The Priorities of World War II


[187] Of all the events that have affected the course of Langley history in the past seventy years, only two have caused major trauma. The second was the Sputnik crisis, induced in October 1957 by the Soviet Union's launching of the world's first artificial satellite. This crisis was indeed traumatic: Sputnik not only triggered the demise of the NACA and the birth of NASA, but it also triggered what future historians might very well call the "space technology revolution"-something that at present has all the appearances of becoming perpetual. The first was World War II, and in certain ways this trauma changed Langley more significantly, and more totally, than did even Sputnik.

Before World War II, Langley and its parent organization, the NACA, were in some ways obscure operations. There were congressmen who did not even know that the NACA existed. The war altered this status dramatically. First, the laboratory grew much larger. In 1938, the total LMAL staff numbered only 426; by 1945 the size of the staff, in order to meet the increased workload, had swelled to over 3000. With wartime expansion came added organizational: complexity and greater fragmentation of personnel. In 1935, employees belonged to one of only six different research divisions, and they worked in one of a dozen buildings on a few acres surrounded by army property; ten years later employees worked in 18 divisions located either in the old "East Area" or in a large new "West Area" separate not only from the active part of the military installation but also, by a few miles, from the other base of NACA operations. Beyond that, dozens of LMAL employees moved away to the NACA's new installations, the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory (AAL) at Moffett Field, California, and the Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory (AERL) in Cleveland, Ohio. The staff that remained was less uniform: a large number of women worked there for the first time, many of them doing a "man's job." Also, Langley's fiscal [188] posture changed dramatically. Between 1940 and 1945 lab expenditures amounted to more than twice (approximately $33 million) what they had been in the first twenty years of LMAL history combined (approximately $14 million).

Finally, the priorities of American involvement in the war dictated a change in emphasis at Langley from general to specific testing. This change did not compel every engineer and scientist on the staff to forsake basic research, but it did mean that researchers assigned to the major wind tunnels and to the Flight Research Division had to spend the majority of their time preparing for, conducting, and reporting on tests of specific aircraft configurations. In the minds of NACA clients, managers, and most employees, the main responsibility of Langley laboratory during the crisis was to refine the high-performance combat aircraft being readied for production and to communicate accurate component data and other useful test information to military contractors as quickly as possible.


The NACA Perceives European Threat


In 1936, NACA reports of European aeronautical activities grew urgent. The Committee's intelligence officer in Paris, John Jay Ide, reported that the French had just completed a full-scale wind tunnel at Chalais-Meudon; the Italians had built an entire city, Guidonia, which they planned to devote almost exclusively to high-speed aeronautical research; and the Germans, traditionally strong in applying the science of aerodynamics, were in the midst of what appeared to be a major revitalization of their country's aeronautical resources. As a result of Nazi support, there would soon be five major regional stations for aeronautical research and development in Germany: three in the west at Aachen, Braunschweig, and Göttingen; one in the south at Stuttgart; and a central establishment, the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt (DVL) at Aldershof near Berlin.1 George Lewis visited the DVL in the late summer of 1936 while touring various aeronautical installations in Russia and Germany; the place looked to him "like a construction camp" being readied for experiments "with every conceivable device." He estimated that between 1600 and 2000 well-trained employees were working there, compared with only 350 at Langley.2

Despite this comparison, Lewis still considered Langley "the single best and biggest aeronautical research complex in the world."3 The lab possessed an unparalleled array of experimental facilities, led by the VDT, PRT, and FST. Lewis knew what advances in the design of state-of-the-art aircraft had been and could still be achieved from test programs conducted in these tunnels, and he also knew that a full-speed (500-MPH) companion to.....



East and west areas of the LMAL, 1945.

Langley's original east and new west areas, 1945.

Langley's original east and new west areas, 1945.


[190] ....the low-speed Full-Scale Tunnel had just become operational at Langley in March. The director of research and other NACA officials believed that this facility, conceived by VDT section head Eastman Jacobs in November 1933 and later named the 8-Foot High-Speed Tunnel, would "make possible the use of great speeds with safety, and thus give the United States a decided advantage over other nations."4

Lewis also knew that the NACA had just received over one million dollars, thanks to a June 1936 deficiency appropriation, for construction of a new pressure tunnel at Langley for high-speed propeller research. The basic idea behind the aerodynamic design of this super PRT, which came from Smith DeFrance in February 1936, was to overcome scale effects. DeFrance's experience in the FST had told him that "the most satisfactory size" of a wind tunnel for general use was one with a throat dimension of 20 to 25 feet. In a tunnel of this size, wherein compressed air traveled at speeds up to 200 miles per hour (as compared to the 118-MPH atmospheric current of the FST), not only could models be large enough to incorporate minor construction details, but tests could be conducted at a Reynolds number high enough to reduce the scale effect "to a negligible quantity." Though this Reynolds number (9 million) was approximately the same as that obtained in the FST, the cost of operating the smaller tunnel would be considerably less, DeFrance argued, because of its need for less electric power and the greater ease it allowed in making and changing setups. The NACA's primary political justification for immediate construction of this tunnel was to handle on "a production basis" the increasing demands for complete-model testing which Langley had been receiving in the mid-1930s from industry.5

Notwithstanding the excellent record of existing LMAL facilities and the promise of its new ones, NACA leaders understood the danger of complacency. In March 1936 they formed a Special Committee on Aeronautical Research Facilities, chaired by Rear Adm. Ernest J. King, the influential chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics. It was congressional respect for a recommendation of King's panel for additional experimental facilities that led to the NACA's deficiency appropriation in June.6 This appropriation did not prevent Lewis, upon returning from Europe in September, from warning people that the technological edge enjoyed for the last several years by the NACA would come to an abrupt end if Congress did not allocate funds to increase manpower and build new test equipment beyond that already approved. Specifically, he wanted Langley's permanent complement raised immediately to 500 employees and a low-turbulence VDT for the development of higher-speed, lower-drag wings. In 1937 the NACA managed to get the Congress to authorize funds for this facility, but only by packaging it....




