SP-4306 Engines and Innovation: Lewis Laboratory and American Propulsion Technology



Facilities (1942-1987)


[227] The first five buildings (Hangar, Engine Propeller Research Building, Fuels and Lubricants Building, Administration Building, and the Altitude Wind Tunnel) were included in the first appropriation by Congress in June 1940 (Appendix to Congressional Record, 11 June 1940, vol. 86, pt. 16, p. 3778). The entire appropriation was broken down as follows:


Item 1: Power plant laboratory and shops


Item 2: Power plant wind tunnel


Item 3: Engine torque stands


Item 4: Fuels, lubricants, and instruments laboratory


Item 5: Hangar


Item 6: Administration Building


Item 7: Miscellaneous: heating, power, water supply, fences, fuel tanks






The Icing Research Tunnel and the jet Propulsion Static Laboratory were added during construction. The original seven buildings were completed by the end of World War II jet propulsion and rocket facilities were added during the NACA period, and it is clear that the designs of most of these facilities, many of which are currently in use, were developed from experience and expertise developed over time in smaller facilities.

The second large-scale building program at Lewis took place during the Apollo years and focused on nuclear rocket test facilities that were placed in operation at Plum Brook. In the 1970S expansion of facilities and new construction were at a virtual standstill. The closing of all the facilities at Plum Brook (with the exception of the operation of the large wind turbine) refocused attention on research facilities at Lewis in Cleveland. Further documentation of some of the smaller facilities can be found by consulting Lewis Research Center: Master Facilities Plan 1985 (Whitley/Whitley, Inc.).




The hanger was built by the R. P. Carbone Construction Company to house various aircraft owned by or loaned to Lewis for flight research. The hangar is still in use.




The contractor for the "Prop House" was also the R. P. Carbone Construction Company. Research on engine cowling and cooling, engine and propeller vibration, fuels and lubricants, carburetors, and engine installation problems was conducted in four 24-foot test cells, equipped to test engines of up to 4000 horsepower at sea level conditions. This was the first research facility to be completed. Research was formally initiated on May 8, 1942, in the "Prop House".

After jet engine research became the dominant concern of the laboratory, the building housed four test cells used for full-scale testing of jet engines. Under the supervision of the Materials and Thermodynamics Division, the effects of stress rupture, fatigue, and thermal shock were studied in alloys, cermets, and coatings under laboratory development. In 1958, it became the Electric Propulsion Research Building.




Built by the James McHugh Company for research on aircraft engine fuels and lubricants, it originally consisted of 21 chemical laboratories, 16 physical laboratories and 13 small-scale test engines. Basic research in fuels and lubricants never stopped at Lewis. The building is still in use as the Chemistry Laboratory.




This is historically the most important facility of the laboratory originally designed to test aircraft piston engines under simulated altitude operating conditions, the tunnel was adapted to test early turbojet and turboprop engines and ramjets. Tests provided data on the reliability and effectiveness of engine controls and afterburners and on the flow characteristics of inlet ducts and exhaust nozzles. Information could be obtained for the output, thrust, fuel consumption, and temperatures of both components under test and complete engine-propeller and propulsion-unit installations.

Contractor: Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel Co.; Subcontractors: The Carrier Corp. (refrigeration system and heat exchanger); Collier Co. (electric systems and installations); General Electric Co. (drive motor and controls); York Ice Machine Co. (air dryer); Worthington Pump & Machinery Co. (exhausters); Toledo Scale Co. (balance equipment).

The Altitude Wind Tunnel was a closed circuit tunnel with a test section 20 feet in diameter. The tunnel drive consisted of a fan 31 feet in diameter, with a drive motor of 18,000 horsepower. It was capable of producing an air velocity as high as 425 miles per hour at simulated altitudes of 30,000 feet, down to a low of 250 miles per hour at 1000 feet. The Refrigeration Plant housed in a building next to the tunnel was designed and built by the Carrier Corporation. It contained 14 Carrier centrifugal compressors. A unique heat exchanger allowed the tunnel to be cooled to a minimum temperature of 48 OF using freon-12 as the refrigerant. To prevent exhaust gases from entering the tunnel air stream, the tunnel was designed with a special air scoop. The contaminated air was treated in a special exhauster building adjacent to the tunnel.

