been condemned for its laggard development of the jet engine. Especially after the war, when German progress had become known, the NACA was criticized for not throwing all its resources into producing a workable jet airplane for the war.7 Though there is an element of truth in the contention that the NACA "missed the boat," in the prewar context of the late 1930s, exploration of jet propulsion may have seemed a luxury those preparing for the expected crisis could not afford. It was, perhaps, less a question of stodginess in outlook than a decision to work in directions that might be more immediately productive. In beginning research in new areas, there is, of course, no way to predict how long it will take to produce useful results, and myriad problems remained to be solved in the field of propeller-powered aircraft. In 1939 the NACA's facilities at Langley were stretched almost to capacity, and even though the two new laboratories, Ames and the Cleveland engine laboratory, would in time relieve pressure on Langley, their planning created new demands on the NACA.

In the Langley aerodynamics group, Eastman Jacobs had done early research on a multistage axial-flow compressor that would be more efficient than a centrifugal compressor, the path being followed by the British in jet propulsion. Jacobs was working on a somewhat unofficial basis, and his early leads were not pursued by the NACA. With the war, however, and the mobilization for action by the Durand Committee, the NACA attempted to catch up with the British. After the war, in the opinion of one NACA official, the Washington office of the NACA felt "a little sensitive about it, in light of the British example. There was a wish that the NACA had worked continuously on the axial-flow jet-engine concept."8 The NACA should not be held solely responsible for the late start on jet-engine research in this country. Neither the military nor the aircraft engine companies had urged continued investigation of jet propulsion.

In any event, with the field developing as it did toward the end of the [37] war, jet propulsion and high-speed aerodynamics were the major concerns of those involved in aeronautical research in the postwar period.9 As one Ames employee observed, though propulsion had not been within his laboratory's field of research, the staff regretted that the NACA had not been at the forefront of research in that area.10 High-speed research, however, was specifically one of Ames's specialties, and it was important, as the demands of wartime clean-up work receded, to move in that direction. There was a sense of urgency, both within the NACA as a whole, and specifically at Ames, as other research groups were beginning to explore the problems of supersonic flight. At the Aberdeen Proving Ground, the Army was organizing a ballistics research group to investigate supersonic phenomena; work had begun on the study of airflow over projectiles at supersonic speed. An engineer at the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory (at the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech)) had built a small supersonic tunnel to provide data upon which to base the design of a larger tunnel at Aberdeen. The Ames staff was anxious to waste no time in assembling the necessary facilities to proceed with transonic and supersonic research.




The original plans for facilities at Ames had included a supersonic wind tunnel, 11 but the increasing cost of construction coupled with the other demands of war had delayed it. Toward the end of the war, however, as it became obvious that supersonic tunnels would be needed in the near future, Ames engineers began designing what would eventually materialize as two 1- by 3-foot supersonic wind tunnels. As was true of so much of the NACA's prudent financing, economy played a large role in the construction plans. One of the new tunnels was designed to use compressed air being discharged from the adjacent 12-foot pressure tunnel. In this way two supersonic tunnels were built -one a continuous-flow tunnel and the other an intermittent blow-down tunnel attached to an existing tunnel -one relatively cheaply. The cost for both was $1,250,000, most of which was spent on the Continuous-flow tunnel.12 Because of the high pressure drop available from the 12-foot pressure tunnel, the blow-down tunnel could achieve higher Mach numbers than could the continuous-flow tunnel.

Even before the tunnels were approved, however, Ames was planning for them in a typically enterprising way. It was the kind of foresight that Vannevar Bush would have subscribed to, for it looked to the future with imagination and energy. Harvey Allen, then head of the Theoretical Aerody- [38] namics Section, was largely responsible for the advance planning of the new supersonic tunnels. As one of his subordinates recalled,


We needed information on supersonic flow through nozzles. We also needed information on the pressure drop required across a nozzle to establish the supersonic flow through it. This information was essential to determine the horsepower needed, so that we could then choose the proper compressors and drive motors.... So Allen put a couple of young engineers to work on the job of making a small model converging-diverging nozzle, running some experiments and getting some data, and the only place where there was a supply of compressed air was in the Technical Service Building where . . . compressed air [was used] to drive pneumatic tools. So they designed the equipment in an ad hoc, hurry-up way and set it up next to the compressed-air tank in the boiler room.... But since they could only have use of the air when it wasn't being used for the shops, they had to come in after midnight - the shops at that time were running on two shifts and run their tests, which had to be designed to use the little bit of space left between the boiler and the wall.... It was strictly a bootlegged kind of operation. I'm not sure if Allen even had official approval from Washington to do it, but it was something that had to be done so we did it.13