Exterior view of the 8-Foot HST, 1936.

Test section, and control console of the 8-Foot HST, 1936.

The test section and the control console (bottom) of the 8-Foot High-Speed Tunnel were housed in the thick concrete igloo in the middle of the photograph at the top.


[192] .....as an icing tunnel (see chapter 4). The Langley complement did reach 500, but not until 1939-when Germany invaded Poland and plunged Europe into war.




The NACA had tried to prepare itself for this turn of events. In October 1936 it created a Special Committee on Relation of NACA to National Defense in Time of War, chaired by Maj. Gen. Oscar Westover, chief of the Army Air Corps. This committee took nearly two years to issue a report, but when it did, in August 1938, the idea to build a second NACA laboratory was put forward in strong terms. A second lab was necessary somewhere in the interior of the country or on the west coast, the committee report argued, both to disperse the government's aeronautical research facilities so that they would not be vulnerable to a single attack, and to relieve "the congested bottleneck at Langley Field."7 Research teams at the LMAL were admittedly "working under high pressure" and managing to satisfy the increasing number of requests for specific configuration testing only "at the expense of interfering with or neglecting the more fundamental scientific long-range investigations that in the end mean much to the advancement of American aeronautics."8 The argument for a second laboratory was soon strengthened by highly publicized reports from resolute Charles Lindbergh, who was touring Europe in October 1938, that Germany was "far ahead" of the United States "in military aviation."9

In December 1938, a Special Committee on Future Research Facilities under the chairmanship of Rear Adm. Arthur Cook, chief of BuAer, Navy Department, recommended the construction at Langley Field of several new facilities in which investigations of the special characteristics and problems of military airplanes could be made. One of these facilities was for structures research, a field made vital by the increases in size and speed of aircraft and by the increasing complexity of their metal construction. Another was a new tunnel to study spinning, which, as evidenced by the loss of several new aircraft such as the Grumman XF3F, was still a much-misunderstood phenomenon. The committee also advocated immediate construction at Langley of two high-speed tunnels, one (with a 16-foot-diameter test section) to investigate the cowling and cooling of full-size engines and propellers, and the other (with a 7 x 10-foot test section, the same size as that of the atmospheric wind tunnel operating at Langley since 1930) to study stability and control problems. All three of these facilities were eventually located a few miles away in the new West Area granted to the NACA by the War Department in 1939.10

[193] The special committee also named Moffett Field in Sunnyvale, California (38 miles south of San Francisco), as the best site for a second NACA laboratory. Moffett Field, a naval airship station used since 1938 by the Army Air Corps as a training base, met all the general requirements set down by the site selection committee, including adequate electric power supply, which had been a chronic problem at Langley.11 Location near the growing west coast aircraft industry was the deciding factor in preferring it, however.12

The NACA quickly endorsed its panel's choice of Moffett Field and recommendation for new facilities at Langley, and appealed to the Congress for construction funds. George Lewis testified before a House subcommittee that Langley was being forced, by lack of personnel and facilities, to neglect 49 authorized projects. He quoted engineer-in-charge Reid as saying, "Right now, we have enough work to keep our present staff busy for 2 1/2 years."13 Though the Langley items experienced no difficulty in clearing either the Congress or the Bureau of the Budget, the Sunnyvale installation ran into some trouble in the House Appropriations Committee, headed by Congressman Clifton A. Woodrum of Roanoke, Virginia. Woodrum was "not opposed to seeing funds for the expansion of the NACA pour into Langley Field, within his own state, but he was a little more circumspect about the advisability of sending such funds all the way across the country."14 Eventually the NACA pacified Woodrum, and its entire expansion package was authorized - on 9 August 1939, just days before the Nazis rolled into Poland. The following spring, the NACA named the Moffett facility "Ames Aeronautical Laboratory," in honor of Joseph Ames, charter member of the Committee and its recently retired chairman, who was then near death.

A Special Survey Committee on Aeronautical Research chaired by Lindbergh followed up on the authorization for a second NACA laboratory with a declaration, in October 1939, that time was running out for America to catch up with European nations in engine development. Britain, France, and Germany possessed faster and more versatile fighter aircraft, Lindbergh said. They did largely because their engine manufacturers had been able to afford to develop superior liquid-cooled power plants capable of high-altitude flight. Because the geography of America was different, requiring flights of greater distances, U.S. manufacturers had concentrated instead on refining fuel-efficient air-cooled engines. Beyond industry, American facilities for research on aircraft power plants were totally inadequate, Lindbergh lamented. This inadequacy was partly a consequence of the NACA's agreement in 1916 to leave engine development to the engine manufacturers. It was now essential for the NACA to reverse this hands-off policy, he said. His committee called for the creation of a third NACA [194] laboratory geared solely to solving the problems of high-speed aircraft propulsion.15

On 26 June 1940 Congress authorized construction of the NACA's "Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory" (renamed the "Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory" in 1948, in memory of George Lewis who died in July of that year) at a site near the Cleveland municipal airport. As with the Ames lab, the key personnel of this facility were to be drawn from Langley.

Langley now had two junior siblings. The NACA foresaw the three laboratories working together as a family, one member devoted to engines and two to aerodynamics. Ames and Langley might duplicate each other's programs only to the extent that duplication, competition, and cross-fertilization were productive. People at Langley saw themselves as part of the "mother laboratory," sharing talent and experience with daughter facilities. For a short time some employees at Ames and Lewis felt subordinate to Langley because its practices, policies, and opinions were so well established. By the end of the war, however, most people at the new labs felt distinct and confident enough in the capabilities of their own organizations to view "Mother Langley" as a peer and, on occasion, as a rival.16


Drag Cleanup


While the various ad hoc committees formed by the NACA from 1936 through 1939 helped to organize the political support necessary for the addition of new research staffs and facilities, they barely addressed the question of what the NACA was supposed to do with them once it had them. That responsibility the special committees left to the main, executive, and technical committees and to the research staff at Langley.