[229] At the time of construction, it was the only known wind tunnel specifically designed to test aircraft engines at simulated altitude conditions. With a test section large enough for both propeller and engine mount, tests in the tunnel assisted in solving cooling problems on the engine for the B-29; the first wind tunnel tests on American jet engine prototypes were conducted here.


Engines Tested


Bell YP-59A (I-16 engine), February-May 1944
Boeing B-29 R-3350 engine), May-September 1944
Westinghouse 19B and 19XB Turbojet, September-November 1944
Douglas XTB2D-1 (4360 Engine) November -December 1944
GE TG-180 Engine and Afterburner Performance, January- February 1945; March-August 1946; September-December 1947
Lockheed YP-80A J-40 Engine), March-May 1945
NACA Ram jet (20"), May-June 1945; January-March 1946; August-November 1946
Lockheed TP80S (I-40 engine), July 1945
Republic YP-47M (Propeller Tests), August-October 1945
Lockheed XR-60 (4360 engine), November-December 1945
GE IG-100A Turboprop, November-December 1945; January 1946
Westinghouse X24C-4B engine, January-September 1947
Johns Hopkins Ram jet (18"), January-February 1948
GE TG-180 (Engine and Afterburner Performance), February-April 1948
GE TG-180G Engine and Afterburners, June-December 1948; January 1949
NACA Ram jet 16" Free jet, January-May 1949
GE TG-190 High Altitude Starting Test, June-September 1949
Armstrong-Siddeley Python turboprop, September-December 1949
GE TG-190D, B-7, RX Engines Integrated Electronic Control Tests (347), January-June 1950
Westinghouse 24C-7 and C-8 Engine and Afterburner Performance and Cooling Tests, September-December 1950
Westinghouse 24 C-7 and C-8 Engine and Afterburner Performance and Cooling Tests, January-May 1951
Westinghouse J-40-WE6, September-December 1951; January-September 1952
Allison J-71, August-December 1952; January-February 1953
Allison T-38, March-November 1953
Pratt & Whitney J-57, November 1953-February 1955
Wright J-65, March-June 1955
Allison J-71, August-November 1955
Avon, January-November 1955
J-57 Noise Program, January-May 1957
Ace Piloted Ram jet, May 1957-January 1958
Solid Rocket Test, February 1958; May 1958-February 1959
Liquid Hydrogen-Oxygen Rocket Test, September 1958-June 1959
One Axis Table, November 1958-June 1959
Storable Propellant, 1959 (entire year)
[230] Space Capsule Mockup, 1959 (entire year)
Operation Dizzy in gimbal, Project Mercury, March-December 1959

[Source: Ronald J. Blaha, "Completed Schedules of NASA-Lewis Wind Tunnels, Facilities and Aircraft; 1944-1986" (February 1987)]


After the formation of NASA, the Altitude Wind Tunnel was converted to a vacuum facility to test rockets in 1958 and was used for spacecraft separation tests and the development of the Mercury retro-rockets. A "Gimbal rig" was installed for astronaut training in 1959. In the early 1960s the "space power chamber" was used to test the Centaur rocket. In the early 1980s, an effort to rehabilitate the tunnel for research on icing, and propeller-powered and vertical/stationary takeoff and landing (V/STOL) vehicles failed. At present, the grand old lady stands empty.




The Icing Tunnel owes its existence to the much larger and no longer used Altitude Wind Tunnel. Designed to share the refrigeration system of the Altitude Wind Tunnel, its purpose was and is to test various aircraft components under simulated icing conditions. The tunnel was designed as an atmospheric tunnel, with an 4160-horsepower electric motor to simulate speeds of 300 miles per hour in a 6-foot wide by 9-foot long test section. Air temperature can be varied from 30° to -45°F It has its own heat exchanger, similar to the one that was designed by the Carrier Corporation for the Altitude Wind Tunnel. Its spray system, designed to simulate natural icing conditions, was inadequate until a unique vaporizing spray system was designed in about 1950 by H. Whitaker, H. Christensen, and G. Hennings. With reliable testing possible in the early 1950s, the tunnel contributed to the development of the hot-air anti-icing systems now in general use on jet aircraft.