With the information so gained, Ames was ready with specifications as soon as the two supersonic tunnels were approved. Construction began in February 1945 and was finished by September, De France playing a strong role in holding construction to its deadlines. Again foresighted, Ames engineers and the construction contractors had provided for possible difficulties in the flexible-throat apparatus of both tunnels. The flexible throat made it possible to vary the configuration and curvature of the throat to change the test Mach number. Because the flexible throats were difficult to build and make function properly, the design contractor had been asked to furnish two fixed throats, each designed for a different Mach number, so that the tunnels could function on schedule. As it happened, problems with the flexible throat did arise; but the fixed throats allowed the tunnels to operate on schedule at two supersonic speeds.14

With equal foresight, the continuous-flow tunnel had also been pressurized. Allen felt that the Reynolds-number effect, which made pressurization [39] necessary to obtain accurate test results on models at subsonic speeds, would Continue to be important at higher speeds. This opinion contradicted that of the influential Theodore von Karman of California Institute of Technology's Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory, but. as it turned out, Allen was correct. This lucky hunch saved much trouble later, and probably considerable expense. Intuition was significant in the history of aeronautics and the NACA-and the very necessity of occasionally resorting to the informed guess kept the work exciting to young researchers. As a section head of the 1- by 3-foot tunnels commented, "As I look back on it, the way we went ahead and designed things and spent for those times fairly sizable sums of money on the basis of such rudimentary knowledge is sort of staggering. It was only because of everybody's ignorance that we went ahead and did some of the things we did. You simply didn't know what the problems were, and you found out as you went along.15

While the small 1- by 3-foot tunnels were being planned and built, Ames engineers were also planning another supersonic tunnel, this one a larger facility. Ames had submitted plans for it to Lewis in the Washington office in 1944, but the war was still in progress and the cost of the projected tunnel was quite high, over $4 million. The plans, legend has it, disappeared into Lewis's desk drawer. Months later, the chief of the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics came to see Lewis to discuss projected research facilities for the NACA. The Navy's position was that a large supersonic facility was needed; had the NACA given any thought to this? Lewis rummaged through his desk and produced the Ames plans, no doubt impressing his Navy colleague with the NACA's foresight. Lewis explained that they had not proceeded because of the prohibitive cost, at which point the admiral said the Navy could pay for the tunnel. In January 1945 the NACA received the funds from the Navy, and by May construction of a 6-by 6-foot supersonic tunnel had begun at Ames. The somewhat accidental-in timing at least-conjunction of interests produced a needed research tool.

This example of civilian-military cooperation illustrates the personal role that was often necessary for such transactions to occur. Throughout his career in the NACA, George Lewis often obtained approval and funding for new facilities on the strength of his solid reputation for conscientious management and wise forecasting. Lewis made a point of visiting the Langley and Cleveland laboratories once a week to keep abreast of progress on various projects, as well as to be aware of their future needs. Although he was not able to take such a direct role in the day-to-day activities of Ames, the case of the 6- by 6-foot tunnel - "hip-pocket" administration at its best - indicates that he did not neglect Ames. That the NACA had the desired plans already at hand must have contributed to continued good relations with the Navy.16




Official relations between Ames and the Navy remained extremely pleasant and cooperative throughout the years, possibly because the Navy- despite its own Bureau of Aeronautics was never a direct competitor with the NACA. With the Army, the situation was different. It had not only its Air Corps to sponsor, but also its own experimental laboratory at Wright Field. From the inception of the NACA, Army Air Corps concerns and research interests and those of the NACA sometimes collided, causing a real difference in tone between Army-Ames and Navy-Ames relations.17