In April 1938 these bodies all heard a loud cry for help: the navy was unhappy with the 250-mile-per-hour flight test performance of its new experimental fighter, the Brewster XF2A Buffalo. The Bureau of Aeronautics wanted the staff at Langley to look for "kinks" or "bugs" in the plane's general design and to determine, in only one week's time, "what drag reduction may be expected from changes that can readily be incorporated in the event that this type is put into production." The NACA readily agreed, and even before a formal research authorization was transmitted to the lab, the navy flew an XF2A-1 to Langley Field for tests in the Full-Scale Tunnel.17

The FST team acted quickly to satisfy the navy's urgent request. Its engineers mounted the XF2A-1 on the balance of the 30 x 60-foot wind tunnel and put the airplane through a meticulous drag cleanup investigation.



Brewster XF2A-1 Buffalo in FST, 1938.

In 1988 Langley mounted the navy's Brewster XF2A-1 Buffalo in the Full-Scale Tunnel for drag reduction studies.


At the end of five busy days of tunnel tests, the FST team concluded that Brewster had in fact overlooked the aerodynamic importance of several small but highly significant details of the Buffalo's design. The landing gear, exhaust stacks, machine-gun installation, and gunsight all projected outside the smooth basic contour of the aircraft in such a way as to produce unacceptably high drag. By modifying the XF2A-1 in these and several other minor particulars, it reported, the top speed of the prototype could be increased by 31 miles per hour to 281, more than a 10 percent improvement in performance.18

The XF2A set two precedents. It was the first airplane to use the NACA's new 230-series airfoils. All high-performance American military planes built through the end of World War II, with the exception of the P-51 Mustang, employed an airfoil from this efficient series.19 Second, Langley did such an outstanding job reducing the drag of the Buffalo that the army and navy were soon sending all of their new prototypes to the lab for drag cleanup. Between April 1938 and November 1940 the LMAL gave 18 different military prototypes thorough goings-over in the FST to see if the airplanes could be bettered in any particular (see the table below).


196] Langley Drag Reduction Program, April 1938-November 1940

RA no.





June 1938

Brewster XF2A-1 Buffalo


June 1938

Grumman F3F-2607


June 1938

Grumman XF4F-2 Wildcat


August 1938

Vought-Sikorsky SB2U-1 Vindicator


August 1938

Curtiss XP-37


August 1938

Curtiss P-36A Mohawk


August 1938

Curtiss XP-40 Kittyhawk


December 1938

Douglas XBT-2


December 1938

Curtiss YP-37


June 1939

Seversky XP-41


June 1939

Bell XP-39 Airacobra


September 1939

Curtiss XP-42


September 1939

Grumman XF4F-3 Wildcat


November 1939

Curtiss XP-46


May 1940

Republic XP-47 Thunderbolt


September 1940

Chance Vought XF4U-1 Corsair


October 1940

Brewster XF2A-2 Buffalo


October 1940

Curtiss XSO3C-1


November 1940

Consolidated XB-32 Dominator

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


This program of specific configuration tests was of unprecedented proportions for the NACA laboratory, and Langley fulfilled its responsibility systematically. Following the classic style of the successful cowling and airfoil series research programs, the FST team perfected a method of experimental parameter variation. First, engineers examined the airplane in detail, identifying those of its external features most suspected of causing unnecessary drag. They then made the airplane as aerodynamically clean as possible, by carefully removing protuberances like the radio antenna and using putty or tape to cover holes and leaks and to reshape irregular surfaces such as the cockpit canopy. Following this, they mounted the plane in the test chamber, and measured its drag at various wind speeds.

In this faired and sealed condition, the airplane naturally proved to have less drag than the original body, but it was impossible for this pristine....



Drag reduction program for Brewster XF2A-1 Buffalo, 1938.

LMAL chart of the test arrangements for the Brewster XF2A-1 Buffalo. The two columns of numbers show quantitatively the effects of the configuration variations.



Drag reduction program for Seversky XP-41, 1939.

Experimental parameter variation of drag sources on the Seversky XP-41 airplane, summer 1939. (From Paul L. Coe, Jr., "Review of Drag Cleanup Tests in Langley Full-Scale Tunnel," NASA TN D-8206, 1976.)


...shape, with essential parts covered up or removed, actually to fly. The wind tunnel workers returned the plane to its service condition item by item and evaluated the change in drag caused by each action. In the case of the cleanup tests of the Seversky XP-41 in late 1939, for example, Langley studied the drag of the airplane in 18 different configurations. The data indicated that the changes in drag values corresponding to the steps of the cleanup process were generally small, amounting to only a few percent of the total drag coefficient and thus involving only small speed changes. Taken together, however, increments like these often resulted in impressive gains in total performance.20

The NACA did its best to help industry realize these dramatic increases of speed in production aircraft. This effort can be seen clearly in Langley's cleanup of the Bell XP-39 Airacobra, eleventh in the series of military planes subjected to the NACA operation. Bell's chief engineer Robert J. Woods (a former LMAL employee in Eastman Jacobs's VDT section) had designed the unconventional plane-its power plant amidships, at the center of gravity, and its cannon in the nose-as a 400-MPH fighter. At Wright Field in the spring of 1939, the unarmed XP-39 prototype (with a turbosupercharged Allison engine, rating 1150 horsepower) flew to a [199] maximum speed of 390 MPH at 20,000 feet. The aircraft reached this speed, however, with a gross weight of only 5550 pounds, thought to be about a ton less than a heavily armored production P-39. That meant that the existing aircraft, when normally loaded, would have a hard time exceeding 340 MPH. Still, the test performance impressed the Air Corps enough for it to issue a contract, three weeks later, for 13 production model YP-39s. Gen. Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, desperate for a new fighter, hoped that the speed of the airplane could be increased to over 400 MPH by cleaning up the drag. On 9 June 1939 he formally requested NACA approval for immediate testing of the XP-39 in the Full-Scale Tunnel.21