After NASA came into being, the tunnel narrowly missed being closed down. However, in 1978, with increased emphasis on helicopters and general aviation aircraft and concern over fuel conservation, interest in icing problems reawakened and the icing program was reactivated. The tunnel underwent a major renovation -in 1986.

It was designated an International Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1987 for its unique heat exchanger and spray system. [Sources: "Icing Research Tunnel" brochure produced for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers landmark designation ceremony, 20 May 1987; George Gray, Frontiers of Flight (New York: Knopf, 1948), p. 316.]




Throughout the NACA period, the Engine Research Building (ERB) was the research heart of Lewis. The building consists of multipurpose flexible space covering 4.25 acres which can be adapted to changing research priorities. It is still in use for basic research on engine systems, components, fuels, lubricants, and seals.

At an initial cost of $9,033,000, the original equipment consisted of 30 single-cylinder test engines, 4 multi-cylinder test engines, 6 supercharger test stands, 4 gas turbine test stands, an altitude chamber for testing engine accessories, laboratories for the study of carburetors, ignition systems, automatic engine controls, piston rings, cylinder barrels, fuel injection systems, mixture ratio indicators, vibration and stress of engine parts, heat transfer, and waste heat recovery.

[231] The Southwest Wing was added in 1944 for research on compressors and turbines for jet engines. The four altitude chambers in the "four burner area," completed in 1947, were designed by Ben Pinkel. They were the prototypes for the test chambers later constructed at Lewis and by industry. They were 10 feet wide by 60 feet long, with an air supply of 80 pounds per second. The first engine tested in this area was the Rolls Royce Nene to a simulated altitude of 64,000 feet in 1947-1948. No data on succeeding tests until 1953 were available.

The Sam W. Emerson Co. of Cleveland was responsible for the construction of the Engine Research Building in addition to the Administration Building, the Altitude Wind Tunnel Office Buildings, and the Gatehouse. Subcontractors included: Feldman Bros., plumbing process piping; Martien Electric Co., electrical systems; Roots Connersville Co., exhaust evacuators; York Ice Machinery Co., exhaust gas coolers; Buffalo Forge Co., cooling air fans; A.E. Magher Co., refrigerated air systems; Westinghouse, G.E., and Midwest Dynamometer & Engineering Corp., dynamometers; Dravo Corp., air compressors; Hagan Corp. and Republic Flow Meter Co., automatic controls. Charles Stanley Moore was the engineer in charge of its design.


Research Programs in Southwest Wing 23 Four Burner Area

J-65-B3 Inlet Airflow Distortion, December 1953-February 1954
J-65-B3 Performance, March-May 1954
J-65-B3 Inlet Airflow Distortion, May-August 1954
J-65-B3 High Ram Investigation, August 1954 with engine changes
J-47 Investigation with X-25 Fuel, September 1954 J-47-23; October 1954 J-47-17
J-47 Turbine Blade Temperature, October-December 1954
J-47 and A. B. Investigation with X-25 Fuel, January-March 1955
RA-14 Avon Investigation, March-October 1955
J-65-W4 Turbine Blade Investigation, November 1955-February 1956
J-65-W4 Flight Performance and Surge Investigation, February-March 1956
J-65-W5 X-35 Project Bee, April-November 1956
J-65-B3 Turbine Temperature Program, November 1956-February 1957
J-65-W16A Short Combustor Test with X-35 and Propane, February-May 1957
RE-3 Engine Combustor Tests, June 1957-March 1958
5000 lb. JP-4-GOX Rocket Cooling Test, June 1958-July 1959


