The Challenge of Teamwork


[141] Langley managers understood the American aeronautics community as a team of four members: the universities and technical schools, which prepared future scientists and engineers for work in aeronautics; the NACA, which produced and distributed the new research results that made progress in aeronautical technology possible; the aircraft manufacturing and operating industries, which used research results in design, production, and routine flying of aircraft; and the military, whose requirements for advanced aircraft constituted the most acute challenge to the manufacturing industry and the NACA.

As the government's civilian member of the team, however, the NACA had to operate within perhaps the most challenging environment in the American aeronautics community, where teamwork was all too often the euphemism for political hardball and the push and shove of powerful interest groups. In such an arena the NACA could easily strike out if its managers had not prepared their players to stay away from wild pitches. The purpose of this chapter is to summarize the most serious political threats facing the NACA and Langley before World War II and, more importantly, to analyze major aspects of Langley's working relationship with its two major clients, the aircraft manufacturing industry and the military.


Surviving Political Threats


Gossamer wings had kept the NACA aloft in a turbulent atmosphere from the start. In 1915 Congress had established the Committee not, after all, because of any groundswell of public opinion, but rather to satisfy a few persistent advocates of such a step. Many of its supporters had opposed the construction of Langley laboratory, believing that it would duplicate work at existing government facilities. Those few Americans who had learned [142] about the NACA during World War I had supported it as an instrument of national security and industrialized armed force; they perceived it after the Armistice as just another military branch in need of demobilization. 1

Money matters plagued the NACA from its inception. After secretary John Victory's $1200 salary was subtracted from the first year's budget in June 1915, the Committee was left with only $3800. Fortunately, the comptroller decided that Congress had meant for $5000 to be immediately available - meaning until 30 June - and that a brand new $5000 was to be made available on 1 July. Six years later, this problem arose again. During the second session of the 67th Congress, the House Independent Offices Subcommittee asked whether the enabling act preempted the House's right to appropriate to the NACA any funds beyond that original $5000. With the 1915 decision as a precedent, the subcommittee resolved the question in the NACA's favor.2 The NACA wisely kept its budget requests modest; until 1930, none exceeded a million dollars a year (see appendix C). Nonetheless, getting appropriations was always tricky business. Langley's construction was funded through legislative contrivance as part of a naval appropriations bill. This tactic, which had also been used to make the Committee's establishment possible in the first place, was followed for a few years. But after the Bureau of the Budget was created in 1922, the NACA had to fight the same battles for money and live by the same budget cycle as other branches of the federal government. Legislation regulated how the agency spent its money and transferred Its funds from one account to another.3

As soon as World War I ended, a series of political maneuvers threatened the NACA's existence as an independent body. The Committee seems to have provoked the first threat by helping to draft and then support legislation in Congress that, if passed, would have "stopped just short of giving [the NACA] control over all aeronautical and aviation activities of the federal government."4 House Bill 14061, introduced by Julius Kahn on 13 May 1920, provided for "the establishment of a Bureau of Aeronautics in the Department of Commerce, in charge of a Commissioner of Air Navigation whose duties will comprise the licensing of aircraft, pilots, and airdromes, the designation of flying routes, cooperation with the States and municipalities in the laying out of landing fields, and, in general, the promotion of all matters looking to he advancement of commercial aviation." All rules and regulations formulated by the new commissioner of air navigation were to be submitted to the NACA for consideration, criticism, and recommendation to the secretary of commerce. House Bill 14137, introduced by C. F. Hicks on 19 May 1920, offered an alternative to the Kahn proposal. Hicks would not only have created a Bureau of Aeronautics in the Department of Commerce, here the NACA would have had broad [143] advisory responsibilities, but his bill would also have given the NACA the authority to consider "questions of policy regarding the development of civil aviation, with particular reference to education, preliminary training, commercial production of aircraft, establishment, elimination, and consolidation of flying fields and air stations" and "to recommend to the heads of the departments concerned the [transfer] of aircraft and aircraft equipment and accessories from one department to another for the civil uses of the Government." The Committee was also to "consider and report upon any question dealing with aviation referred to it by the President or by any of the departments, and.....initiate, report, and recommend to departmental heads desirable undertakings or developments in the field of aviation." Each department would "furnish the said Advisory Committee such information as to its aviation activities as may be requested."5

The purpose of both bills was to coordinate the government's multifarious aeronautical and aviation activities. Through its support of the legislation, the NACA offered to assume he major coordinating functions. This was a bold and risky step by an inexperienced agency ostensibly devoted to advice, not executive control, and the Committee barely survived the swift storm that blew up. Waving the old red flag of overlapping and duplicated effort in government, Senator William E. Borah (Rep., Idaho) introduced a joint resolution to abolish the NACA and to transfer its equipment to the Bureau of Standards and its land and buildings to the War Department.6 Preoccupied with other business, Congress failed to act on the proposal (or on the Kahn and Hicks bills); however, in its pursuit of more control over civil aviation, the NACA had anger d some old enemies and made some new ones.7

One of the most vociferous opponents of the NACA during the debate in the mid-1920s over national aviation policy was Brig. Gen. William "Billy" Mitchell, USA. Even before the dedication of the LMAL in June 1920 (a ceremony in which he had participated), Mitchell wanted to abolish the NACA. He wrote to the military attaché at the American embassy in Paris:


It is difficult to handle this National Advisory Committee in any way. It does no good here nor any place that I can see.8


As a guest at a meeting of the NACA. Executive Committee on 27 January 1921, Mitchell proposed that the Air Service buy all of the NACA buildings at Langley Field and move the research operations to Col. Thurman Bane's "Arsenal of Aeronautics" at McCook Field.9 In 1925, before the House Select Committee of Inquiry into Operations of the United States Air [144] Service, the general argued that the NACA spent "large appropriations of money for matters that could b handled far better in a central engineering department." Seeing in the NACA a major obstacle to his idea for a separate air force, Mitchell again advocated its abolition.10 After an inspection of Langley laboratory, however, the congressional committee found Mitchell's criticisms excessive.11

From 1926 to 1930 the NACA's public situation was as secure as at any time before World War II. Appropriations for the agency rose from $470,000 in 1925 to $1.3 million in 1930 (see appendix C). Mitchell's court-martial in October 1925, the publication of a favorable report on NACA activities two months later by President Coolidge's Aircraft Board, and the Lindbergh boom contributed to an overall improvement. So did the NACA's decision to keep out of the spotlight.

The critics of the NACA ended their sabbatical as soon as the Depression arrived, launching an attack on the Committee the equal of any that had come before 1926. Though it had a good reputation in government circles for fiscal responsibility - even for turning back unspent money to the Treasury - the NACA now had to convince skeptics that its efforts gave an adequate return for the precious dollar spent. In the December 1930 editorial "Why the NACA?" Frank Tichenor, editor of Aero Digest, portrayed the Committee as just another self-righteous and unenterprising federal bureau. He derided Langley laboratory a second-rate organization, trapped in red tape; its staff, though working in what Tichenor called the world's largest, most expensive, and most modern facilities, had been unable to contribute "one research project of scientific value, and only few of technical value." "If the results of the NACA could be computed in dollars and cents," the editor chided, "the Committee would long ago have been bankrupt." In a March 1932 editorial entitled "rake Politics Out of Research," he in fact calculated the cost of an NACA research paper:


The main results of the NACA's experimental research for the year [1931] is [sic] laid down in 13 technical papers. Attributing the [year's] entire expenditure [of roughly. $1.4 million] to them we find their cost to have been in excess of $100,000 each......The world never has known more costly current literature than that.


With this absurd upbraiding of the NACA for "doing only one thing well," spending money, Tichenor urged Congress to "merge the NACA laboratories with those of the Bureau of Standards, with those of the Army Research Department at Wilbur Wright Field, or with those of the Naval Aircraft Factory at Philadelphia." 12


[145] On the heels of this editorial campaign came the most serious direct threat to the NACA's existence in its first two decades. On 9 December 1932, as part of his plan to reduce expenditures and increase efficiency in government by eliminating or consolidating unnecessary or overlapping federal offices, President Hoover signed an executive order to abolish the NACA - just as he had wanted o do a few years earlier as secretary of commerce. The original resolution that had become the Air Commerce Act of 1926 contained a provision insisted on by Secretary Hoover calling for the transfer of the NACA to the Department of Commerce. Though the provision was eventually removed from the bill, Hoover continued to believe in its wisdom. As a lame duck president, he finally acted on that belief.13

In its January 1933 editorial "Perhaps Farewell, Lewis and Victory," Aero Digest applauded Hoover's action. Editor Tichenor said that the NACA had ceased to be a research body and had become "an advertising club, a rest home, a comfortable refuge for the two who have controlled it."14 This war of words against the Committee's director of research and executive secretary was so personal and bitter that the NACA staff thought that it saw Aero Digest employee Max Munk's hand providing the ammunition.15

The NACA responded to Hoover's order by soliciting the support of its most influential friends. Chairman Joseph Ames appointed a dozen men prominent in military and civil aviation (including Maj. Gen. Benjamin Foulois, chief of the Air Corps; Rear Adm. William A. Moffett, chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics; Edward P. Warner, editor of Aviation; Harry F. Guggenheim; and Orville Wright) to Special Committee on the Proposed Consolidation of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics with the Bureau of Standards. As might be expected, they expressed strong opposition. Though not a member Charles Lindbergh wrote a letter supporting the committee's report. He argued that the present, with its "rapid development in technical improvements and applications of aircraft to American commerce," was not the time "to make any move which would impair the efficiency" of the NACA.16

In January 1933 House Democrat voted unanimously to kill Hoover's mergers and left readjustment of the federal establishment to the new Roosevelt administration. In the heady days of the New Deal, critics of the NACA found little opportunity to threaten it with abolition. Budgets once again became the Committee's most serious political concern, Congress having refused in 1931 and 1932 to appropriate to the Committee a single penny for new construction. In 1933 and 1934, however, the NACA managed to get from the Public Works Administration nearly three-quarters of a million dollars for new construction at Langley. Part of the money was used [146] to rehire some personnel. In 1926, the NACA's general purpose budget rose by more than 50 percent to over one million dollars for the first time since 1932. An article in the previously censorious Aero Digest related that the NACA was a "non-political organization of aeronautical experts" and that its research findings were based "not upon guesses or political expediency, but upon fact."17 NACA Langley had survived the Depression.