Another aspect of the Navy-Ames cordiality was the marked lack of tension that always accompanied the sharing of Moffett Field. Ames was barely two years old, and still very much in the developing stage, when the Navy returned to Moffett Field. De France, and before him Edward Sharp, had taken great pains to cultivate frequent, pleasant exchanges between Ames and the military,18 and De France continued to display great tact in dealing with the Navy. Correspondence between Ames and the Navy concerning items of mutual interest is complimentary to both De France and the successive commandants.19 In 1948 Ames transferred its first building, the wooden shack used in 1940 to house equipment and personnel, to the Navy, and moved it just outside the main gate of Moffett Field, where it became the Chief Petty Officers' Club. Ames also arranged the arrivals of its industrial and military clients so as not to conflict with the Navy's take-off and landing schedules, a courtesy that did not go unappreciated. Another exchange of letters arranged for Ames to procure dry ice for the Navy; the laboratory was the bigger consumer and dealt daily with the dry-ice supplier.

The Navy returned such favors in a number of ways that made life easier for Ames. In the early years the Navy newspaper gave the laboratory a substantial column in the Moffett News.20 More important, the Navy continued the Army practice of providing Ames with aviation fuel. Two 25,000-gallon tanks were reserved at the naval air station for the use of the NACA. This made it unnecessary for Ames either to construct storage tanks or to order fuel.21

When Ames needed an air compressor in 1948, it borrowed one from the Navy. The loan was to run for six months, but Ames kept the compressor for almost three years before the Navy really insisted on its return. The same civility accompanied the loan of a naval crane. Its transportation from the Alameda Navy Shipyard necessitated considerable inconvenience to the Navy. Eventually, the crane too was recalled, but not before it had been used for some time by Ames.22 That these loans of equipment were accomplished so agreeably speaks for the courtesy of individuals on both sides and for the larger context of the Navy-NACA relationship.

[41] During the war, there was some concern that the NACA was being too helpful to the military, at the expense of its own affairs. In 1942 George Mead, vice-chairman of the NACA and a former vice-president for engineering of United Aircraft Corporation, wrote J. C. Hunsaker, the committee's chairman:


I am rather afraid that most of our facilities are tied up in what you might call "service" engineering jobs on current models. It is a shame the industry hasn't its own aerodynamic tools, in order to free ours for forward-looking work. It will be just too bad if some other country has been able to do this, as there seems plenty of opportunity of developing ways and means of improving performance of more or less orthodox equipment which could be utilized during this war.23


Toward the end of the war, Mead again voiced the same worry to Hunsaker:


I feel strongly that NACA should confine its work to research of a fundamental nature in both planes and engines.... Our national safety, as well as commercial leadership in the air, depends upon straight thinking on research and carrying forward a constructive program at all times. You haven't had much opportunity of doing this as NACA's forehandedness had provided the vital equipment needed to perfect designs that neither the services nor the manufacturers had had the wisdom to make available for the job.24


The end of the war brought relief from the feeling that the NACA existed to solve specific military problems. At the same time the NACA needed to redefine its goals.

In 1946 the NACA initiated discussion within the government for a policy that would delineate the areas of responsibility of the various aeronautical factions. Obviously the NACA was most concerned about its role vis-a-vis the military. There was rancor on both sides. The Army Air Forces felt let down by NACA's failure to develop the jet engine in time for use during the war, and the NACA felt it had neglected just that type of basic research because it had been overwhelmed doing testing and clean-up for the military. The attempt to clarify positions was only partially successful. As might have been expected, and as the NACA had desired, its main province was defined as "fundamental research"; the military would explore and develop for military use the results of such research. Where, exactly, the line [42] was to be drawn was still moot. In July 1947 the Army Air Forces became a separate service as the United States Air Force, and thereafter was the NACA's main competitor.

An Ames historian has remarked that two of the notable features of the Ames staff in 1946 were "a nucleus of extremely competent men and .. . the general leek of knowledge about transonic and supersonic aerodynamics."25 If there is truth in the statement, it is also true that Ames had no monopoly on ignorance. Research opportunities beckoned. The challenge was to begin and to lead the field. Ames was in a position to follow new directions and exploit the opportunities.