Actually Langley had received the XP-39 from Wright Field three days before Arnold's request, which had been put in writing on 6 June to satisfy NACA headquarters. On 8 June, Robert Woods and other representatives from Bell arrived at Langley to see the NACA's experimental setup and witness the initial round of tests. For the next two months the FST team systematically investigated the airplane's various sources of drag. On 10 August, Lawrence D. Bell, president of the Bell Aircraft Company, visited Langley to discuss the test results obtained to date. Bell was shown preliminary data from the FST indicating that the prototype in a completely faired condition had a drag value of only 0.0150 compared to 0.0316 in the original form. This meant a maximum increase in speed, if all the NACA's suggestions for drag improvement were met, of 26 percent. The NACA realized, of course, that not all of the changes to the configuration studied in the FST were feasible for the production aircraft. Fifteen days later, the head of the FST team reported that by cuffing the propeller at the point where it met the hub, streamlining the internal cooling ducts of the wings, lowering the cabin six inches, decreasing the size of the wheels so that they could be completely housed within the wing, and removing the turbosupercharger and certain air intakes, the speed of the XP-39 airplane for a given altitude and engine power could be increased significantly. Extrapolating from the same weight airframe to a more powerful (1350-horsepower) engine with a geared supercharger, he estimated that the top speed attainable with the aircraft might be as high as 429 MPH at 20,000 feet. The FST head did not know precisely how much additional air would be required to cool the bigger engine, but he did believe that even if this increase was very large, it would not prohibit the plane from obtaining at least 410 MPH.22

Bell incorporated enough changes recommended by the NACA to improve the speed of the airplane by about 16 percent. These changes included installation of an engine that could be equipped with a gear-driven supercharger but had only 1090 horsepower - 60 horsepower less than the....



Bell P-39 Airacobra in flight over Langley Field, 1943.

The army's Bell P-39 Airacobra in flight over Langley Field, 1943. The pilot of this airplane sat on the front end of the gearbox with the engine behind him and the propeller shaft passing underneath his legs. The P-39 was one of the first military airplanes fitted with a tricycle landing gear.


.....engine which had driven the unarmed XP-39 to 390 MPH at Wright Field in the spring of 1939 (and 260 horsepower less than that used hypothetically by the FST head in his paper study). The Air Corps then resumed flight trials. The less powerful aircraft, redesignated XP-39B, weighed some 300 pounds more than the original, and without the turbosupercharger flew to a maximum speed of 375 MPH at 15,000 feet in the first trials. Both the Air Corps and Bell expressed satisfaction with the NACA results. In January 1940 the Air Corps told Bell to finish the production of the first series of YP-39s without turbosuperchargers. (The Bureau of Aeronautics called the NACA report on the XP-39B the "worst condemnation of turbo supercharging to date.")23 Soon thereafter Lawrence Bell informed George Lewis that


as a result of the wind tunnel tests at Langley Field, we are getting extraordinarily satisfactory results. From all indications the XP-39 will do over 400 m.p.h., [even] with 1150 H.P. All of the changes were improvements and we have eliminated a million and one problems by the removal of the turbosupercharger. The cooling system is the most efficient thing we have seen. The inlet ducts on the radiator are closed up to 3% and the engine is still over cooling . ... I want to convey to you personally and your entire organization ... our very deep appreciation of your assistance in obtaining these very satisfactory results.24


[201] The top speed of the Airacobra never came anywhere near 400 MPH during this second round of flight trials - for that matter, no version of the P-39 ever would. However, the plane showed reasonable stability and roll rates and maneuverability at low altitudes - attributes that were not due to NACA drag testing - which meant it would be useful in ground support as a strafer and fighter-bomber.25

The Army Air Corps seems to have left the problem of increasing the speed of the XP-39 to over 400 MPH to Langley. On 6 February 1940, General Arnold's office advised the NACA to make any modifications its staff thought necessary "which do not involve structural change to the airplane." NACA headquarters responded with word that "the entire investigation should be carried out in flight" at Langley Field. At first, this appeared possible: during a telephone conversation with George Lewis on the morning of 28 February, General Arnold said that if the NACA felt the best way to increase the speed of the Airacobra to over 400 MPH was to make flight tests with the airplane at Langley, Langley "should do that and, if necessary, get a pilot from Wright Field."26

However, the Air Corps, Bell, and the NACA soon agreed that "these tests could be better conducted first in the Full-Scale Tunnel."27 In early March the XP-39B was flown to Langley from Bolling Field, where it had undergone performance tests, and was again mounted immediately in the FST. Within a few weeks the FST team finished another systematic drag investigation, this time concentrating on internal flow problems. Little more could be recommended to improve the airframe, however, because within the poorly designed ducts were structural members for the wings which could not be altered without some basic reconstruction of the aircraft.28 A flight test program followed (at Wright, not Langley, Field).

"In order to provide for the possibility of additional tests being requested by the Air Corps," George Lewis notified Langley to keep the research authorization (no. 674) covering drag cleanup of the XP-39 open.29 For the next several months, Langley sent representatives to both Wright Field and the Bell plant in Buffalo to make sure that the major modifications called for by the FST analysis (such as the installation of propeller cuffs and wheel well covers, the latter being "the most likely possibility for large drag reduction") were being carried out properly.30 In September 1940 the first YP-39, having incorporated most of the suggestions called for by the NACA, flew, top speed 368 MPH at 13,300 feet. Deliveries of the first production model P-39s, which were very similar to the service-test YP-39, began four months later. In 1941 the United States sent nearly 700 Airacobras to Great Britain and the Soviet Union under Lend-Lease. After [202] the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, the Air Corps rushed P-39 units into action in the South Pacific.