The NACA's continuous existence from 1915 to 1958 as an independent organization of the federal government testifies not only to real merits in research but also to skill in the art of survival. Though the Washington office insulated the laboratory a much as possible from playing this political game, Langley had to be discreet in dealing with its clients. In particular, it had to respond effectively to calls for service from the aircraft industry and from the military.


Satisfying Industry


During World War I the NACA worked to stimulate the nation's aircraft industry. Between the wars, the Committee continued to give due consideration to the problems of business firms involved in designing, building, and operating aircraft. As matters of policy, the staff at Langley laboratory not only regularly investigated research questions peculiar to commercial aviation, but carried out its military-related programs in such a way as to make their results applicable to civil purposes. Industry could use idle research facilities for proprietary tests upon payment of the costs involved plus 100 percent. Excepting proprietary information, the NACA generally made its research findings known to all companies at the same time. When a test program suggested results of immediate interest to aircraft manufacturers prior t the publication of a formal report, the Committee issued the data to industry in advance. All technical reports were distributed to industry free of charge.18

The NACA's sustenance f the aircraft industry between the world wars was hardly carte blanche however. To avoid any suspicion that it belonged to or sanctioned an aviation trust, the NACA in its first year of existence had decided that industry should have no direct representation on the Main Committee and only limited membership on the subcommittees. This decision reflected the NACA's acceptance of an earlier piece of advice from the assistant secretary of he navy, the young Franklin D. Roosevelt. Endorsing the House resolution behind the establishment of the NACA, Roosevelt had argued in 1915:



President Franklin D. Roosevelt visiting Langley, 1940

President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Langley Field on 29 July 1940.


The departments of the Government most interested in the development of aeronautics will be the ones that will be coordinated by the advice of this committee, individually carry out the work required, and be responsible for the expenditures of money appropriated by Congress. Therefore, the representatives of the Government should always have the controlling interest in the activities of the proposed committee. The interests of private parties must be more or less commercial and influenced by such considerations.19


As a result of such Progressive ideas, the aircraft industry acquired only incidental NACA membership - the consequence of the sporadic appointment of individuals who happened to be associated with industry. Such persons, the NACA asserted, were always selected on the basis of their unquestionable qualifications, and did not represent industry.20

Industry spokesmen occasionally challenged the NACA policy - especially in the early 1920s when manufacturers hoped for federal aid to the depressed aircraft market and bitterly opposed the NACA 's unwillingness to advocate a separate air service.21 The NACA responded by approving in principle industry's frequent representation on future ad hoc subcommittees, organized under the standing subcommittees - which themselves had significant informal industry representation - to consider specific problems. In 1936, for example, the NACA created a Special Committee on Problems of Transport Construction and Operation and convened a conference of airplane pilots to discuss the handling characteristics and piloting techniques [148] of large transport planes. The membership of both included representatives of the principal American airlines, as well as representatives of the air services of the army and navy, the Bureau of Air Commerce, the Weather Bureau, and the NACA itself. Former Langley chief physicist Edward P. Warner, editor of Aviation and consultant to Douglas Aircraft Company, chaired the committee.22


Annual Aircraft Engineering Conferences


On 24 May 1926, 15 months after the Kelly bill had authorized the contract air transport of he U.S. mail and four days after the Air Commerce Act had assured small but consistent appropriations for the development and procurement of military aircraft, the NACA convened the first of what collectively became its most significant response to industry's request for service: the annual aircraft engineering conferences. Convinced that the advent of commercial aviation would generate a new series of aerodynamic problems, the Committee collected various representatives of the aircraft manufacturing and operating companies for a one-day, by-invitation-only tour of Langley laboratory. The meeting was intended to allow the LMAL technical staff to ascertain "the problems deemed of most vital importance" so that the NACA could incorporate them "as far as practicable" into it research programs. Held through 1939 (with the exception of a postponement in 1938 due to the extensive prewar construction of new research facilities), the conference became a regular conduit through which industry could make requests of the NACA. Discontinued by World War II the conferences resumed in 1946 under a slightly different format.23

The way Langley organized and conducted the annual conference illustrates much about the organization's situation within the American aeronautics community. A combined technical meeting and public relations extravaganza, the conference provided an opportunity for the NACA to highlight its recent accomplishments before captains of industry and high-ranking military officers (groups whose members "seldom had time to read NACA technical reports"), to exchange information with the other leading minds in American aviation, and to bang its big drum before congressmen and other public officials (who "had neither the time nor the qualifications to read the technical reports and judge whether the agency's output justified its appropriations").24 The event grew from a modest and relaxed affair in 1926, when the Committee sent out only 38 invitations, into a highly stated pageant that took weeks of preparation by the Langley and Washington office staffs. By 1936 the spectacle took two [149] days, the first day's session "for executives and engineers of the aircraft and operating industries, and Government officials," the second for "personnel of the governmental agencies using aircraft, representatives of engineering societies, and members of professional schools."25 Over 300 people attended each session, including a number of aviation writers who reported fully on the laboratory's presentations in newspapers and journals.

NACA Langley's handling of the annual conference reflected the shrewd political and administrative talent of its two executive officers, John Victory and George Lewis. Under their personal supervision, the event became the NACA's rite of spring. Victory was basically responsible for making sure that all the guests enjoyed themselves. All of the "important people" he gathered in Washington the day before the meeting, and in the late afternoon he escorted them aboard a steamer for a leisurely overnight trip down the Chesapeake Bay to Hampton. Mid-May was chosen to increase the chance for excellent weather. Cruise director Victory assigned cabins in a way that would facilitate easy exchanges of business and cordial conversation. He must have succeeded in creating a relaxing atmosphere despite "running around wearing hi annual worried look." After the 1939 junket, an executive of the Curtiss Wright Corporation was reported as having successfully defended "the championship for having the wildest pajamas on the boat."26 After do king at Old Point Comfort early in the morning, conference participants breakfasted in grand style at the Chamberlin Hotel with its view of Hampton Roads, and then proceeded to Langley Field some five miles away via automobile caravan (55 cars as early as 1930) escorted by Hampton motorcycle police. Victory seemed to be everywhere during the tour, smoothing over any rough spot that might appear (such as an uninvited guest), overseeing the place cards for lunch, and staging the group photograph. His most cherished moments, however, came after the conference adjourned, when participants were back at the Chamberlin for cocktails on it spacious verandas and for dinner, and later during the return steamer voyage to Washington.27 (One menu at the Chamberlin during the Depression included fruit cocktail, celery and olives, essence of tomatoes, crabcakes mornay, half a broiled chicken, baked stuffed potato, fresh green peas, lettuce and tomato salad with French dressing, walnut ice cream and cake, and demitasse; the cost to the NACA was 85 cents a meal.)

The part of the program influenced most directly by George Lewis began with the morning's first technical session at Langley Field. After welcoming speeches in the post theater by the air base commander and the NACA chairman, Lewis heard his engineer-in-charge and his chief of aerodynamics summarize the laboratory's major investigations of the past....



On the north shore of Hampton Roads, Old Point Comfort in the 1950s.

On the north shore of Hampton Roads,   the Chamberlin Hotel   in the 1950s.

On the north shore of Hampton Roads, Old Point Comfort (top) and the Chamberlin Hotel (bottom) in the 1950s. In the hotel photograph, notice the moat of Fort Monroe to the right. (Courtesy of the Newport News Daily Press)



George W. Lewis, ca. 1935.

"Doc" Lewis, about 1935.


....year. At 10 A.M. sharp the tour began. The visitors, organized into color-coded groups for compatibility of membership, were taken on a strict schedule through the various wind tunnels, shops, the hangar, and along the flight line. Lewis himself escorted one of the groups. At each location, a thoroughly prepared engineer demonstrated some current work in terms that Lewis and Victory had judged during rehearsals to be suitable for both expert and layman. No pains were spared in helping the visitor to visualize tests and understand results.

After lunch - originally in the base officers' club, but in later years in the Full-Scale Tunnel - key staff members, such as the heads of propeller and power plants research, offered more technical reports within special conferences, answered questions, and entertained comments. Here was industry's opportunity to recommend to the NACA new wind tunnel and free-flight tests. Though it was pretty hard to get the first individual to stand up in a large crowd of peers- - and competitors - to suggest what the NACA should do in the future, the meetings stimulated plenty of ideas. Records show that conference guests from 1926 through 1939 offered hundreds of suggestions for research. At the 1935 conference alone, the NACA staff heard 72 different ideas.28

As years went by, however, less and less time was made available for audience participation. For weeks prior to the meeting, management supervised the preparation of talks and demonstrations by the LMAL staff....