Research Programs in Southwest Wing 24 Four Burner Area

J-47 F9F Ejector Investigation, November 1953-January 1954
J-47 Special Fuel Investigation, January-April 1954
J-71-A2 Engine and Afterburner Investigation, April 1954-April 1955
J-47 High Velocity Afterburner, April-September 1955
J-47 Air Cooled Turbine and X-35 Fuel, September-December 1955
J-47 Air Cooled Plug Nozzle, December 1955-February 1956
J-47-17 with x-35 Afterburner, March-September 1956
J-65 Zip Program, July-September 1956
J-65 W5 Bee Project Spare Heat Exchanger and Control, December 1956-February 1957
J.65-W4 Mach 3 with Water Injection, May 1957-March 1958
J-47 Hot Rod Engine, January 1957-March 1958
[232] Ejector Test, May-August 1958
1000 lb. Rocket Engine Test, August 1958-March 1959


At present 200 test installations support Lewis's work on both terrestrial and space propulsion systems. The building houses laboratories for testing related to compressors, combustors, fuels, turbines, turboprops, bearings, seals, and lubricants.




The 8 x 6 Supersonic Wind Tunnel is used to study propulsion systems, including external studies of inlets and exit nozzles, combustion fuel injectors, flame holders, exit nozzles, and controls on ramjet and turbojet engines. It was originally designed as an open or non-return wind tunnel. Because the exhaust gases, air, and noise were vented to the outside, it was described as "an 87,000-horsepower bugle aimed at the heart of Cleveland" [Donald D. Baals and William R. Corliss, Wind Tunnels of NASA (NASA SP-440, 1981), p. 53.1 The noise from tunnel testing broke the windows of the Guerin House in the Rocky River Valley next to the laboratory site.

The name 8 x 6 refers to the size of the test section, which is 8 feet high, 6 feet wide, and 25 feet long. Speeds between Mach .55 and 2.1 (360 to 1387 miles per hour) with an altitude range from sea level to up to 40,000 feet are attainable. Flexible sidewalls alter the nozzle contour to control the Mach number at which the tunnel is operated. A seven-stage axial compressor is driven by three electric motors that yield a total of 87,000 horsepower. This compressor is located upstream from the test section.

Because the 150,000 pounds of air per minute taken from the atmosphere contained large amounts of moisture, large beds of activated alumina are necessary to dry the air prior to testing. At the conclusion of each run, heating to reactivate the alumina is necessary.

In 1950, because of excessive noise, resonator chambers were added to damp out sound frequencies from 5 to 11 cycles per second. A reinforced concrete muffler structure attenuates sounds of higher frequencies.

In 1956 a $2 million renovation made the tunnel capable of testing at transonic in addition to supersonic speeds. The test section was modified by boring 4700 holes to allow the air to "bleed" through the walls, thus eliminating the shocks and pressure disturbances at transonic speeds that caused "choking": (The concept of the slotted wall was pioneered at Langley.)

A return leg was later added so that the tunnel could be operated as either an open system during propulsion system tests, with large doors venting directly to the atmosphere, or as a closed loop during aerodynamic tests. In the late 1960s, a second 9 x 15 subsonic test section was added for use in testing scale models or propulsion systems for vertical and short takeoff and landing aircraft. For a list of tests conducted see Ronald J. Blaha, "Completed Schedules of NASA-Lewis Wind Tunnels, Facilities and Aircraft, 1944-1986" (February 1987).




This facility for basic research and development of materials has evolved with changing research priorities. Initially it was used to investigate alloys and "cermets" (composites of ceramics and metals) to be used in turbines of jet engines, where temperatures are the hottest. In conjunction with developing interest in nuclear propulsion, a cyclotron was acquired from General Electric in 1949 to investigate the problems of embrittlement of materials after radiation. Research tools currently include a metallographic electron microscope, tensile and fatigue [233] laboratories, electron beam welders, a 100-ton extrusion press, and a 30,0001 arc plasma heat source for applying coatings and evaluating materials. A 69-inch cyclotron can accelerate all light ions to variable energies to a maximum of 90 MeV. It is currently being used for cancer research and patient therapy through the Cleveland Clinic.