Because these P-39s flew well below 400 MPH, with a slow rate of climb and a low ceiling, Bell asked the NACA for another round of tests in the FST. Langley answered that it seemed "unlikely that further tests in the Full-Scale Tunnel would result in any other suggestions than those already made as a result of the tests of the experimental model."31 LMAL engineers did suggest two ways to boost the aircraft's speed by modifying the exhaust stacks for auxiliary thrust, but neither earned much support.32

The first unarmed P-39 prototype had flown 390 MPH, faster than any subsequent P-39, but 10 miles per hour slower than Bell advertised. The maximum speed of the production P-39D was only 368 MPH. Thus to assert that NACA drag testing helped the airplane to pick up speed may not appear to make sense: how could it make sense when, in spite of the NACA improvements, the production model flew slower? The answer to this riddle is weight. The army added a new and bigger power plant and heavier armor plate to the production model. (The XP-39E would weigh nearly 9000 pounds!) Based on drag coefficients from the FST, it seems that the NACA drag cleanup recommendations improved the speed of the airplane by a dramatic 16 percent.33 In other words, if the P-39 had not gone through drag testing, it would have been slower than it ultimately was.

The drag reduction program required precisely the kind of systematic wind tunnel work that Langley did best. The lab had derived its original families of airfoils in the VDT, and its first low-drag cowlings in the PRT, according to the method of experimental parameter variation; similarly, it cleaned up the drag problems of the American military, aircraft that fought World War II. Here again, as in the other two cases, the NACA engineers were demonstrating how the correct design of small details improved the performance of an aircraft. The significance of this work should not be underestimated: by pointing out ways for these aircraft to gain a few extra miles per hour, the NACA effort might often have made the difference in performance between Allied victory and defeat in the air. Moreover, the program also had an impact on the shape of postwar technology. Specialists in the analysis of engine cooling and duct design - like physicist Kennedy F. Rubert, who had worked as an integral part of the FST drag reduction team during the war - formed the nucleus of a new Induction Aerodynamics Laboratory at Langley in 1946. In this facility, researchers investigated the aerodynamics of subsonic and supersonic internal flows, concentrating on solving such basic problems as the optimum method of inducing air and supplying it to high-speed conventional and jet engines.


[203] Meeting Manpower Needs after Pearl Harbor


From 1939 to 1941, as the drag reduction program picked up speed in preparation for direct American involvement in World War II, Langley increased its total manpower from 524 to 940 employees. Though 416 more employees in two years' time constituted unprecedented growth for the NACA staff-especially considering that the LMAL was simultaneously losing personnel to help organize and operate new laboratories at Moffett Field and Cleveland-this expansion was minor in comparison with what happened after Pearl Harbor. On 6 December 1941 Langley still had fewer than 1000 employees, and of those, fewer than 300 were professionals. On V-J day in August 1945, the lab had more than 3200 employees, including more than 800 professionals. In a span of less than four years of war, personnel more than tripled.

Accomplishing an expansion of this magnitude during national mobilization for war was a prodigious, uphill task which constantly threatened to become a Sisyphean labor. By the end of 1941 the NACA had already tapped deeply into the already short supply of American aerodynamicists, engineers, technicians, and mechanics in order to get ready for its expanded role during a war. Once the nation began fighting, everything about that involvement operated to reduce the supply of desirable personnel even further.

The NACA's biggest personnel problem was the drain of qualified men to selective service. In 1938 the Special Committee on Relation of NACA to National Defense in Time of War had counseled the government to keep all NACA employees working in civilian status as employees of an "essential industry" in the event of war. The idea was to preserve NACA effectiveness by keeping personnel from jumping to jobs in manufacturing to avoid the conscription that would probably take place.34 The committee had advised against blanket deferment. It said that deferment arrangements satisfactory to both the NACA and the armed services could be made promptly with the proper authorities if and when war came.

President Roosevelt incorporated this advice into his mobilization plan of 1939. Unfortunately, when the United States entered the war two years later, deferments for NACA personnel were not as easy to come by as had been anticipated in 1938. LMAL personnel officers had to travel to Richmond at least once a month to negotiate for the deferment of "essential" employees with the director of the state board on a case-by-case basis. Their efforts were not always successful: Langley lost more employees to military induction in certain months of 1942 and 1943 than it was able [204] to recruit.35 John Victory appealed to selective service director Lewis B. Hershey for special consideration of the NACA's unique role in the war effort, but nothing agreeable to both parties was worked out until early 1944. According to Victory, one idea offered by Hershey in 19,43 was militarization of all the NACA's physically able males; however, everyone working for the committee from the director of research in Washington down to the junior engineering aide at Langley opposed being blanketed into military service. In a military organization, they feared, rank insignia would ultimately count more than what an individual knew about solving research problems.36

Ironically, it was military service in the end that enabled the NACA to circumvent the unsympathetic selective service policy. On 1 February 1944, the army and navy agreed to a plan which, when approved ten days later by President Roosevelt, called for the induction into one of the armed services of all draft-age NACA employees. According to the scheme (which was modeled after one devised by the army in 1943 to take care of employees of the civilian flight training schools under contract to the Air Corps), all eligible employees at Langley would join the Air Corps Enlisted Reserves (ACER) and then be placed immediately on inactive status under the exclusive administrative management of the NACA. (Those holding reserve commissions resigned them to become members of the ACER.) When a Langley man was called for induction, he was given a letter prepared by the NACA personnel office, which he took with him to the induction station in Richmond. This letter indicated the procedure for inducting and placing essential NACA employees in the ACER. The man spent 24 hours in the state capital undergoing a physical examination and completing forms and other induction measures. Then he recited an oath of induction that included a reference to his assignment to the ACER on an inactive status, and went home. He received no military training, never wore a uniform, and spent absolutely no time on active duty. Through rigorous compliance with this system, Langley was able to retain most of its professional staff for the remainder of the war. Following the surrender of the Japanese in August 1945, all NACA members of the ACER were granted honorable discharges.37

So the army-navy-NACA plan of February 1944 resolved the problem of keeping essential employees at Langley. On the negative side, though, the contrivance at the heart of the plan naturally upset some Hampton citizens who saw sons and brothers being drafted, sent to war, and killed.38 Also, the plan came much too late to resolve Langley's other wartime personnel problem, the lack of engineering, technical service, and administrative laborers in sufficient numbers to meet the dramatically increased post-Pearl Harbor workload.