Attendees at the NACA's first annual manufacturers conference, 1926.

The annual industry conference grew from a small, modest affair into a large, orchestrated pageant. At the first conference in 1926 this photo was taken on the steps of the administration building. Those attending were, from left to right, (1) John F. Victory, NACA; (2) R. W. Brewer, Pitcairn Aviation, Philadelphia; (3) Andrew J. Fairbanks, LMAL; (4) William B. Stout, Stout Airplane Co., Dearborn, Mich.; (5) Thomas Carroll, LMAL; (6) A. E. Larsen, Pitcairn Aviation; (7) Harold F. Pitcairn, Pitcairn Aviation; (8) Lt. Ernest W. Dichman, Materiel Division, Air Corps, Mc Cook Field, Dayton; (9) Jones (possibly either Charles S., Curtiss Flying School, Garden City, N. Y., or Ernest La Rue, Chief, Air Information, Aeronautical Branch, Department of Commerce); (10) Charles F. Pape, Hall-Aluminum Aircraft Corp., Buffalo; (11) J. S. Bray, Allison Engineering Co., Indianapolis; (12) Charles W. Lawrance, Wright Aeronautical Corp., Paterson, N.J.; (18) Hugh L. Dryden (with hat), Bureau of Standards; (14) Herbert V. Thaden, Thaden Metal Aircraft Corp., San Francisco; (15) William F. Joachim, LMAL; (16) Waldernar A. Klikoff, Aircraft Development Corp., Detroit; (17) Karl Anstein, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., Akron; (18) Charles F. Marvin, Chief, U.9. Weather Bureau; (19) Joseph Ames, NACA chairman; (20) J. B. Johnson, Materiel Division, Mc Cook Field; (21) George Lewis, NACA; (22) Henry Reid, LMAL; (23) Marsden Ware (behind), LMAL; (24) Elton W. Miller, LMAL; (25) Max M. Munk, LMAL; (26) A. E. Nesbitt, Aviation Corp., New York City; 27) John W. Crowley, Jr., LMAL; (28) Arthur Gardiner, LMAL; (29) Smith J. DeFrznce, LMAL; (30) Charles Ward Hall, Charles Ward Hall Inc., New York City; (31) W. G. Brornbacher, Bureau of Standards; (32) Fred E. Weick, LMA ; (33) Theodore P. Wright, Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Co., Long Island; (34) Lt. Walter S. Diehl, BuAer, Navy Department; (35) Temple N. Joyce, Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Co., Long Island; (36) George J. Higgins, LMAL; (37) Edward P. Warner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Aeronautics; (38) Walter Reiser, LMAL; (39) Capt. Holden C. Richardson, BuAer; (40) Edward R. Sharp LMAL; (41) Lyman J. Briggs, Bureau of Standards; (42) Maj. Leslie MacDill, Materiel Division, Mc Cook Field; (43) unknown; (44) Donald G. Coleman, LMAL; (45) Paul Hemke (behind), LMAL; (46) Mitchell (full identity unknown).




Attendees at the ninth annual manufacturers conference, 1934.

Attendees at the 1984 annual conference assembled for a group picture in the Full-Scale Tunnel because it was the only place large enough to hold them all. The airplane mounted in the FST is the Boeing P-26A Peashooter.


.....as if the boys were "putting on a parade for their parents." 29 Lab engineers worked long and hard on their presentations until nearly everyone was satisfied that they were near perfection. In 1937 the chief of aerodynamics wrote the engineer-in-charge:


If it is desirable that all speeches and demonstrations be ready for rehearsal at an earlier date than heretofore, it is my suggestion that the date be set some time in advance so that everyone can work to it. I think the best way to bring our preparations to a completion at an earlier date is to stop tunnel operation at an earlier date and concentrate on our conference preparations rather than to try to keep the tunnels running and make preparations at the same time.30


Even before 1939, when the NACA formally changed the name of the conference in response to military requirements brought on by the start of World War II, most Langley employees already considered it an "inspection."

Such an approach worked at times against spontaneity. Eastman Jacobs remarked in a 1939 memo:


[154] A pretense should at least be made to giving the guests an opportunity to make suggestions and to get ideas off their chests. Very few will respond, but they will leave with the impression that w would have been glad to hear from them.31


The well-rehearsed NACA engineers made the most of their time in the national spotlight, sometimes reducing the time for visitor input. This domination of conference sessions reflected a management decision. In 1931 George Lewis had informed Langley that too much time in past meetings had been consumed by the presentation of suggestions. "We [in the Washington office] are trying in so far as possible to obtain in writing all the suggestions of the manufacturers' representatives as to future research problems to be undertaken by he Committee," said Lewis, and the lab must "cut down the time allowed [for them] as much as possible."32

However limited the give-and-take within the program, the NACA conference initiated a year-long discourse within the American aeronautics community. Companies that were reluctant to offer their most profitable ideas for research and development in the presence of competitors frequently wrote to the NACA proposing tests, and many followed up on an idea expressed during the conference by later sending a representative or even a team of consultants. Nearly all of these visits were friendly, though some of them could be troublesome. A few weeks after the 1934 conference, Langley's chief of aerodynamics reported to the engineer-in-charge that a recent visit by a man from Chance Vought demonstrated the "need for more definite rules" regulating -visitors. The manufacturer's representative arrived at Langley Field on a Saturday morning (when all employees worked until noon), spent about an hour with the chief getting information that would be needed in arranging a definite test program, and then bothered a member of the chief's staff at his home in the afternoon. The following Monday the Chance Vought man spent six and a half hours tying up two of Langley's best men (Fred Weick and John Stack) and "not by any means" did he confine himself to the "questions which he [had previously] mentioned." The purpose of his visit, in the chief's estimation, was "not so much to clear up hazy point regarding our reports or the information given out at the conference" as to obtain additional data that might help in connection with the design on which his company was then working.33

Since it was strict NACA policy to avoid giving commercial advantage to any one company or to obligate itself to any firm, Langley had to try as best it could to fend off these occasional attempts to use it as a consulting service. Usually this meant tightening the visitation rules. By 1938, one rule in the NACA's "General Information for Laboratory Guides" provided that "the research problems of the Committee shall not be discussed with visitors [155] at the Laboratory except upon specific authorization from the Engineer-in-Charge or a division chief," and another stated that "unless visitors have a letter from the Washington office authorizing their obtaining technical information and data, [they] shall not be given information on any of the researches of the Laboratory, except where such information is published. "34 At least one industry representative complained years later that by the late 1930s it was not even possible to watch tests being made on proprietary articles belonging to his own company.35 World War II, however, required that the NACA loosen its rules; during the national emergency, getting the job done "took priority over concern for fairness in dealing with competitive. companies" (see next chapter).36

In the weeks following an annual conference, the NACA staff gave serious consideration to the merits of every suggestion made by the visitors. Langley forwarded written comment on each idea to the Washington office, which in turn sent its recommendations to relevant NACA subcommittees. Even those questions that had already been answered during the meeting were considered as serious requests and given formal review.

From the hundreds of suggestion at the conferences from 1926 to 1939, the NACA authorized only 15 new research projects (see table 1). That comes to just over one research authorization (RA) per conference. Why so few? There are at least two explanations to consider. First, because the NACA's initial research authorizations had broad titles, Langley could often carry out tests suggested during a conference under RAs already in effect. Second, most suggestions for research that surfaced at a conference reflected someone's desire for a solution to a specific, and often private, problem of current aircraft design or operation. These ideas for NACA research thus involved refinement of what Edward Constant II, historian of the turbojet revolution, has called "normal technology"; that is, technology that evolves slowly, incrementally, and in accordance with a community of practitioners' ruling paradigm.37 The NACA rejected some suggestions as technically unsound and turned down some others because they would require detailed work on someone's proprietary design, and therefore were not problems appropriately to be undertaken by the Committee. In evaluating most ideas, however, it concluded that there was "sufficient information already at hand," that "this question has been covered to a reasonable extent," or that "work on this project is in progress." (For examples of these typical conclusions, see table 2.) Since it as Committee policy to carry out all major tests requested by the military, even to authorize an investigation of a special or proprietary device if the army or navy or a large number of manufacturers were interested in it, Langley at any one time had in mind most of the problems that were important to the aircraft industry.38



Table 1. NACA Research Authorizations Resulting from Suggestions at Annual Manufacturers' Conferences 1926-1939.

Source: NACA research authorization files, Langley Historical Archive (LHA).



Table 2. NACA Responses to Selected Suggestions for Research Made by Representatives of the Douglas Aircraft Co. at the Annual Manufacturers' Conference in 1935.

Sources: "Suggestions for Aerodynamic Research, 10th Annual Aircraft Engineering Research Conference, Langley Field, Va., May 22, 1935," A197-l, LaRC Central Files; Fred Weick to files, "Discussion with Dr. W. Bailey Oswald during His Visit to the Lab on May 27, 1935," 29 May 1935, A197-1.