In July 1945 the importance of high-speed research was recognized at Ames by reorganization. Harvey Allen, who had been head of the Theoretical Aerodynamics Section, became head of the new High-Speed Research Division and responsible for the work done in the 1- by 3.5-foot tunnel (called "high-speed" when built but subsonic nevertheless), the about-to-be completed 1- by 3-foot supersonic tunnels, and the 6- by 6-foot supersonic tunnel. There were now three research divisions, the other two being the Theoretical and Applied Research Division and the Full-Scale and Flight Research Division. The divisions were still organized around existing and planned facilities, but the organization was becoming more complex. The more formalized organizational structures really began with the end of the war, with attempts to "normalize" operational practices. For Ames, which had known nothing but abnormal conditions, the transition from war to peace also brought adjustments in procedure that involved both increasing size and complexity and increased documentation and justification both locally and in Washington. This was accompanied, not just at Ames but throughout the aeronautical profession, by a general taking-stock as to where things stood in research, what could be learned from Europe, and where the first priorities lay.

As Vannevar Bush had noted, one of the great needs in science and technology was the rapid dissemination of research results to those who might make use of them.26 On an international level, this concern for knowledge of the latest aeronautical developments had naturally been focused on Germany, where aeronautical engineers rivaled those in the United States. As the war ended, the Alsos mission of American scientists and engineers had been sent to study German laboratories and to retrieve useful research results.27

One discovery of the mission was that the Germans had made little progress in transonic research. Though the Allies had little to gain from German research in this respect, it was comforting to know that the same difficulties the Americans and the British had encountered in this field had been experienced also by the Germans. Another product of the Alsos mission was information on the revolutionary German swept-wing research.

[43] Illustrative of the concept of coordination and dissemination urged by Bush, the models and test results on swept wings in Germany enabled the Boeing Aircraft Company to proceed quickly with a swept-wing bomber. A Boeing engineer was a member of one of the groups surveying German developments, and he relayed the information back to his company, which gambled, with happy results, and produced the B-47.28

But, interestingly, the German research on the swept wing had been paralleled in the United States. A NACA researcher, R. T. Jones, who at the time worked at the Langley laboratory, had been doing theoretical research on the swept wing for transonic flight. The concept was not new; in Germany, Adolph Busemann had proposed a swept wing in 1935.29 However, as Jones later noted in a letter explaining his contribution, Busemann "did not make the point that a subsonic type of flow would appear if the wing were swept behind the Mach lines"-i.e., more obliquely.30

Thinking back to a NACA paper written by Max Munk in 1924 ("The Relative Effects of the Dihedral and the Sweepback of Airplane Wings," TN-177), Jones took the idea further "I remembered Munk's paper and wondered if it would also apply to compressible flow, and I saw no reason why it didn't. Other people seemed to think compressible flow much more complicated than that."31 The ramifications of sweeping the wings behind the Mach lines were crucial; sweepback could delay the compressibility phenomenon that was such a problem at transonic speeds.

Jones and his colleagues were of course unaware of the work that had been going on in Germany at the same time.32 The Messerschmitt 163, with swept wings, did not reach production before the end of the war.33 Working at Langley, Jones developed the theoretical principles for sweepback in February 1945; they were tested experimentally in Langley wind tunnels in March. Jones recalled the first tests: "It seemed to suggest what I was predicting, but it was pretty crude." Robert Gilruth, later head of Langley's Space Task Group and the Apollo program but in 1945 a research engineer, did more decisive tests. He attached model wings to the upper surface of the wing of the P-51 and got more satisfactory results. "When I went over to find out what the results were, they said something was wrong with the balances,'' Jones remembered. "About the third try they began to believe the results - the drag was much lower than they would believe!"34 When von Karman's Army Air Forces Scientific Advisory Group was in Europe investigating German aeronautical research a short time later, they questioned Busemann on Jones's research, which had been the topic of conversation during the long flight to Europe. Busemann corroborated Jones's findings. It was, as one member of the Alsos mission recalled, "a scientific Coincidence.... Another example of the case where a background of common knowledge may lead to identical, important theories pursued inde-[44] pendently and simultaneously by warring centers -the United States and Germany-even though isolated from each other in the intervening six years by security classification."35

For Ames, the sense of being on the verge of a new era became even sharper when Jones transferred there from Langley in duly 1946. After John Stack and others at Langley devised the slotted-throat tunnel, making the first truly transonic wind tunnel possible, the Ames 1- by 3.5-foot tunnel was quickly converted for transonic testing by the expedient of drilling holes in the walls. At almost the same time, the NACA proposed to carry transonic research into the upper atmosphere with the Bell X-1 and the Douglas D-558.36