The purpose of the Propulsion Systems Laboratory is to test full-scale turbojet, ramjet, and rocket engines under simulated altitude conditions. The prototypes for the test chambers of the Propulsion Systems Laboratory were designed by Ben Pinkel and placed in operation in 1947 in the Southwest Wing of the Engine Research Building, known as the four burner area. In 1952, in response to the need to test larger engines, the Propulsion Systems Laboratory (PSL) I and 2, each 24 feet long and 14 feet in diameter, were built on Walcott Road and were used between 1952 and 1979. In 1969 PSL 3 and 4, 40 feet long and 25 feet in diameter, were added at the present site of the Propulsion Systems Laboratory. The present laboratory can accommodate engines with as much as 100,000 pounds of thrust. Unlike wind tunnel tests, only the engines, not the engine cowlings or mounts, can be tested in these chambers.

PSL 3 and 4 had their own computer processing system between 1972 and 1983. It was built around the SEL 8600 computer system, which could monitor 1600 voltage and pressure scanner inputs and 35 words of discrete inputs. The facility also supported five alphanumeric displays. Data were then carried to the IBM 360/370 for final processing.


10 x 10 SUPERSONIC TUNNEL (1955)


At a cost of $32,856,000, this tunnel was built under the National Unitary Wind Tunnels Plan, by Act of Congress, October 27, 1949. It was designed by Eugene Wasielewski as a continuous flow tunnel to operate at speeds between Mach 2.0 and 3.5 (1320 to 2311 miles per hour) at altitudes ranging from 50,000 to 150,000 feet. It can be used either as a closed-circuit tunnel for aerodynamic tests or an open-end cycle for combustion propulsion research. The main compressor is driven by four 37,500-horsepower electric motors. A secondary compressor requires three 33,334-horsepower motors. The flexible wall of the test section, composed of highly polished stainless steel plates, 10 feet wide, 76 feet long, 13/8 inch thick, is controlled by a series of hydraulic jacks.

The 10 x 10 tunnel was intended to supplement the work of the 8 x 6 Supersonic Wind Tunnel at speeds between Mach 2 and 3.5. Altitude pressure simulation can be varied from 50,000 to 150,000 feet. It is particularly useful for testing full-size and scale models of supersonic ramjets, turbojets, and components for aircraft and missile applications.

One of the problems that had to be overcome in the design of a supersonic tunnel to be used for engine testing was that, as the air expanded in the nozzle during acceleration to supersonic speeds, it cooled rapidly, causing condensation of the water vapor in the air. In addition to passing the intake air over activated alumina to a dewpoint of -40°F in the air dryer, an air heater had to be added upstream. Nevertheless, not all the problems unique to engine testing have been solved: "The tunnel nozzle expands the air a bit too far at the higher Mach numbers, and it is impossible to simulate altitudes below 55,000 feet where the air is more dense" [Donald D. Baals and William R. Corliss, Wind Tunnels of NASA (NASA SP-440, 1981), p. 70]

[234] The first test of the General Electric J-79 engine for the first U.S. supersonic bomber, the Convair B-58 Hustler, proved extremely useful. R. H. Widmer, Assistant Chief Engineer of the Convair Division of the General Dynamics Corporation, wrote, "Almost needless to say, we consider this test a major milestone in the B-58 program. It has given us reasonable assurance that there is no significant coupling of the engine and inlet automatic control systems. It has given us dependable data on buzz limits of our inlet. And it has shown that the results should not be severe, if the B-58 is inadvertently operated in the buzz region. Based on results of this test, we have made some significant changes in the inlet control system. The net result of the above is that we can proceed into supersonic flight testing of the B-58 with a great deal more confidence, and with the knowledge that some very costly and time-consuming flight testing has been avoided," (Letter quoted in Wing Tips, 16 January 1957)

The CADDE I (Central Automatic digital data encoder) was located in this tunnel. This system translated the data from the test section to binary-coded decimal numbers, which were recorded on magnetic tape, reduced by an electronic computer, and transmitted to the control room of the tunnel.

In the late 1960s the Quiet Fan Test Facility, an outdoor test stand capable of supporting an aircraft engine fan that operates at speeds of up to 47,000 revolutions per minute, was added.

For a complete list of tests, see Roland J. Blaha, "Completed Schedules of NASA-Lewis Wind tunnels, Facilities and Aircraft, 1944-1986" (February 1986).