[158] No one at Langley in 1926 needed to be told that the cowling problem was important, for example. I had been obvious to most aeronautical engineers for years. The NACA had only deferred action until Langley's new Propeller Research Tunnel became available. So the conference request for cowling studies simply provided the official justification for the NACA's authorization of a new research project.39

The annual aircraft engineering conference at Langley Field allowed the NACA to solidify its place in the American aeronautics community. As a public institution, the Committee and its laboratory faced the challenge of promoting teamwork in national aeronautics while dealing with competitive economic interests, professional rivalries, and political tensions-forces that sometimes threatened the NACA's role as an autonomous federal agency. The conference informed (and entertained) important people in the various fields of aviation, and advertise NACA research. The response of most visitors was positive. In his written evaluation of the 1939 conference, one LMAL engineer noted that, "spontaneous comments on the work of the laboratory were invariably favorable - occasionally to the point of absurdity."40

Though the annual conference kept NACA Langley in touch with the needs of industry, and allowed manufacturers' representatives to obtain firsthand information on the Committee's research facilities and results and to advance suggestions for future research, the conferences did not make the NACA captive to commercial interests. Considering the polished, public relations finesse with which the NACA executed the conference proceedings, the limited time for questions aid answers during the formal program, and the regulations for follow-up visits, it is hard to see how the meetings could have furthered any exploitation of the NACA by industry.41


Relation with the Military


The annual aircraft engineering conferences did not cause LMAL programs to slide toward commercial, as opposed to military, applications. After all, the U.S. government had first supported aeronautical research and development during World War I as an instrument of national defense and industrialized armed force. The NACA's organic legislation and the funds to build the LMAL had been approved by Congress as riders to naval appropriation bills. Until 1919, the NACA budget had been part of the navy's request. (Some critics had even called the NACA "The Naval Advisory Committee for Aeronautics") Committee headquarters was located in a wing of the old Navy Building, and its laboratory was on an army base.

[159] The lab's location confused the public and caused LMAL officers "no little... inconvenience.., in our transaction of business by correspondence." In 1925, for instance, the lab's chief clerk and property officer complained to George Lewis about the practice of addressing all government communications intended for the LMAL to the "Officer in Charge, Langley Field," or "Commanding Officer, Langley Field." Apparently this was the invariable practice with the navy, and a common one with the army. "It is evident that the Committee is confused with the Army," the clerk reported, "probably as a result of no instructions having ever been issued covering the independence of the two, and the distinction that should be made in addressing them." The lack of distinction, with uncertainty as to the real recipient of a letter or package, was an administrative nuisance:


Not infrequently the Army holds property intended by the shipper for the Committee, merely because of it being addressed to the Commanding Officer, Langley Field, ... who will receive the property and demand a memorandum receipt before delivering it to us. In such cases we become accountable to both the Langley Field authorities and the shipper for the same item of property.


NACA headquarters worked to remedy the problem by instructing other agencies to address mail intended for NACA Langley to "Engineer-In-Charge, N.A.C.A., Langley Field," but Langley's correspondence files and property records after 1925 continue to furnish hundreds of instances of this nuisance.42

There were other minor problems associated with the everyday sharing of Langley Field by the NACA and the army. One aspect of the lab's operation that routinely irritated military personnel in the 1920s and 1930s was the noise caused by the "blowing down" (rapid release of pressurized air to achieve high speed) of the VDT, y the diesel submarine engines of the PRT, and by the two powerful 4O0-horsepower drive motors of the FST. According to base adjutants who periodically complained, not only did the noise interrupt sleepers, but it also destroyed the ambience of the officers' club.43

Of course a trifling problem like noise from wind tunnels did not in the long run really harm NACA-military relations, which especially in the period between the two world war were generally close, constant, and cordial. NACA policy was to carry out expeditiously all major research investigations requested by the military: whereas proposals from civilian sources were sent to appropriate subcommittees for review, military requests went directly to the Executive Committee for action. And although the NACA tried not to ask for military funds to carry out the projects, in the early 1920s it did get some money t pay for them. For example, to cover [160] the cost of research authorization 46, "Investigation of Small Oscillations in Steady Flight" (approved in June 1921), the engineering division of the Army Air Service transferred $100 to the Committee; and to cover the cost of RA 97, "Investigation of the Landing Speed of a TS Airplane" (approved in October 1923), the navy provided $24,000. By the mid-1920s, however, the NACA included such funds n its own budget requests.

Military expressions of support and praise for the NACA's independent aeronautical research provided the Committee with its strongest political testimony. In a letter sent to the Bureau of the Budget in 1922, Gen. Mason M. Patrick, chief of the Air Service, asserted that the army depended upon the NACA to solve "the more difficult problems" in aeronautics. Because the basic job f its aircraft engineering divisions was to assist procurement offices in selecting the best possible aircraft and accessories, the military concentrated on design and applications, while depending on the NACA for "fundamental research."44 In response to a request in January 1933 from the chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations for his view on President Hoover's order to abolish the NACA, Charles F. Adams, the secretary of the navy, argued that if the NACA were abolished, "the Navy would be deprived of the benefit of organized counsel with leading scientists and would be forced to conduct independently the researches in aeronautics deemed necessary for the development of naval aircraft." Both the Nary and War departments strongly opposed the NACA's abolition or transfer to another agency of government, including to the military department themselves.45 John Victory, the NACA's executive secretary, regularly tapped the fount of incoming correspondence for these endorsements. According to historian Alex Roland, he


would mark the appropriate passage, often lifting it entirely out of context, and direct a .secretary to "card" it. From these excerpts Victory compiled over the years a 3 x 5 card file that stacked up over two feet high. In it were compliments for every occasion, which could be selected and quoted for any purpose....46


So important were these endorsements to the survival of the NACA that George Lewis once remarked that "if the NACA ever sets itself aside from the Army and Navy, it is a dead duck.47

In the first years of Langleys operation - when the NACA was just beginning to learn what it was going to take to survive public controversy, and when its research for the most part lacked specific military or commercial purposes - the Executive Committee authorized most laboratory projects without any background justification. Between 1920 and 1925, a period when the adolescent military air services were still relying on World War I.....



161] Table 3. Military Requests for Research Work by NACA Langley,1920-1941


New RAs assigned to LMAL

Work requested by:

Military requests as % of new RAs










































Source: NACA research authorization files, LHA. Nearly all of the more fundamental aerodynamic investigations of the NACA were undertaken at Langley; however, some investigations were also assigned, especially in the period 1920-25, to the Bureau of Standards, the Forest Products Laboratory the Weather Bureau, the engineering division of the Army Air Service, the navy, and to various universities.


....aircraft, the NACA cited military requests as justifications for only 25 of Langley's 94 new RAs (table 3). After fluctuating in the late 1920s, the number of military requests then rose steadily with the explosion in new aircraft types under development. With the approach of World War II, the number skyrocketed. As the army and navy relied increasingly on the NACA for help with specific aircraft, the NACA seems to have rightfully used "military necessity" more and more as the justification for its programs.


Borrowed Airplanes


The NACA never owned many aircraft. Modest budgets, congressional suspicion of the Committees need to own aircraft, and the increasing availability of military aircraft for loan when American production picked up around the time of the army and navy five-year plans in 1926 restricted the number of aircraft owned by the NACA. In 1924 it ordered its first airplane - a Boeing PW-9 pursuit plane built with especially strong tail surfaces and fuselage for use in a systematic investigation of pressure distribution.48 Subsequently, George Lewis testified before a congressional subcommittee that the purchase was necessary because the services could not provide an aircraft of the special construction required for the....



Among the few aircraft owned and operated by the NACA at Langley Field in the 1980s were a Boeing PW-9 pursuit plane (top left), a Pitcairn autogiro (top right), a Ryan ST sportplane (bottom left), and a Lockheed 12 (bottom right). In the photo of the Lockheed 12 (NA CA aircraft no. 99), test pilot Mel Cough is pointing out a third vertical fin which Langley installed on the airplane to test the prevention of rudder lock in sideslips.

Among the few aircraft owned and operated by the NACA at Langley Field in the 1980s were a Boeing PW-9 pursuit plane (top left), a Pitcairn autogiro (top right), a Ryan ST sportplane (bottom left), and a Lockheed 12 (bottom right). In the photo of the Lockheed 12 (NA CA aircraft no. 99), test pilot Mel Cough is pointing out a third vertical fin which Langley installed on the airplane to test the prevention of rudder lock in sideslips.


....research.49 (The NACA had requested an appropriation for the purchase of the plane after the order for it had been placed.) In 1928 the NACA bought a Fairchild FC-2W2 five-passenger monoplane with an enclosed cabin and detachable wings for testing a family of airfoils, and in 1931 came the first autogiro, a Pitcairn PCA-2. Other airplanes eventually owned by the Committee included two Fairchild 22s, a Stinson Reliant, a Ryan ST sportplane, a Piper Cub, and two Lockheed 12s. Though all were ostensibly purchased for research, several also served as transportation.

Nearly all the flying machines tested at Langley throughout its history came on loan from the army and navy. The first experimental work at the laboratory in the spring of 1919 involved flying two of the army's Curtiss JN4H Jennies to determine the degree to which their actual flight behavior at various altitudes differed from that predicted in wind tunnel tests at MIT. The NACA borrowed the biplanes from the flight line at.....



Chief test pilot Thomas Carroll and engineer John W. Crowley, Jr., sitting in cockpit o research airplane, 1922.