Not only was aeronautics more exciting, but the role of an aeronautical research laboratory had become more complicated. Ames had to deal with more agencies, and more closely, than during the war. Some way had to be found to meet the legitimate needs of the military, industry, the universities, and the NACA with minimum duplication. The solution was the Unitary Plan written by a committee under Dr. Jerome Hunsaker, the chairman of the NACA. After considering the needs of aeronautics as a whole and the desires of the various groups, the committee produced a scheme for research and development facilities for the Air Force, the NACA, and the universities. The appropriations, when finally passed in 1950, gave the NACA $75 million for facilities at each of its three research laboratories.

For Ames, the Unitary Plan produced not the 8-foot, Mach 0.7-3.5 tunnel originally planned, but a giant complex that linked three tunnels, one transonic and two supersonic, to an impressive power plant that could generate 240,000 hp. Begun in 1950, the complex took over three years to construct and, as E. P. Hartman noted, "represented perhaps the end of the line in large, continuous-flow wind-tunnel construction." The cost was over $27 million, a leap from the $7.2 million spent in 1944 on the 40- by 80-foot tunnel. The difference in cost reflects not only the general difference in prices and complexity of equipment over the eight years, but also a real change in attitude regarding the necessity for major financial commitment, on the part of the government, to basic research.37

By 1950 more than 1200 persons were employed at Ames.38 Unavoidably, the close-knit atmosphere of the early war years had changed, reflecting not only the larger population, the greater range of facilities, and the implied specialization, but also the increased bureaucracy that accompanied that growth. Albeit with difficulty, some of the spirit of a small community remained, where persons felt bound to common goals and loyalties. Many ideas were discussed and perhaps even decisions made on them, as one veteran remembers, "in the cafeteria line."39 Employees felt drawn not only to their own particular jobs, but to the institution as a whole. The standards of Ames were still very much those of Smith De France, who while wielding [45] an iron hand as the engineer-in-charge also commanded great personal loyalty. De France was committed to excellence and periodically circulated memoranda that recognized achievement. Especially when outsiders complimented the NACA or Ames, De France let the staff know, so that "you will take great pride in knowing how much this work is appreciated."40 Thus from an internal standpoint, Ames continued to display the early characteristics that had made it such a desirable and exciting place to work.




In its relations with the Washington office, however, Ames was not completely comfortable. The problem of distance was multiplied by the increasing complexity of both the laboratory and the NACA itself. Another problem came from the inevitable clash of personality that accompanied many dealings with the secretary of the NACA, John Victory. For Ames, Victory personified the worst of bureaucracy and pomposity. From the West Coast the very real services he performed for the NACA were not so apparent. Instead, Victory announced himself in a series of terse bulletins that tended toward petty detail and general complications for the recipient. He was cordially disliked at Ames, and most administrative communications from Washington came over his signature. A typical Victory directive informed Ames that the NACA now had a "lighting consultant," attached to the Cleveland Laboratory, who should be consulted on any proposed lighting installations. An attached Ames comment observed, "Don't like to see this, but guess we will have to like it. Pretty soon we may be like some of the large industrial companies and be afraid to make a move unless we consult the home office first."41 When Victory's official title changed from secretary to executive secretary, defined as "the assistant head of the agency, supervising and directing its administrative work," the memorandum was greeted at Ames by a penciled "wow ! " and "not that ! ",42

In addition to the personal annoyance embodied by Victory, Ames in the late 1940s and early 1950s suffered the effects of a general tendency on the part of government agencies to encourage greater efficiency-or at least to document efforts toward that end. In late 1949 Ames was instructed to name a "Policy and Procedure Officer," to be "charged with the responsibility of continuously studying policies and procedures and collecting information in an orderly manner for discussion from time to time with representatives of the other laboratories and of the Headquarters Office." Evidently Ames did not respond favorably to this, for a second letter from Washington observed:


[46] It appears that there is still some lack of clarity in our letters attempting to convey to you the objective and modus operandi of our policy and procedures group. Uniform functioning of all branches of NACA is really secondary. Improvement of the efficiency of the organization is the primary objective.... I don't believe that personnel at Ames is any more susceptible to confusion than is the personnel in other parts of the organization. We have a job to do. Let's get along with it.... Please submit the name of the individual you recommend for designation as Policy and Procedure Officer of the Laboratory.43