LMAL Bulletin announces army-navy-NACA plan for exempting essential LMAL employees from selective service, 1944.

In a special February 1944 edition of the LMAL Bulletin, the engineer-in-charge announced a joint army-navy-NACA plan that placed essential lab employees who were eligible for the draft into the Army Air Corps Enlisted Reserve.


[206] The lab had launched a vigorous recruitment campaign reaching far beyond traditional sources of new employees as soon as the war started. It sent scouts up and down the Atlantic coast to recruit anyone who looked even marginally qualified for the dozens of vacant positions in research, technical service, and administration. Automobile mechanics along the Maryland Eastern Shore were persuaded to leave their garages and come to Langley to work on aircraft engines; blacksmiths from the mountains of western Virginia agreed to try their hands at aircraft sheet metal work; and loom fixers who had been working in North Carolina textile mills proved to be effective wind tunnel mechanics. Recruits from other locales whose raw skills translated less directly into useful NACA work were placed into a new LMAL apprentice program, taught by the lab's own journeymen. By the end of the war this program had graduated nearly 400 men for the difficult work expected at Langley from draftsmen, machinists, metalsmiths, toolmakers, model makers, and the like.39

LMAL personnel officers utilized the talents of the hometown population more fully also. They hired hundreds of boys for part-time work as shop assistants, messengers, and model makers, and encouraged mathematics and English teachers from the local school systems to capitalize on their summer vacations by taking positions as computers and technical report editors. Many of the teachers chose to stay on at Langley permanently because their new jobs with the government were more interesting, paid better, had more fringe benefits, and related more concretely to the war effort than teaching school.40

Women in numbers came to work at Langley for the first time, many of them to do jobs formerly done only by men. Before the war the lab had never employed more than 100 women at one time, mostly for traditional office functions as secretaries, stenographers, typists, mail sorters, payroll and file clerks, telephone operators, and receptionists. The exception to the rule was Pearl I. Young (1895-1968), the NACA's first female professional. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate in physics from the University of North Dakota, Young reported to work at Langley in April 1922. Her first assignment was in the Instrument Research Division, where she worked side-by-side with Henry Reid, the future engineer-in-charge. In the late 1920s, when she suggested the need for a technical editor at Langley, she was promptly given the job. In this position she published a Style Manual for Engineering Authors (1943) which was consulted frequently by employees both at Langley and at the other NACA centers.

[207] In some respects, Pearl Young led the way for working women at Langley.* By war's end, nearly 1000 women worked at Langley-practically one-half of the nonprofessional staff and one-third of the entire staff. The majority of the women continued to do the quiet, unspectacular jobs involved in keeping the wheels of the government laboratory running smoothly through the welter of paperwork, but many of them rolled up their sleeves, donned shop aprons, and pitched in to do whatever work had been made necessary for them by the war. Women set rivets, operated spray guns and welding irons, polished wind tunnel models, and drove buses and trucks around the field. Others served as technical illustrators and draftsmen. One woman drove the towing carriage in the hydrodynamics research tank. The Structures Division, which operated its own training school, assigned women to take strain-gauge measurements. Female computing units (one of them made up entirely of black women) were added to several of the individual wind tunnel staffs. These distaff units took over most of the slide rule work and curve plotting formerly done by the engineers.41 Only a few women held engineering posts, and they were not assigned to the wind tunnels. A number of females with the rating of "minor laboratory apprentice" were used, however, as mechanics' helpers to relieve hard-pressed junior engineers of many duties associated with tunnel operation and laboratory procedure. On the whole, the women who worked at Langley during and after World War II could not advance as far or as fast up the civil service ladder as could even some men with inferior talents; nonetheless, most of them still believe today that the NACA's treatment of women was better than the treatment of women by many other contemporary employers.42

With the army's cooperation, Langley also recruited a number of returning servicemen, mostly for technical service occupations. At regional [208] redistribution centers (in Atlantic City, Miami, and Santa Monica, California), army orientation programs gave these men an idea of the reassignments available to them, including jobs with the NACA at Langley, Ames, and the Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland. If a man thought he was qualified for one of these jobs, he was interviewed by an army classification officer who had lists of the available occupations at the three NACA laboratories and of the necessary qualifications for them. If the classification officer felt that the applicant was qualified for a particular position, he referred him to the NACA representative at the orientation center, who, if satisfied, requested that the serviceman be sent to one of the laboratories for an interview. If the lab' personnel officer then decided to offer an appointment, the NACA sent a letter to the army stating that fact and requesting that the applicant be transferred from active duty to reserve status at the lab.43


Irreversible Changes


According to one man who worked at Langley before, during, and after the war, the influence of thousands of new and different employees caused certain "irreversible changes" in the Langley personality:


The selective standards which had provided the exceptional talent of the [1920s and 1930s] had to be abandoned. Both the quality and the per capita yearly output of reports declined. Not a few of the newcomers hinted openly that immunity from the draft was the reason they had come. The increased wind-tunnel testing of specific military designs provided convenient undemanding assignments for the less-talented new engineers. The term "wind-tunnel jockey" was coined during the war and is still used today to describe inveterate tunnel operators.