In the early years the flight research team was usually made up of a test pilot (in this case, Thomas Carroll, front cockpit) and an engineer (John W. "Gus" Crowley, Jr.).


....Langley Field, where they were being used to train pilots and observers in gunnery, aerial photography, bombing, and communications. As test pilots the Committee used military aviators.50 The next year it hired its first test pilot, but even after the NACA no longer had to rely on military test pilots, it still needed the routine assistance of the Langley Field base operations and flight control departments.51 By the end of 1923 the services had transferred 17 airplanes to LMAL. Thirteen came on temporary assignment from the army, including five Jennies, a Thomas-Morse MB-3 pursuit plane, a British-designed SE-5A, a captured German Fokker D-VII, a French SPAD VII, and two DeHavillands, a DH-4 and a DH-9. Four were transferred by the navy: two Vought VE-7 trainers, a Douglas DT-2 torpedo plane, and a Curtiss TS-1 seaplane. As with the hundreds of other aircraft that were to be at Langley in the next 35 years (see appendix E), the NACA conducted comprehensive aerodynamic investigations with some of these airplanes and used others as test beds for various innovations (like superchargers and high-speed cowlings). And over the years laboratory personnel also made brief evaluations of a considerable number of aircraft that were at the military field temporarily.



Thomas Carroll


Paul King


William McAvoy

LMAL's earliest civilian test pilots: Thomas Carroll (top), Paul King (left), and William McAvoy (right). King was the son of a United States senator from Utah.


[165] The decision to lend a military airplane to NACA Langley was often informal and personal. Most naval aircraft in the 1920s and 1930s came through the good offices of Lt. Comdr. Walter S. Diehl, the officer in charge of liaison with the Committee at the Bureau of Aeronautics in Washington. A construction corps engineer who in his insistence on remaining a technical man refused throughout his career to pursue promotions via sea duty, Diehl often approached his superiors at BuAer with the news that the NACA wanted to borrow a certain type of airplane for an investigation at Langley. Because he met regularly with George Lewis and his assistants in the Washington office (Diehl's office was also in the Navy Building) and frequently visited Langley, he always knew exactly what the NACA was doing and what it wanted to do in the future. If he could pass on the Committee's assurance that the laboratory would make immediate use of the aircraft in question and that the proposed research had a good chance of producing data valuable to the general or specific development of naval aircraft, Diehl usually received permission to process the necessary papers.

Besides arranging the loan of aircraft, Diehl was also the NACA's best means of getting navy support for the authorization of a new research program or the permanent transfer of equipment and spare parts. In return for such support - and because his supervision was friendly and occasional and did not put the staff to the trouble of preparing replies and discussions - the NACA seems to have permitted him on-the-spot authority to terminate any navy-requested test that in his opinion had run its productive course.52

Dozens of the aircraft borrowed by the NACA came to Langley directly from the manufacturer's production line. Often naval machines were experimental types that came via the Anacostia and Norfolk air stations. Though the army sent the NACA many aircraft from Bolling Field near Washington, D.C., and its aircraft engineering division at McCook (later Wright) Field in Dayton, most loans came from the local flight line at Langley Field, typically from operational squadrons.

The LMAL could keep most borrowed airplanes for only a specified period, usually several weeks. Some it possessed for an undetermined course of research or on permanent transfer. On the majority it could make modifications and install special equipment as long as the aircraft was restored to the original configuration before being returned to the owner. On a few it could make no changes whatsoever or, conversely, could make whatever permanent alterations and additions it saw fit. This latter category consisted mostly of older aircraft for which the services had no more use.

Since the airplanes came from various sources under varied arrangements, lots of paperwork and other chronic bureaucratic headaches were [166] unavoidable. Officers in charge of keeping track of military belongings, usually junior assistants, spent much time revising schedules. Because the laboratory frequently underestimated the amount of time it would need to keep an airplane, the schedules were sometimes unrealistic. Flight research required the development, installation, and calibration of many sensitive instruments and other special equipment, and it was very difficult - especially in the early years of Langley's operation - to estimate the time necessary for the work. More often than not, once an aircraft was available, some bright researcher would think of an additional, interesting way to use it. In 1929 LMAL test pilot William H. McAvoy felt personally responsible for the failure to return an aircraft according to the agreed-upon timetable. He complained to the engineer-in-charge that "it has been quite embarrassing for me to continually ask [BuAer] for more time...., particularly in view of the fact that I did not know of the various requests that were to be made for further work in conjunction with its use." It seemed to the pilot that the NACA had been guilty of "false pretense." Practically all of Langley's flight research investigations, McAvoy argued, required considerably more time than originally estimated.53

The NACA's executive officers sometimes aggravated this situation by reducing the time estimated by the men in the field. In the same year that McAvoy complained, chief test pilot Tom Carroll questioned the Washington office for cutting his carefully thought out estimate for tests of a Fokker C-2A monoplane transport from one month to two weeks. He recommended that all future loans be accepted "for the duration of the research at the discretion of the Committee."54 This might have made life easier at Langley, but it flew in the face of the NACA's idea of considerate service to clients.


The Case of the Sperry Messenger


One of the earliest test programs requested by a branch of the military to be undertaken by the LMAL involved the loan of a Sperry Messenger, a small biplane the army had procured to replace motorcycles for certain liaison uses. The engineering division of the U.S. Army Air Service at McCook Field near Dayton provided the aircraft. Approved for research by the NACA Executive Committee in July 1923, RA 83, "Full-Scale Investigation of Different Wings on the Sperry Messenger Airplane," set a precedent. It was the first of many RAs in NACA history to cite work on a specific type of aircraft in its title. Before the NACA closed the file in February 1929, RA 83 would cover the job orders for nearly six years of occasional free-flight and wind tunnel testing, only a small part of which was directly relevant to the original purpose of the research. With this [167] background in mind, a case study of RA 83. not only demonstrates the laboratory's handling of a borrowed military airplane, but also sheds light on important details of research administration and the working association with the military on a particular project.

The Lawrance Sperry Aircraft Company, Farmingdale, Long Island, delivered a Sperry Messenger to the Air Service at McCook Field in early November 1922. Soon thereafter the army engineering staff initiated a set of tests to determine the biplane's lift and drag characteristics when equipped with each of six interchangeable sets of wings. The manufacturer had built the wings after the then-popular R.A.F. 15, Göttingen 387, U.S.A. 5, U.S.A. 27, U.S.A. 35, and U.S.A. 35B airfoil sections, which were shapes of varying camber and thickness. By early 1923, the engineers at McCook had acquired considerable information on the airplane's performance as it compared to design calculations (including the results of three-foot-model tests of the Messenger's propeller in the Stanford University wind tunnel), but they possessed very little reliable information correlating the free-flight and tunnel performance of the airplane when using the different wings. Wanting to determine more correctly which of the six sets gave the best aerodynamic performance, the Air Service formally requested the NACA in February 1923 to conduct tests on the Messenger.55

After receiving the request, the first thing that NACA headquarters did was ask Langley several questions: What work does the military request entail exactly? Can it be done? Does it require special instruments or equipment? How soon can the laboratory start on this work? How long will it take? Does its scheduling seriously interfere with work in progress? How much will the entire program cost? In sum, Washington was asking Langley how and when it could do the work, not whether the proposed research was of fundamental value or whether the LMAL staff wanted to do it. George Lewis had already told the engineer-in-charge that the lab would carry out at least part of the research on the Messenger airplane before the end of the current fiscal year.56

Foremost in the minds of the men who considered Langley's responses to these questions was the additional workload on the small aerodynamics staff (less than 20 men in the wind tunnel and flight-test divisions combined). "The actual work of carrying out the tests will be considerable," the chief physicist warned, "as each set of wings will have to be flown at about six air speeds, and each speed will have to be checked at least once." He thought that the effects of wing interference and structural resistance on the calculation of lift and drag coefficients for each wing section called for some wind tunnel work, but added that this could be done at MIT. However, the development, installation, and calibration of a special inclinometer and....



Research authorization (RA) 83, 1923.

The NACA authorized testing of six different wing sections for the army's Sperry Messenger airplane, July 1923.



Sperry Messenger airplane, 1926

The army's Sperry Messenger airplane with variable-camber wings, 1926.


....airspeed head would require several weeks before tests could begin. If Langley was going to take on this project, the physicist argued, "either some of our personnel or else some part of our present program must be abandoned."57 The engineer-in-charge reinforced that opinion. He wrote George Lewis that the flight operations section was busy supplying Joseph Ames with data on the performance of the Fokker D-VII - information that the chairman of the Executive Committee planned to use later that same year as part of his Wilbur Wright Memorial Lecture in London. Therefore, the NACA "should not promise to get out any Messenger results before the end of the summer."58

On 2 July 1923 Charles F. Marvin, chief of the U.S. Weather Bureau and acting chairman of the Executive Committee, signed research authorization 83. For the brief description of the purpose and method of the investigation called for on every RA form, NACA officers in Washington lifted phrases directly from Langley's evaluation of the research request. To cover the cost, the engineering division at McCook transferred $3000 to the NACA. Two weeks later Langley received a duplicate copy of the signed RA. Its engineer-in-charge then had the authority to approve job orders and its chief clerk the means for paying costs.