Because of the possible danger involved in the storage and handling of cryogenic liquid propellants, the Rocket Engine Test Facility Complex was built on 10 acres in the South Area, where it is separated by a buffer of empty land from what is called the "Central Area" of the center. The purpose of the Rocket Engine Test Facility is to test full-scale hydrogen-fluorine and hydrogen-oxygen rocket thrust chambers at chamber pressures to 2100 psia and thrust levels to 20,000 pounds. Work on the design of the facility began in 1954 under the auspices of the Rocket Branch of the Fuels and Combustion Research Division.

As early as 1944, rocket testing had been carried on in four cinder block test cells. These were supplemented by four larger test cells built in the early 1950s. In 1952 the laboratory bought a hydrogen liquefier, and a smaller prototype for the present facility was built in this area.

The new Rocket Engine Test Facility, built at a cost of $2.5 million and completed in 1957, includes two major buildings and several support service buildings. Test Stand A was designed for sea-level testing of vertically mounted rocket engines that exhaust into an exhaust gas scrubber and muffler. The A stand has a capability of testing engines with chamber pressures up to 4300 psia and thrust levels up to 50,000 pounds.

Test Stahd B, designed by Anthony Fortini and Vearl N. Huff in 1959 but not built at Lewis until after 1980, can test horizontally mounted rocket engines exhausting into an exhaust diffuser, cooler, and a nitrogen-driven two-stage ejector system. The B stand, for altitude testing in a space environment, has the capability of testing engines with chamber pressures up to 1000 psia and thrust levels up to 1500 pounds.

The support systems include storage dewars for cryogenic fuels and a large water reservoir. Smaller buildings include a block house for observation, a pump house, a helium compressor shelter, and a liquid hydrogen pump vaporizer shelter. In 1984 the facility was modified to provide the capability for testing extremely large area ratio nozzles (to 1000:1).

[235] The facility has been designated a National Historic Landmark because of its significant role in the development of liquid hydrogen as a rocket fuel. It was used in the development of the Pratt & Whitney RL 10 engine for the Centaur rocket and the J-2 engine, with its 200,000-pound thrust, for the second stage of the Saturn V rocket. The hydrogen-oxygen engines currently used by the Space Shuttle were also tested in this facility.

For additional source information, see John L. Sloop, Liquid Hydrogen as a Propulsion Fuel, 1945-1959 (NASA SP-4404, 1978); Wayne Thomas, "Description of the Rocket Engine Test Facility" (unpublished Report, Lewis Research Center, 1984); and James R. Connors and Robert G. Hoffman, "The Aerospace Technology Laboratory (A Perspective, Then and Now)," NASA Technical Memorandum 82754. For information on the design of Test Stand B, see Anthony Fortini, TNB-257-1959, TM 5-14-59E, May 1959, TMX-100, September 1959.




The Developmental Engineering Building was conceived and built during the Apollo era. According to laboratory lore, its K-shaped design honors John F Kennedy. Completed in May 1964, it provided office space for 800 engineers. An L-shaped annex completed in October 1964 could accommodate an additional 300 engineers.





The Electric Propulsion Laboratory, now in use, supplemented the early work on electric propulsion carried out in the old Engine Propeller Research Building. Its purpose is to test electric thrusters, spacecraft, and related equipment at an altitude range of several hundred miles with simulated near vacuum space environmental conditions.

It consists of two large vacuum chambers. The smaller is 63 feet long and 15 feet in diameter. This chamber can simulate environmental conditions encountered by a space vehicle as it travels from lift-off to altitudes of over 100 miles. The larger chamber is 70 feet long and 25 feet in diameter and can simulate altitudes up to 300 miles. It is lined with cryogenic condensers that operate at -300°F.




During the Apollo years, the Energy Conversion Laboratory was used for advanced study of energy conversion and photovoltaic applications for space vehicles. In the 1970s, when the energy crisis turned dominant research concerns away from space toward limited earth resources, research was directed toward ground-based energy systems, including improved solar cells for electric vehicles, environmental monitoring systems for air and water pollution, and thermionic and heat pipe applications.