In the 1920s and 1930s the entire professional staff was so small that everyone had known each other on a first-name basis, gathered together in one room for meetings and lunch, and partied as a group. Now there were "hordes of weak performers ... who were OK for the double-shift testing [of specific aircraft] needed during the war" cluttering up the buildings, shops, and cafeteria.44

Lab veterans seem to have snubbed or ostracized only those new employees who proved themselves technically incompetent. "We gave every newcomer the benefit of the doubt," the same man recalls, "at least until their limitations had become unmistakable. A minority proved to be good researchers, and quite a few with marginal technical qualifications and abilities were retained because of their likable personalities, loyalty, and reliability as team members." Competent newcomers and those well-liked....



Pearl I. Young (top left) works in the instrument research laboratory, about 1929


an unidentified female handles rolls and rolls of computer tape


another woman helps to finish the wing of a flying boat model in the dynamic model shop, 1944.

The contributions of women to NACA research began well before World War II, but did not truly expand until after 1941. Pearl I. Young (top left) works in the instrument research laboratory, about 1929; an unidentified female handles rolls and rolls of computer tape; another woman helps to finish the wing of a flying boat model in the dynamic model shop, 1944.



Air Scoop cartoon on lunchroom congestion, 1944.

The LMAL cartoonist captured the hectic wartime lunchroom for the Air Scoop in January 1944. Notice that there is one reserved table. The drawing reflects much about the times.


[211]...persons who then worked at the lab long enough to become one of the old crowd relate today that during the war Langley veterans indeed went out of their way to make new men and women feel welcome and to assimilate them into the lab's business and social life.45

The assignment of laboratory personnel to buildings in east and west areas and their parceling into a great number of sections and branches did tend to undermine the unity of prewar staff, however. Some of the old bases of influence were broken up. In February 1944, for instance, management dissolved Eastman Jacobs's Air-Flow Research Division and divided its personnel between various sections of the Full-Scale Research Division and of the new Compressibility Research Division.46 Compensating for this fragmentation in the life of Langley was a new organ of communication between employees, the LMAL Bulletin (renamed the Air Scoop in 1944). A survey of the articles, photographs, and illustrations in this in-house newspaper shows that what pulled together heterogeneous staff members more than anything else was awareness of their organization's special responsibility in winning the war.

This wartime responsibility required certain changes in traditional NACA policies and practices. A major change occurred in the NACA's relationship with industry. Before 1939, the laboratory had endeavored to protect itself from becoming a consulting service. NACA policy had not allowed representatives from industry to serve as such on the Main Committee. Also, as shown in chapter 6, prewar Langley tried hard to remain impartial in its dealing with different companies, instituting strict visitation rules and refusing to release advance information - and even some information that companies considered proprietary - to individual interests. Also, the lab purchased outright virtually all equipment necessary for the conduct of test programs, or borrowed the equipment from one of the military services; it would not accept free of charge the ownership of any company's equipment or products.

With the outbreak of war, however, the task of perfecting America's combat airplanes required the NACA to loosen its policies and practices in relation to industry. In 1939 George J. Mead, recently retired vice-president for engineering of the United Aircraft Corporation, became vice-chairman of the NACA and chairman of its Power Plants Committee. This was "as close as the NACA had yet come to placing an industry representative on the Main Committee or in the chair of one of the main technical committees."47 Though there was no causal link to Mead's appointment, Langley and the other NACA centers soon "became overrun by large numbers of industrial scientists, engineers, and technicians who witnessed tests relating to the designs of their companies, actively assisted in the conduct and planning [212] of such tests, talked with a new freedom with NACA employees about research-in-progress, received much advance information of a very tentative character, and sometimes used every possible opportunity to spy out what was being done for their competitors.....48 According to NACA statistics, there was an average of 45 industry representatives present at Langley each day in 1943; this compared to a daily average of less than three there during a twelve-month period in 1935 and 1936.49 Keeping happy these clients, who were under pressure to meet the needs of the military, while avoiding conflicts of interest, was a tall order for the LMAL staff, the newest members of which were unfamiliar with the old ways of successfully conducting such subtle business. Thanks largely to careful NACA management, which was handled almost entirely by men trained in the old ways, a degree of decorum satisfactory to the NACA was preserved.

This change n the way the NACA served industry affected its publications practices. Before the war, nearly all NACA reports could be given wide circulation because they were not restricted by military security classification. Though its clients even then wanted the NACA to share its test results and other new information as rapidly as possible-so that they could put it to good us in aircraft design-the NACA could, in relative terms, take its time writing, editing, and distributing publications because there was no great national urgency. During the war, of course, requirements changed; in response to them, the Committee developed several new publications series, including the Advance Confidential Report (ACR), Advance Restricted Report (ARR), Confidential Bulletin (CB), Confidential Memorandum Report (CMR), Restricted Bulletin (RB), and Restricted Memorandum Report (RMR). Some reports were stamped "Secret," meaning that the content and very existence of the paper was to be made known to the absolute minimum number of people who in connection with official duties had of necessity to be informed. Also, secret reports were to be transmitted from one authorized person to another by hand or by registered mail, locked in the most secure space available at all times when not in use, and disposed of only by being burned in the presence of an authorized witness. These precautions included all preliminary drafts, stenographic notes, stencils, work sheets, and carbon copies. Though the distinction between confidential and restricted papers was fuzzy, each type was meant to relay quickly, effectively, and privately-to selected parties in industry and the services-information considered vital to carrying on the war effort in the air.50

Thus another change brought on by the war was stepped-up laboratory security and increased recognition of the need for protecting national scientific and technological information. Until the mid-1930s, Langley....



From the LMAL Bulletin, 24-30 June 1944.

From the LMAL Bulletin, 24-30 June 1944.



From the Langley Air Scoop, 18 April 1945.

From the Langley Air Scoop, 18 April 1945.