During the remainder of the summer, McCook conducted a preliminary investigation of the airplane's performance. Mechanics calibrated the small three-cylinder, 60-horsepower Lawrance engine and, in turn, attached the first three sets of wings to the fuselage. After each assembly, the flight test section investigated the plane's high- and low-speed characteristics. In early November, the maintenance section crated all six sets of wings and shipped them, along with the plane's freshly painted fuselage, overhauled engine, [170] and flight log, to Langley Field. A few weeks earlier, the Air Service had sent its final outline of proposed tests to the NACA.

The Air Service plan called for NACA Langley to test fly the Sperry Messenger, equipped alternately with each of the six sets of wings, with power on and power off at five different speeds. To check the accuracy of the full-scale data, the Air Service asked the lab to test a one-tenth-scale model in its atmospheric and variable-density wind tunnels. After reading the proposal, the head of the wind tunnels division reported to the Washington office that the costs of all the tests, as outlined by McCook, would exceed the army's original transfer of funds by at least $9500. He believed that Langley could curtail costs and still get meaningful results by encouraging McCook to continue the study of the biplane in free flight with different wings. The NACA could then ignore those of unsatisfactory performance. He also wondered, though, whether it might not be wise for the LMAL staff to conduct the research as requested, regardless of the cost; the program was especially important because it involved, for the first time, "both coordination between three different sections of our own organization and the maintenance of requisite contact with McCook Field."59

Up to that time, members of the Langley and McCook organizations had felt vaguely as if they were rivals. Air Service personnel remembered their difficult and unproductive working association with George de Bothezat, a temperamental Russian aerodynamicist whom the NACA had recommended;60 NACA employees recalled with some irritation that the army had agreed to share experimental facilities with them at Langley Field and had then reneged in 1918, transferring its aircraft development programs to Ohio. McCook's engineers had worked successfully on the development of the Sanford Moss turbosupercharger, a siphon gasoline pump, several different leakproof tanks, and fins and floats for emergency water landings, all before the dedication of the LMAL in June 1920. Later, they built the first high-speed tunnel in the United States and used the acquired data to design reversible and variable-pitch propellers.61 The Langley staff had a hard time matching these contributions until the VDT began operation in late 1922.

A point of friction between NACA Langley and the Army Air Service surfaced almost immediately after the Sperry Messenger research was authorized. The chief of McCook's airplane section wanted to send the designer of the six sets of wings to Hampton for two or three weeks to assist in rigging the wings and to watch test procedures. The McCook official assumed that "both parties can benefit by having him stay on the job as long as we can spare him from here," especially as the designer was one of the engineering division's "most capable men, but quiet and unassuming."62

[171] But even with that assurance, Langley did not like the idea of a McCook engineer under foot during the tests. The LMAL engineer-in-charge could only hope that "some unforeseen circumstance" would prevent the visit. George Lewis realized that the attendance of the military representative meant that the NACA would "have to use more care and judgement in estimating when we can undertake the investigation and the time required to complete it," but also understood that the army had "a perfect right" to request such attendance since it was paying for the research.63

Unpacking the various parts of the Sperry Messenger in November 1923 uncovered another problem. Although the airplane was supposed to arrive complete and ready for easy assembly with each set of wings, the Langley crew discovered that the Air Service had shipped a heterogeneous assortment of parts, some of which had never been checked. Half of the wings - the U.S.A. 5, U.S.A. 35, and U.S.A. 35B - had never even been fixed to the fuselage! This situation necessitated more work at Langley than had been scheduled. Moreover, the propeller sent by McCook was old and "by no means comparable with the model." Langley asked for a new propeller with more exact and predetermined characteristics. Only when these details were worked out could flight research begin.64

Agitated by the problem of assembling the Messenger, Langley researchers soon were questioning the very methodology of aerodynamic research at McCook. The head of Langley's wind tunnels division found the McCook Field report "Determination of Airplane Drag Characteristics in Free Flight" so full of errors that he doubted the overall value of the army's proposed outline of tests on the Messenger. He reported that


the sample tests on a VE-7 and a DH-4 airplane are surprising to us because they show the latter to have a higher lift/drag ratio than the former. Our information on these two machines shows the condition to be quite the opposite and we can not believe the McCook Field flight tests show the true characteristics of these two airplanes. We do not see how a test of this nature can be of any value unless done with considerably greater care and accuracy than seems to have been used in this report.


The division head brought this criticism to the attention of his engineer-in-charge because the earlier work at McCook was the basis for many details of the proposed Messenger research that Langley was about to commence.65 In a letter to George Lewis covering the memo, the engineer-in-charge related that this was not the first case of problems referred to the laboratory by one of the military services being "partially covered by erroneous and misleading reports." The mistakes thus put on record constituted "an obstacle which [172] must be cleared away before the organization is in position to properly appreciate and value the research work we do for them."66

The director of NACA research understood even better than his technical staff at Langley that this matter had to be handled with discretion. If the NACA officially criticized McCook for faulty research methods and erroneous reports, the army "would be seriously antagonized," even though it might eventually admit that the criticisms were justified. If, on the other hand, the NACA did not report its suspicions about the value of the Air Service work, it would have nothing on record to show that its research team had noticed the errors; worse, there would be no way to justify deviating from the research agenda planned by the Air Service. Lewis brought this delicate issue to the attention of certain members of the Committee. He also sought the advice of his good friend in the navy's Bureau of Aeronautics, Lieutenant Commander Diehl. After reading the McCook report in question and Langley's critique of it, Diehl concluded that "the errors passed over at McCook Field appear serious in this kind of work." As the army results were "certainly questionable," he recommended that the staff at Langley "be allowed to devise and use their own methods."67

After giving the problem this private airing, Lewis advised the engineers at Langley to ignore the faulty McCook report, which would mean not even mentioning it in the bibliography that would accompany the final NACA report. Though someone might one day take this omission as an indication of the NACA's unfamiliarity with the relevant literature, Lewis believed that this approach to the quandary best freed the hands of the laboratory staff to conduct the Messenger tests properly. It was also the best way to avoid mutual embarrassment and to keep the army cooperating with the NACA on friendly terms.68

This matter resolved, another arose: McCook stalled the research by failing to understand the stringent requirements for models to be tested in the VDT. In 1923 Langley was learning something every day about the operation of its newest facility, but aerodynamicists outside the organization, though they could easily understand the principle behind the tunnel's revolutionary design, could also easily remain largely ignorant of its details. Models had to be made of metal, preferably duralumin, to withstand the tunnel's high dynamic pressures and the test section's powerful vibrations. Wooden models could break up, especially at high angles of attack, sending splinters and other debris flying through the tunnel. Moreover, early tests in the VDT had confirmed that models had better replicate the exact geometry of the full-scale body. Tests with simplified models, such as had sufficed in earlier tunnels, would not produce reliable data.



Damage to wing model in VDT, 1924.

Elton W. Miller inspects damage to a wing setup in the Variable-Density Tunnel, August 1924.


The engineering division at McCook did not adequately appreciate these things. After having been informed earlier of the special requirements of VDT models, McCook had agreed to provide a model of the Messenger with interchangeable duralumin wings. This it did do - but during a visit to Dayton in January 1924, the head of the VDT section learned that the Air Service's model was nonetheless "utterly inadequate," that it was being built with little or no regard for the other structural features that Langley had specified. "It seems improbable," he reported, "that the wings as they are now being put together will hold up in the Variable-Density Tunnel." He advised his engineer-in-charge that some of the model's major defects could be corrected in Hampton, but questioned whether the Committee should have to pay for army mistakes.69 Later that month the NACA extended the scope of RA 83 to meet McCook's request to include tests of the Clark Y and U.S.A. 45 wings. When these models arrived at Langley a year later, they had been made of wood! As late as September 1925, the head of the [174] VDT requested approval of a job order for the manufacture of duralumin wings to replace unsatisfactory ones sent by the Air Service.70

In any event, tunnel testing had to await the completion of preliminary tests of the Messenger airplane in free flight. In March 1924 a Langley test pilot succeeded without much difficulty in taking the biplane, equipped with the U.S.A. 5 wings, to 2000 feet, but a few weeks later, with the R.A.F. 15 wings, he could barely get it off the ground. The engineer-in-charge reported to Washington in late April that if the other wings showed no better performance, the lab would be unable to execute more than one-half of the contemplated program. He even suggested transferring the research to the Fokker D-VII because that airplane was in much better flying condition than the Messenger and because the lab already had an accurate duralumin model of it, which was being tested successfully in the VDT. Lewis answered that "it would be rather bad form for the Committee to make any definite recommendations" relative to the Messenger until Langley had made a more serious effort to conduct investigations with it, especially as McCook had reported "no difficulty of any nature" in flying the airplane with the R.A.F. 15 wings.71


Reporting Test Results


The NACA expected research authorization 83, like all other RAs, to lead to the publication of technical papers. The first was Technical Note (TN) 223, "Determination of the Lift and Drag Characteristics of an Airplane in Flight," a report by Maurice W. Green in August 1925 that announced the preliminary results of Langley's glide tests with the Messenger. Then, in 1926, the NACA published Technical Report (TR) 225, "The Air Forces on a Model of the Sperry Messenger Airplane without Propeller," by Max M. Munk and Walter S. Diehl. The TR series was the top of the Committee's report hierarchy, "the rock to which the NACA anchored its reputation." 72 The NACA intended for TR 225 not only to satisfy McCook's request for specific information about the performance of the Messenger, but also to make a lasting contribution to the body of aeronautical research literature. An advance copy was sent to the engineering division of the Army Air Service for comments and recommended changes. Only then was the report sent to the Government Printing Office for printing and binding in the Committee's Annual Report to Congress. Finally, the NACA distributed separate copies of the TR to a long list of academic, industrial, and military subscribers.