Designed for the study of components, combustion, and the behavior of liquids and gases under low acceleration or near zero gravity conditions, the present Zero Gravity Research Facility was preceded by a series of experimental facilities, beginning with the elevator shafts of the Terminal Tower Building. The first so-called "drop tower" was constructed in 1956. At an initial cost of $3,370,000, the present facility consists of a concrete-lined shaft that extends 506 feet into the ground, within which a steel vacuum test-chamber 20 feet in diameter and 460 feet high has been [236] placed. The pressure before a test is reduced to 13.3 newtons per square meter. Two modes of operation are possible. One is to let the test object free fall, resulting in about 5.15 seconds of near weightlessness. The second is to propel the object under experiment upward from the bottom of the chamber, then let it fall back into the Styrofoam bed at the bottom. This nearly doubles the time of weightlessness to 10 seconds.

In a study of significant landmarks in the development of manned space flight, Harry Butowsky stated in "Man in Space National Historic Landmark Theme Study," May 1984:


The Zero Gravity Facility is significant because it is the only such facility in NASA's inventory that can study the behavior of liquids in a low gravity environment. Information concerning liquid sloshing which can change the center of mass of a space vehicle and thus effect vehicle stability and control is absolutely essential to the successful performance of liquid high-energy space vehicles such as the Centaur and Saturn upper-stages. The study of the effects of liquid sloshing on the performance of upper stage liquid rockets was therefore essential to the successful completion of the objectives of the American Space Program. Research and data developed here involving the physics of liquids in a zero-gravity environment was indispensable to the successful development of these high-energy liquid fueled rockets.




During the retrenchment period of the 1970s the Research and Analysis Center (RAC) was the only major new facility to be built at Lewis. This centralized computer facility housed the Univac 1100/42, purchased in 1975. Lewis acquired the IBM 370/3033 in 1980, the largest general purpose computer then available. This system, which replaced the IBM 360/67 in use since 1966, made possible interactive calculations, graphics, and large analytical studies. Although interactive computing started in 1955, when the CADDE I system was placed in the 8 x 6 Supersonic Wind tunnel, the RAC Building has facilitated the shift to the current emphasis on this "interactive" or "open" computer philosophy, as opposed to the classical "batch" type or "closed shop" of previous computer operations.

The first computing equipment was a "differential analyzer" used to reduce icing data, probably acquired in 1949. Electronic, as opposed to mechanical, computing began in the mid-19508 with the purchase of the IBM 604. Prior to the purchase of the CADDE system, test data were processed from large manometer boards, which contained tubes of mercury to record pressures. Photographs were taken of the manometer boards, then the film was developed and the information transferred to IBM cards. The time lag between completion of testing and reduction of data was usually three weeks.


List of Batch-Type Computer systems (not inclusive)



Interactive Systems (not inclusive)





Ground was broken for the Power Systems Facility in February 1986. The first new building at Lewis since the RAC building was completed in 1980, the $6.1 million facility is intended for research and development of the power system for the space station. This will include the development and integrated testing of both photovoltaic and solar dynamic power systems.




Located about 50 miles from Lewis, the facilities at Lewis's Plum Brook Station consisted of an Engineering Office Building and large facilities for full-scale testing of rockets (mainly nuclear) and their components. Various storage and pumping facilities for handling cryogenic fuels were also located here.

The station included about twelve to fourteen smaller research facilities, for example, the Cryogenic Propellant Research Facility, the High Energy Rocket Engine Research Facility, the Nuclear Rocket Dynamics and Control Facility (1959; see description in Orbit, 31 July 1959), the E Site Dynamics Research Facility (1960), and the Altitude Rocket Test Facility (B-1) (1961). Plum Brook had a staff of approximately 500 people.