....employees showed little concern for such things. Involvement in very few research program required security clearances, meaning that very few people were prevented by the lack of identification badges from entering wind tunnel buildings or other facilities. Beginning in June 1937, the Committee began to tighten security regulations, announcing that foreign visitors to Langley would be allowed only to see the lab's exterior-though this did not stop five members of the Japanese Imperial Army from making an inspection tour in July.51 However, visitors were often given sanitized tours in which they saw nothing of real technological significance.

Major steps o increase security and protect secrets came only after the attack at Pearl Harbor. In January 1942 the LMAL engineer-in-charge told his division chiefs to maintain constant surveillance for "probable fifth column activities such as agitation, propaganda, espionage, sabotage, and actual physical attack."52 Placards were posted around the lab warning employees of the dangers of loose talk. After the FBI informed the Office of Naval Intelligence that "an outside confidential source" had overheard "young boys employed at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, Hampton, Virginia" discussing, at the Langley Sweet Shop, "laboratory tests on new types of planes," the engineer-in-charge instructed the head of the apprentice program to deliver a talk to the boys on the dangers [215] of discussing any of their work, including that of their model airplane clubs, in public places.53 In 1943 the Committee published an information pamphlet entitled "Don't Talk." This pamphlet listed ten rules, including: "The research on and the results of each project at the Laboratory are to be discussed only with those members of the staff who are connected with the subject," (rule no. 1); "Do not leave material of a Confidential or Restricted nature unattended in an exposed place while you are on duty," (rule no. 5); "Data and photographs obtained in connection with the Committee's research activity shall not be taken from the Laboratory nor shown outside the Laboratory without the specific permission of the Engineer-In-Charge," (rule no. 6); and "Technical information and data shall not be released in he form of a paper to be presented to an engineering or technical society if the information has not been released in an unclassified Committee publication that is issued before or at the same time as the paper is presented to the society," (rule no. 8). An NACA pamphlet warned workers that pursuant to federal laws regulating the disclosure of information affecting national defense, personnel found in violation of these rules were subject to $10,000 fine and liable to 30-year imprisonment or the death penalty.54 There is no evidence of any arrests for spying at Langley during the war, but LMAL security officers did complain frequently to NACA management about careless lapses by employees in abiding by minor security practices.55

In Science in the Federal Government: A History of Policies and Activities to 1940, historian A. Hunter Dupree observed that "many of the characteristics of the wartime research effort were in fact permanent changes in the government's relation to science."56 Langley history seems to support Dupree's observation. Life at the NACA laboratory was changed significantly by the war: research was performed now not only at Langley but also at sister laboratories in California and Ohio; the size of the LMAL staff itself exploded from fewer than 500 to over 3000 members; women became vital members of the research and technical divisions; expenditures on the order of millions of dollars a year became established; in many of the wind tunnels, testing of production prototypes and production models themselves predominated, as opposed to the testing of purely experimental designs; and security regulations became more strict. By inheriting these changes, postwar Langley would be in several basic respects more like the wartime laboratory than like the laboratory of the 1920s and 1930s.

This was especially true for Langley's formal organization. In the 1920s and 1930s organization charts were drawn up only occasionally and with only a few simple divisions. By 1945, though, rapid expansion of the LMAL.....



Langley pays tribute to George Lewis, 16 July 1948.

Langley pays tribute to George Lewis, 16 July 1948.



Hugh L. Dryden welcomed to Langley by Henry J. E. Reid, 1947.

Hugh L. Dryden (left), Gorge Lewis's successor as the NACA's director of research, arrives with John F. Victory (center), the NACA's executive secretary, for a tour of the LMAL. Welcoming Dryden and Victory is engineer-in-charge Henry Reid.


....staff and physical plant regularized and complicated the charts. By the end of 1956, less than year before the Russians put Sputnik 1 into orbit, Langley's 3300 employees were organized into 19 divisions, 50 branches, and 100 sections. Between March 1958 and November 1963, there were at least 28 different NASA organization charts (9 proposed and 19 authorized), more than NACA Langley produced in its first 28 years of operation.

Langley lost a major link with its past in July 1948: George Lewis died. Lewis had been sick for most of the war but pushed himself stubbornly from NACA laboratory to laboratory, overseeing the details of research. He resigned as director o research in September 1947. Before he left office, however, he said to Ira Abbott, his assistant: "I have given my life to the NACA. I want you to promise me that it will never become simply another Government agency interested chiefly in its own preservation and bureaucratic growth."57 Succeeding Lewis was Hugh L. Dryden, former director of the National Bureau of Standards. Dryden did not have Lewis's zest for sitting down daily with politicians and military leaders to deal with the nitty-gritty of research appropriations and procurements, but he was scientifically sharper than the former director. Under Dryden's more formal and less paternal management, Langley researchers would extend their vision beyond the subsonic aeronautics of Lewis's era to the supersonic, hypersonic, and space frontiers.

* In 1943 Pearl Young moved from Langley to the Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory in Cleveland. She stayed there until 1947, when she accepted a position teaching engineering physics at Pennsylvania State University at Pottsville as an assistant professor. In 1958 she returned to the Cleveland laboratory (now NASA Lewis Research Center) to do special bibliographical work on the spectroscopy of plasmas. After retiring from NASA in 1961, she taught physics for two years at Fresno State College in California.

Young loved flight. Her most memorable experience was the trip she made to Europe in 1936 aboard the Hindenburg she was one of only 50 passengers making the first west-to-east flight of the great German airship. Her favorite hobby was aeronautical history. Starting in 1947, she gathered a wealth of material for a biography of the French engineer and aeronautical pioneer Octave Chanute. She also collected and indexed information on Francis Wenham, the builder of the first wind tunnel, Ferdinand von Zeppelin, and Alphonse de Penaud. These materials are preserved as part of the aeronautical collection at the Denver (Colorado) Public Library.

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