Even more than addressing the original purpose of the Messenger research - to ascertain experimentally which wings gave the biplane its best.....



Sperry Messenger in PRT

The Sperry Messenger mounted for testing in the PRT, 1927. Standing in the exit cone is Elton W. Miller, Max M. Munk's successor as chief of aerodynamics.


....performance - the real purpose of TR 225 was to advertise the Variable-Density Tunnel as a research tool of enormous potential. After testing a one=tenth-scale model of the Messenger (equipped with U.S.A. 5 wings) without propeller, Munk and Diehl declared that the NACA's VDT was "admirably suited for studying the scale effect and obtaining information which is necessary in an interpretation of the results obtained in atmospheric wind tunnels at low values of the Reynolds number." Though the research on the Messenger had not progressed far enough to allow complete comparison between model and full-scale machine, the authors concluded on the basis of the data at hand that airfoil characteristics were "affected greatly and in a somewhat erratic manner" by variations of the Reynolds number and that "the more exact a model is made, the more exactly will the test data obtained in the variable-density wind tunnel agree with the full-scale." Knowing all about Langley's nagging problem of getting McCook to provide suitable models for testing in the VDT, Munk and Diehl could not put too much emphasis on the "unsoundness" of testing with simplified models.73

Just as the multiple purposes of the TR went beyond the Messenger's aerodynamic problems, much of the testing done by NACA Langley from 1926 to 1929 under the cover of research authorization 83 had little to do with the purpose of the research as originally expressed. (In this regard, RA 83 was not unique.) In June 1927, for example, engineers assigned to the Propeller Research Tunnel asked for permission to mount....



Resumé of technical papers covered by RA 83, 1929.

The document that concluded the business of every research authorization file was a list of technical papers written under that RA.


[177] ....the Sperry Messenger, minus wings and propeller, at zero pitch in their new facility's mammoth 20-foot test section to determine the drag of the airplane's detailed parts. Theretofore, drag measurements had been limited by the sizes of the available tunnels to tests on relatively small models that replicated few of an airplane's complicated shapes, such as landing gear, engine cylinders, and tail surfaces. After taking up the matter with the Executive Committee, George Lewis extended the scope of RA 83 to cover the new work. Under this administrative umbrella Langley produced several research papers, including: TN 255, "Precision of Wing Sections and Consequent Aerodynamic Effects," January 1927, by Frank Rizzo; TN 271, "Full-Scale Drag Tests on Various Parts of the Sperry Messenger Airplane," January 1928, by Fred Weick; TN 274, "The Effect of the Sperry Messenger Fuselage on the Air Flow at the Propeller Plane," January 1928, by Fred Weick; and TN 280, "Drag of Exposed Fittings and Surface Irregularities on Airplane Fuselages," March 1928, by Donald H. Wood. The last paper grew out of observed differences between the drag of the Messenger fuselage in the PRT and that of its model in the VDT. Believing that the difference could be explained by investigating the drag of various small parts, the chief of aerodynamics requested job order 862 under RA 83 to measure the effects of turnbuckles, wire fittings, certain unfaired struts, rudder and elevator horns, pulleys, bolt heads, and nuts in Langley's 6-Inch Wind Tunnel at an airspeed of 100 inches per second. The engineer-in-charge approved the request on 3 November 1927.

These follow-on research efforts demonstrate Langley's good use of a research authorization and of a wind tunnel to go beyond stated purposes. Such latitude in research management and innovation in the use of research equipment were basic ingredients in NACA Langley's long-term success. (Note that the NACA cowling, the most important contribution of the Propeller Research Tunnel, was only indirectly related to the study of propellers.)

The NACA usually published a final technical report tying together the loose ends of a research authorization and announcing its conclusions. TR 304, "An Investigation of the Aerodynamic Characteristics of an Airplane Equipped with Several Different Sets of Wings," July 1928, by John W. Crowley, Jr., and Maurice W. Green, completed the work of RA 83.74 Unlike the earlier reports prepared under the RA, TR 304 specifically addressed the purpose of the research as requested by the Army Air Service in 1923-comparison of the lift and drag characteristics of the full-scale Sperry Messenger with different sets of wings of commonly used airfoil sections. In contrast to all but the earliest report prepared under RA 83 [178] (TN 223), the authors of TR 304 were flight researchers-not wind tunnel engineers-flight testing, after all, having been the principal mode of aerodynamic investigation called for originally by the engineering division at McCook Field.

Langley had tested only four of the six sets of wings before condemning the Sperry Messenger as "structurally unsafe" and discontinuing flight investigations with it. Nevertheless, the authors of TR 304 claimed that the results were clear. The thin R.A.F. 15 wings gave the airplane its lowest maximum lift and lowest minimum drag and the thicker Göttingen 387 wings gave the greatest maximum lift and highest minimum drag. (They found the U.S.A. 5 and U.S.A. 27 wings to be quite similar to each other in all respects.)75

There was no criticism of the army in TR 304, and NACA editors would have deleted it even if the Langley authors had cared to include it. However, the authors did manage to question discreetly the operating presupposition of the entire study as requested by the Air Service: the results of the Sperry Messenger tests "emphasize one fact which it is believed is not sufficiently appreciated," declared the LMAL flight researchers, "and that is, that with the exception of the change in maximum lift, the use of different reasonably good airfoil sections in themselves can not be expected to greatly change the performance of an airplane." Airplane drag consisted of induced, parasite, and profile drag of the body, tail surfaces, and wings, they reported, and the refinement of the section shape improved only the wing profile drag.76 Without mentioning the method by name, the authors implied that parametric variation of model airfoil shapes in wind tunnels was a better way to find the best wing for any particular application.


Significance of RA 83


The history of RA 83 is the story of a precedent. It demonstrates how NACA Langley handled the first of many military requests for developmental testing of a particular airplane. It also exemplifies the routine of opening up, conducting, administering, and finally closing out a research program for a client. Together, the precedent and the example suggest some important points about NACA Langley's cooperation with the military in aeronautical research and development.

First, it was essential for clients to understand all of the NACA's detailed requirements. This was especially true in the case of the Sperry Messenger program because the army's engineering division at McCook, which had to provide the critical test apparatus-the model wings-was unfamiliar with the special aerodynamic conditions inside Langley's VDT.

[179] As a result, more than two years passed before McCook provided LMAL with suitable duralumin models.

Better liaison between the NACA and the military might have prevented this and similar problems. Whereas Lieutenant Commander Diehl visited Langley often to discuss naval problems, the army had not established a channel by which to stimulate regular, fruitful exchange of ideas and know-how between its aircraft engineering staff and the NACA research team. Only when the pace of developmental testing accelerated with the approach of World War II did the army try to follow the navy's example. In March 1939 Maj. Carl Greene, chief of the engineering division of the Air Service Technical Command, and his civilian aeronautical engineer Jean Roche moved from Wright (formerly McCook) Field to Langley. Their new job was to provide more regular liaison between the applied research and development activities of the Air Corps and the more basic research of the NACA. Besides funneling information to appropriate Air Corps offices, the occupants of "Greene House" across from the LMAL Administration Building enabled the army to keep up better with the detailed requirements of the laboratory's research methods facilities, and programs. To complete the conduit, the NACA later created its own liaison office at Wright Field.77

The history of RA 83 also demonstrates how cooperation between institutions with complementary functions and regular mutual business can be hampered. The NACA's policy of honoring all military requests for research placed Langley in a dilemma. Doubting the correctness of the army's procedures - the basis of the proposed tests of the Sperry Messenger - the LMAL staff either had to execute the flawed proposal or find some means to do useful testing in spite of the dubious military objective. Either way, the military engineers needed to be led - gently - to appreciate the value of the Committee's independent research process. The latter option demanded the more circumspection, especially in the language of its research reports, if relations between the NACA and the services were to remain cordial. In its internal memos Langley criticized many things about McCook Field, but these opinions were never aired officially.78

Many Langley old-timers have suggested that NACA-army relations between the two world wars tended to be less productive than NACA-navy relations. They believe that into the 1930s heirs of Billy Mitchell continued to want the removal of "those civilians" from Langley Field and the transfer of NACA research equipment to McCook. In this view the navy, having no similar designs, supported the NACA and achieved happier results.79 Diehl believed in retrospect that the navy's approach to the airplane had to be less "emotional" and more akin to and dependent on the more "scientific" [180] approach of the NACA than the army's did, because of the special technical requirements of carrier aircraft. In the 1920s the navy


didn't know what kind of an airplane it would take to use on [a carrier]. It took ten years of ... hard work before we had [real] carriers and [real] carrier airplanes. And all the time we were calling on the NACA for help [in] measuring something, getting more stability and control, getting [better] data on the lift you could get out of wings, trying to improve the lift, trying to improve the structure, getting a lighter structure, reducing the drag.80


Table 3 may. support Diehl's appraisal: between 1920 and 1935 the navy requested NACA research more than twice as often as the army did.