Of the same era is the Headquarters-instituted Management Improvement Program, which attempted through periodic reports and conferences to cut inefficiency and costs and to save time and equipment. Reading the reports now, one cannot help but feel they were headaches that the Ames staff dispensed with as summarily as possible. The detail illustrates the growing amount of paperwork and the increasing man-hours spent in management analysis. One conclusion to such a report announced, "Following a detailed analysis of the report on Langley's survey, Ames and Lewis agree to under take a study at the time of preparing the Annual Motor Vehicle Report and to forward information copies of their reports to all offices."44

An interesting contrast to the Management Improvement Program is ~' memorandum from a group of Ames engineers to De France. They were concerned that they had insufficient knowledge of industry's wider needs and concerns. They worried about "the necessity for the research aerodynamicists of the NACA becoming acquainted with the complex interrelationship of problems that the aircraft designers must face." As the Ames researchers pointed out, their specialization, as those concerned with intricate aspects of aerodynamic problems, often made it unlikely that they had the larger design perspective fully in view. The situation existing in previous years, they pointed out, had reversed itself-no longer was information dispersal solely a NACA function. Now the NACA researchers also needed to know industry's needs in a very specific manner.

A lecture series was suggested. Company engineers would be invited to brief Ames, in a technically detailed manner, on larger aspects of their aeronautical projects. The memorandum was sent by Harvey Allen to De France, to be followed up three months later by another even more specific letter by one of the concerned engineers.45 Thus, in a very real way, a part of the staff tried to cope with the laboratory's growing size and complexity, as well as the complexity of the research field. But the request for the lecture series was not granted.

As Ames entered the 1950s and the United States faced another war. the changes that had occurred since the end of World War II were visible to [47] all The Ames staff had doubled in six years, the number of facilities had also doubled Aeronautical research now dealt with speeds that had increased substantially since 1945. Unavoidably, and unsurprisingly, the daily routine at the laboratory had increased in complexity also. Ames was no longer the new, developing institution it had been during the war, and the field of aeronautics, having reached a stage of maturity, was burgeoning into new sophistication.