Nuclear Research Reactor Facility (1956-1961)


The original purpose of the reactor facility, designed by Ben Pinkel, was for research associated with aircraft nuclear propulsion. However, when the facility was completed in 1959, the interest in aircraft nuclear propulsion had waned. Instead, research was directed to support the development of a nuclear rocket, in particular, the effect of radiation on materials. As Orbit, the laboratory newspaper, stated in its 14 August 1959 issue:


The primary objective of the Nuclear Research Reactor Facility is to provide the means for making the various types of investigations needed to assist the development of the space vehicle reactor. These include pumped loop studies of the performance and behavior of fuel elements and other reactor components; effects of radiation on reactor materials and the interaction between reactor materials; the effect of radiation on vehicle structure, fluids, and equipment; shield studies; and nuclear physics and solid state physics experiments pertinent to the development of the space vehicle reactor.


The 60-megawatt reactor was a modification of the Atomic Energy Commission's Materials Testing Reactor at the National Reactor Tesong Station in Idaho. It is composed of a graphiteuranium core. The core is approximately a 30-inch cube, which holds 27 fuel elements of an enriched uranium-aluminum alloy. The core is contained in a pressure tank shielded by special heavy-density concrete. Additional shielding is provided by a pool of water divided into four quadrants. Movable bridges permit access to the concrete platform near the top of the pressure tank. Further containment is provided by a cylindrical steel tank. A system of water canals 25 feet deep were used to move radioactive test materials from the reactor to storage areas and to the seven hot cells in the associated hot laboratory.

Planning began in 1954. Authorized by Congress May 23, 1955 IRL, 44, 84th Congress), the selection of the site was announced on September 20, 1955, after a survey of 19 locations by Nuclear Development Associates. Ground was broken on September 26, 1956. Construction was [239] completed in 1961. An Atomic Energy Commission provisional operating license was granted on March 14, 1961, and on June 14 the reactor became operational. Full capacity was reached on April 21, 1963. A ten-year operating license was granted by the Atomic Energy Commission on April 12, 1965. The initial cost was $14,536,000.

In 1973 the reactor was shut down. The facility is currently leased to the Garrett Corporation.

(For specific accomplishments, see J. B. Barkley, Jr., "Significant Experiences of the NASA Plum Brook Reactor Facility," NASA TM X-52491, 1968.)


Hot Hydrogen Heat Transfer Facility (1966)


Authorized in 1962 for research on nuclear rocket nozzles and their components, the facility consisted of a heat exchanger to supply hot hydrogen gas to simulate the temperatures of a nuclear rocket reactor. It consisted of an induction-heated, graphite pebble bed heater capable of temperatures of 3500°F. In 1971 the facility was converted to a hypersonic tunnel by the addition of a heat ejector and three 42-inch water-cooled nozzles for Mach 5, 6, and 7 operation. [Source: Donald D. Baals and William R. Corless, Wind Tunnel of NASA (NASA SP-440, 1981), p. 98-99]


Spacecraft Propulsion Research Facility (1968)


Intended for hot firings of full-scale launch vehicles under space vacuum and thermal conditions, the Spacecraft Propulsion Research (B-2) Facility simulated orbital altitudes of 100 miles for periods of up to two weeks. The test building is approximately 70 feet high and extends below ground about 176 feet. It could accommodate launch vehicles 22 feet in diameter and 50 feet high. The first test in the facility was hot firing of two RL-10 engines to modernize the Centaur vehicle. Testing of the NERVA (Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application) propellant feed system was also carried on here. In June 1974 it was placed on standby status.

It was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places in May 1984. See Harry Butowsky, "Man in Space National Historic Landmark Theme Study".


Space Power Facility (1969)


The facility is essentially a very large vacuum tank to provide a space environment for the study of nuclear propulsion. At the time it was built, it was the largest in the world. The test chamber itself is 100 feet in diameter and 122 feet high, making a high-vacuum volume of 800,000 cubic feet available. It was designed to include the capability for the ground test of advanced nuclear-electric space power systems. For this reason it is surrounded by a concrete shell 6 to 7 feet in thickness. Nuclear reactors at power, levels up to 15 MW (thermal) can be safely operated in the test chamber. Major programs: Skylab Shroud Separation Tests, Isoe Brayton Conversion Technology, Centaur/Viking Shroud Qualification, Reactor Brayton Conversion Technology, High Voltage Solar Array and Spacecraft Technology. Placed on stand-by in 1975, the Space Power Facility is currently undergoing rehabilitation for use in the space station program.