With the arrival of Greene and Roche to establish the Materiel Command Liaison Office at Langley in 1939, the army's understanding of the requirements of the NACA operation generally improved and the number of army requests for research increased dramatically. This closer tie to the army may have exacted a cost from Langley's research independence, however. At least in the beginning, the Langley staff strongly preferred the navy's occasional and informal style of liaison, reflected in the visits of Diehl, to the omnipresent army officers who regularly requested up-to-the-minute data sheets and curves and unpublished reports. World War II demanded such close liaison, however, as well as a change in the focus of NACA publications from polished TRs to quick, confidential bulletins. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, most everyone at NACA Langley was grateful that the army liaison office had already been operating at the lab for over two years.

Finally, the life of RA 83 demonstrates that investigations resulting from those many research authorizations based on military requests aided more than the development of military aircraft. Under the cover of RA 83, Langley made a number of investigations that had little to do with the army's original intent. The lab went beyond the development of the Sperry Messenger to pursue those aspects of the research problem that could make innovative use of new research equipment, the VDT and PRT. The NACA's research on the little biplane furthered the broader interests of the American aeronautics community, both military and civilian, by revealing two fundamental points: that airfoil characteristics were affected greatly by variations in Reynolds number, and that in order for VDT test data to reliably predict actual performance at full scale, tunnel models had to be made very exactly. In a limited sense, since its research involved a comprehensive program of coordinated tunnel and flight tests of a series of "research wings," Langley's experience with the Messenger even helped to prepare the NACA for its vital role in the famous transonic research airplane [181] programs of the late 1940s and 1950s. Thus by the time the Bell XS-1 was conceived during World War II, the NACA laboratory already had acquired some valuable experience on a specially constructed flight research configuration.

One explanation for the breadth of Langley's research contribution before World War II is that until military and commercial aircraft began to diverge in the mid-1930s - the military pursuing higher speed and altitude, the commercial emphasizing efficient operation and safety - there was no particular competition between military and commercial requests for NACA research. Earlier military and commercial airplanes did not differ greatly with respect to performance, wing loading, airspeed, and so on. At the NACA's first aircraft engineering conference at Langley in 1926, research on the effects of cowling on the drag, cooling, and propulsive efficiency of the new radial air-cooled engines had been requested by nearly everyone attending, including representatives of the army and navy, the Department of Commerce, and manufacturers. The low-drag NACA cowling that resulted (and which won the Collier Trophy in 1929) was used in all branches of aviation. Langley also performed some tests with no special civil applications and some with no obvious military applications, but most of the systematic programs - on airfoils, propellers, high-lift devices, alleviation of the flight hazards of airframe icing and determination of the nature and magnitude of gust loadings that occur in storm systems, for example - applied fairly equally to all fields. The momentum for most of these broad programs was generated internally by the LMAL staff.

This assertion of in-house momentum is supported by the contents of dozens of Langley RA files besides RA 83. RA 204, for example, which called in 1927 for work on the "Control of Airplanes at Large Angles of Attack," contains a report on a November 1936 conference. on stability research that exemplifies how a broad research program of the NACA was driven internally by laboratory researchers.81 Fred Weick, the assistant chief of the Aerodynamics Division, was the meeting's main speaker; after dividing the stability problem into its most important components for his colleagues, he recommended that "all available data be used to obtain statistical information for preparation of empirical rules and for development of possible theoretical relationships." Weick suggested further that "the present program be extended to include a study of the effects of gusts," and then he opened the floor for discussion. During the course of the animated conversation that followed, Hartley Soulé, one of two representatives at the meeting from the Flight Research Division, pointed out the advisability of developing a series of charts with which the longitudinal stability characteristics of any airplane might be readily estimated. Robert T. Jones of the 7 x 10-Foot [182] Atmospheric Wind Tunnel section then suggested that "full-scale tests could be made to measure various individual stability derivatives." Soulé, who had previous experience in making such measurements, reacted to Jones's suggestion by warning that "such tests should be made only as check tests because of the difficulty and the time required." John Crowley, also of the Flight Research Division, added that the lateral stability of several airplanes should be measured "as a basis for comparing actual and estimated lateral stability characteristics." It is especially important to note that at the end of this 45-minute conference Weick stated in very strong and clear terms that it was advisable for the NACA "to obtain Army and Navy approval of our [author's emphasis] stability research program so that it will not be crowded out by urgent Army and Navy tests." Thus, military support was quite often merely the device used by NACA researchers to ensure that the generalized research program which they had developed would be conducted on an equal priority with development tests requested by the military.

Just before World War II, NACA Langley rightfully placed more and more emphasis on the testing of particular military aircraft and, as a result, found itself increasingly limited as to what it could do to meet broad commercial needs. In May 1939, for example, the Committee replaced its 13-year-old practice of the annual manufacturers' conference with an "inspection," a classified technical meeting intended exclusively for military representatives and a few delegates of their chosen contractors.

One civil aviation program which became increasingly directed toward military aircraft as World War II approached involved determination of satisfactory flying qualities. In 1935 Edward P. Warner, the original chief physicist at LMAL who was then working as a consultant for the Douglas Aircraft Company, asked the NACA to help him specify the stability and control characteristics to be built into the DC-4 transport. Up to this time, pilot impressions had been the only measure of what constituted good flying qualities in relation to the mission performance and operational suitability of an aircraft. In December 1935 the NACA Aerodynamics Committee, which was chaired by Warner, approved what became RA 509, "Preliminary Study of Control Requirements for Large Transport Airplanes." The purpose of this investigation was to determine "what specific qualities pilots desired, so that they could be numerically specified in future design competitions." A team of LMAL flight researchers under Hartley A. Soulé started this work in 1936 with a Stinson cabin monoplane. Langley instrumented the airplane so that its response characteristics, following known control inputs from the test pilot, could be measured, related to design parameters, and correlated with the pilot's qualitative evaluation of the ease and precision with which he maneuvered the plane. Soulé's team continued this effort using "all....



Stinson Reliant SR-7, 1936

In 1936 LMAL used this Stinson Reliant SR-7, which was owned by the NACA, for a preliminary study of control requirements for large transport airplanes.


....airplanes that could be obtained for the purpose" until 1941, when it was ready to specify numerical requirements for the longitudinal and lateral stability and control characteristics and the stalling characteristics of 12 different airplanes, large and small.82

In 1942, the U.S. Army and Navy revised the NACA's preliminary specifications to meet their immediate requirements and asked Langley to continue validating and upgrading handling requirements specifically for military aircraft. According to Soulé, "this was fortunate, as many more airplanes were made available and a broader view taken than would otherwise have been possible." By the end of World War II, the NACA had measured the stability and flying qualities of 60 aircraft, and military and civil aircraft handling requirements had been standardized. This effort foreshadowed the extensive work that would be undertaken in the field over the next three decades leading to the uniformly utilized rating system of the present day.83

In the history of American aviation, the development of advanced civil aircraft has always depended to a large extent - at least until quite recently - on the availability of technology generated by military research and development. Many parts of the Douglas DC-3 commercial transport, including air-cooled radial engines, retractable landing gear, and controllable-pitch propellers, derived from military-sponsored R&D. A 1972 study by the air force on R&D contributions to aviation progress began by pointing out that more than eight out of ten of all the commercial jet airliners then operating in the free world were designed and built in the United States, and that one of every four of those American-built craft traced its lineage to a single military bomber program.84



The NACA's aerodynamic formula for advanced performance airplanes, 1939.

The design formula for propeller-driven aircraft recommended by the NACA in 1939 looked very much like the later configuration of the Douglas DC-4E. Ironically, plans for the DC-4E went nowhere.


Ironically, however, working successfully with industry and the military before World War II on ever more refined propeller-driven aircraft may have cost the NACA some of its chances to explore more fully some of the more revolutionary ideas in aeronautical science and technology. Successful teamwork depended upon a consensus, and the NACA's clients were interested in optimizing shapes and structures that could fly at speeds up to 200 miles per hour without falling to the ground in pieces. One NACA engineer has written that "it would have been quite impossible in the prewar period to have any major support from the military, industry, or from Congress for research and development aimed at such radical concepts as the turbojet, the rocket engine, or transonic or supersonic aircraft," and another has commented that "it is certain that if the NACA had had the foresight to do research on the turbine engine in the decade before World War II, the agency would have met with such technical ridicule and criticism about wasting the taxpayers' money that it would either have had to drop it or have been eliminated."85

A review, of suggestions. for NACA research made at the annual aircraft engineering conferences and of military requests for NACA tests seems to confirm that these insider testimonies are not mere rationalizations. With management concentrating on ways to satisfy the immediate demands of [185] the American aeronautical establishment, Langley researchers could do less than they might have wanted to further understanding of exotic aeronautical ideas. On the other hand, the NACA was not beyond putting things over on Congress - like the "icing" tunnel. If members of the laboratory staff had really wanted to make exploratory studies of jet propulsion or another radical concept, they might have found some way to do it.

Luckily, the failure of NACA researchers and other American engineers to understand the potential of the turbine engine as quickly as a few men in Germany and Great Britain did made little difference in the practical outcome of World War II. The timing of the turbojet revolution was such that the NACA's systematic, evolutionary approach to aviation progress was vindicated. Research done at Langley in the fields of subsonic aerodynamics, stability and control, loads, propulsion, and structures - that is, research on the practical aeronautical problems of the day - contributed significantly to the design of the military aircraft essential to the Allied victory.

previous pageindexnext page