Chapter 2. The Postwar Period, 1945-1952


1. Roosevelt to Bush, 17 Nov. 1944. Quoted in Vannevar Bush, Science: The Endless Frontier: A Report to the President on a Program for Postwar Scientific Research (Washington, D.C., 1946), p. 3.
2. Vannevar Bush, Pieces of the Action (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1970), p. 31.
3 Bush, Science: The Endless Frontier, pp. 3-4.
4. Ibid, p. 13.
5. Edwin P. Hartman, Adventures in Research: A History of Ames Research Center, NASA SP-4302 (Washington, 1970), p. 105.
6. Ibid., pp. 50-53.
7. See Alex Roland, Model Research (unpublished manuscript, Apr. 1980), Chapter 8. Roland argues that the NACA's failure to pursue jet propulsion soon enough was not only eventually fatal to the NACA, but was a product of the committee's very structure.
8. Russell G. Robinson interview, 17 Dec. 1980.
9. See John V. Becker, The High-Speed Frontier: Case Histories of Four NACA Programs, 1920-1950, NASA SP-445 (Washington, 1980). Becker's book is a fascinating study, though limited largely to Langley's role in transonic work.
10. Walter G. Vincenti interview, 31 Oct. 1980
11. Smith J. De France interview by Michael Keller, 16 June 1967. See also De France interview by Walter Bonney, 23 Sept. 1974. Transcripts are in the NASA History Office Archives.
12. "Memorandum for Engineer-in-Charge - Construction of Ames Aeronautical Laboratory," May 1945. 74-A-1624, V-4823, San Bruno Federal Record Center (henceforth SBFRC).
13. Vincenti interview, 3 Oct. 1980.
14. Hartman, Adventures in Research, pp. 61-62.
15. Vincenti interview, 31 Oct. 1980
16. I am grateful to Russell Robinson for reminiscences of Dr. Lewis and for details on the 6- by 6-foot tunnel's sponsorship. Also see Hartman, Adventures in Research, pp. 63-64.
17. this opinion has been expressed by many Ames employees, with the usual reason given being the lack of competitiveness between the Navy and Ames.
18. See chapter 1, p. 9.
19. 74-A-1624, box 163100, SBFRC.
20. H. J. E. Reid to De France, 27 July 1944. 66-A-301, V-1677, SBFRC.
21. A. B. Freeman to Capt. A. C. Olney, May 1948. 74-A-1624, box 163100, SBFRC
22. Correspondence regarding both the air compressor and the crane is in the personal papers of A. B. Freeman. 63-A-224, V-6630, SBFRC.
23. George J. Mead to J. C. Hunsaker, 22 Dec. 1942. George W. Lewis's personal file, NACA History Office Archives.
24. Mead to Hunsaker, July 1944. George J. Mead's file, NASA History Office Archives.
25. Hartman, Adventures in Research, p. 121.
26. Bush, Science: The Endless Frontier, p. 28.
27. Much publicity was accorded the Alsos mission, especially as it touched upon the V-1 and V-2 launching site at Peenemunde and the possibility of advanced research in the nuclear field. Much less mention was made of the mission's aeronautical investigations. Samuel A. Goudsmit, Alsos (New York: Henry Schuman, Inc., 1947).
28. For information on the aeronautical aspects of the Alsos mission, I am grateful to Russell G. Robinson.
29. Busemann had suggested the concept in a paper he had given at the 1935 Volta Congress. See George Gray, Frontiers of Flight (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948), p.343-344.
30. R. T. Jones to Ernest O. Pearson, Jr., 2 Feb. 1960, NASA History Office Archives.
31. Interview with R. T. Jones, 9 Sept. 1982.
32. R. T. Jones to James J. Strebig, 18 Apr. 1946, NASA History Office Archives.
33. Gray, Frontiers of Flight, p. 344.
34. See the report by R. T. Jones, "The Shaping of Wings to Minimize the Formation of Shock Waves," witnessed by the liaison officer of the NACA, Langley Field, 27 Feb. 1945. This was an informal memorandum; shortly thereafter Jones wrote also to Dr. Lewis in Washington, explaining the principle. NASA History Office Archives. Jones interview, 9 Sept. 1982.
35. George Schairer, "Evolution of Modern Air Transport Wings," p. 62. A paper given at the AIAA Evolution of Aircraft Wing Design Symposium, 29 Mar. 1980, Air Force Museum, Dayton, Ohio. Robinson interview, 17 Dec. 1980.
36. Hartman, Adventures in Research, pp. 146-149; Gray, Frontiers of Flight, pp. 334-338; Becker, The High-Speed Frontier, pp. 61-82. See the announcement of the transonic flight program in The Moffett News 4 (11, 30 May 1947): 1. 66-A-301, V-1677, SBFRC.
37. Hartman, Adventures in Research, pp. 137-139, 194.
38. See personnel figures, 1949-1950, in 70-A-1261, V-4823, SBFRC.
39. This feeling has been stressed, notably, by Mildred Cardona Macon and Edie Watson Kuhr. Vincenti interview, 18 Aug. 1980.
40. De France in memorandum for staff regarding speech by Congressman George P. Miller, 20 July 1953, 70-A-1261, V-4823, SBFRC. See also a memorandum from De France to division and branch chiefs regarding the esteem in which NACA was held in foreign countries
41. Victory to Ames, 20 Feb. 1950. Ames annotations 3 Mar. 1950. 70-A-1261, V-4823, SBFRC.
42. NACA to all laboratories, 19 May 1949. 70-A-1261, V-4823, SBFRC.
43. E. H. Chamberlin at NACA to Ames 29 Dec. 1949. 63-A-224, V-6631, SBFRC.
44. Notes on the Management Improvement Program Conference at Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory, 5-6 June 1951; reports on the Management Improvement Programs for FY 1951, 1952, and 1953. 63-A-224, V-6631, SBFRC.
45. Memorandum for De France, annotated by Robinson, written by Wallace Davis, Walter Vincenti, Dean Chapman, Jack Nielsen, Richard Scherrer, and Edward Perkins, 4 Mar. 1952. 70-A-1261, V-4823, SBFRC. All of the engineers were members of the 1- by 3-foot supersonic wind-tunnel staff. Wallace Davis to R. G. Robinson, 4 June 1952. 70-A-1261, V-4823, SBFRC.