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

 

CHAPTER TEN

DOWN TO EARTH PROBLEMS

 

[201] Nothing in Bruce Lundin's background prepared him to preside over the most difficult period in the history of Lewis Research Center. The 1970s were a time of trouble for NASA. Space no longer riveted the nation's attention, and NASA, unlike the NACA, now depended on the whims of public opinion to garner the votes of Congress. Lewis Research Center, increasingly vulnerable to staff reductions required by NASA's budget cuts, barely escaped closing. Research programs were expendable from the point of view of Headquarters, and projects carried out under the Office of Aeronautics and Space Technology (OAST) were the easiest to cut.

By 1971 Lewis had lost 700 civil service positions, but even larger cuts would be announced in 1972, one of the darkest years in the center's history. In that year NASA slated the Plum Brook Station for closing. The following year NASA terminated 400 staff in the areas of space nuclear power and propulsion systems. An additional 318 people, primarily in space research, received notices; at the same time at least 100 long-time employees chose retirement.1 Many upper-level staff chose to retire rather than witness the dismantling of an institution they had worked to create. They were among the cream of the NACA-trained civil servants. In summing up the careers of the many staff who left during this period, a writer for the Lewis News found it impossible to describe "the moments of jubilation and the moments of heartache, day-by-day dedication, hard work, and loyalty of these and other employees that have made Lewis what it is and contributed mightily to making the United States what it is today." The Lewis News, still a staff newspaper, not a slick management organ, captured the ethos of the laboratory by quoting America's longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer's definition of patriotism: "To be honest is not to allow anything shoddy to escape your hands." 2

Lundin was unabashedly from the development side of the laboratory, and with the Space Shuttle the single most important project in NASA, development was what NASA administrators wanted. Except for 18 months at Headquarters in the Office of Advanced Research and Technology, Lundin had spent the 26 years of his career at Lewis. In the early postwar period he had worked on afterburners and thrust augmentation. From 1952 until 1957, as Chief of the Engine Research Division, he directed testing of full-scale turbojet and ramjet engines. Lundin moved where the dominant activity of the laboratory had always been - amidst the roar of propulsion systems under test. For him, to build something, test it to the breaking point, and measure it expressed the ruling spirit of Lewis.

Under Lundin, project management of launch vehicles had established an impressive record. Lewis was in charge of medium-class launch vehicles, Atlas-Centaur and Titan-Centaur, [202] part of the highly visible mission side of NASA. These programs were not affected by the cuts of the early 1970s. Between 1970 and 1980, Lewis took charge of a total of 39 launches. Eighteen had scientific goals. Space probes carrying cameras photographed the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus. Two Viking missions, launched aboard a Titan-Centaur, soft landed on Mars. Nineteen launches put communications satellites in orbit around Earth.3

The decision to develop the enormously expensive Space Shuttle, a reusable space transport plane, squeezed the budgets of all the other programs. NASA staked its future on this single development project, the first step toward an ambitious manned space station.4 Lewis's research programs in the 1960s had helped lay the technology base of the proposed shuttle's main engine. It would use liquid hydrogen, no longer considered an unconventional, dangerous fuel. The design of many of the main engine's components depended on Lewis research: pumps, seals, and bearings, fuel injectors, cooled baffle elements to control pressure waves, and heat transfer data to determine the proper wall thickness for combustion chambers. The main engine's unique coaxial injector element, developed and patented by Lewis engineer Samuel Stein, allowed its combustor to achieve 99 percent efficiency, a new record in rocket combustion. Despite its engine expertise, Lewis Research Center had only a limited role in shuttle development.5 Why Lewis did not play a more significant part in the shuttle is a matter for speculation. Abe Silverstein had never given up the NACA's tradition of autonomy. He did not willingly take orders from Headquarters, and his attitude did not win friends for Lewis. Lundin followed in Silverstein's footsteps. He is reputed to have opposed the shuttle decision on technical grounds.

Lundin's relationship with Headquarters became increasingly acrimonious as he was forced to cut civil service positions and replace them with contractors. Janitorial and grounds maintenance, security, and clerical workers were the first to see their jobs turned over to contractors. Then technical services, jobs connected with running research facilities like wind tunnels and constructing experimental hardware were contracted out. This was much more serious because it compromised the ability of the laboratory to do research. Drafting, library services, and other support services followed.

Contracting fragmented the laboratory. The ideal of government service seemed compromised by the unwelcome introduction of new staff, which civil servants, rightly or wrongly, thought...

 

 


Bruce Lundin, Director of Lewis Laboratory from 1969 to 1977.

Bruce Lundin, Director of Lewis Laboratory from 1969 to 1977.

 

[203] ....did not share the same high standards. The government made no long-term commitment to these new arrivals. Contractors had no job security. Although they often received higher salaries than their civil service counterparts, they were an expendable underclass. Civil service employees were advised by the law office to avoid any taint of direct supervision of these contractors. Knowledge, once shared freely among laboratory workers, became the prerogative of the civil servant. Contractors kept in ignorance were less threat to a civil service job. As support services personnel increased, contractors and civil servants had to learn to work side by side. Nevertheless, the existence of two distinct classes of employees with different values and aspirations changed the working atmosphere of Lewis.

Once the entire laboratory had functioned like a symphony. The director set the tempo. Although, the engineers had played the themes, to make music, each section had contributed. Now there was a cacophony of themes. Not every employee followed the same conductor. Compounding the division between civil servants and contractors were new relationships with Headquarters. NASA projects were often split up among several NASA centers and directed by a project director in Washington. The director was no longer the conductor, but a concert master who had little influence over the orchestra's program. Through their management of launch vehicles, smaller programs in electric propulsion, and the nuclear rocket engine, former NACA personnel had learned effective project management. NASA had developed strict rules in dealing with contractors like General Dynamics and Lockheed. They supervised end-product contracts, which, unlike support services contracts, did not involve personnel actually working at Lewis. End-product contractors came to Lewis only to consult and negotiate contracts. They were not the same threat to civil service jobs, and cordial relationships developed. To uphold the government's interest, to maintain the highest safety standards, and to prevent the delivery of shoddy hardware, NASA's relationship with contractors, however, had to be carefully defined. Contractors were to be kept at arm's length. They could not share offices with civil servants. Lewis staff learned a new choreography in their relationship with industry. Now that they had power to make decisions affecting millions of dollars, they had to be careful to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest.

Given the unhealthy prognosis for a significant involvement in NASA's manned space programs, Lundin directed the laboratory's programs more strongly into aeronautics. Work expanded on the Quiet Engine Program, started under Silverstein. They would return to work on full-scale engines, this time not at the behest of the military, but in response to requests from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Department of Transportation. The FAA asked Lewis to design and build a demonstration engine. The engine would combine state-of-the-art turbofan technology with special acoustic materials to reduce noise. The goal of the program was to develop a 22,000-pound-thrust engine that would be 15 to 20 decibels quieter than the current commercial jet transports.

Noise suppression research at Lewis was not new. The NACA Subcommittee on Noise had supported jet nozzle studies to make engines quieter as part of operations research at Lewis in 1957. However, in the NACA era cooperation with the engine manufacturers never went so far as a demonstration engine. While Lewis had been out of the air-breathing engine business in the early 1960s, the engine companies had introduced the turbofan, a more efficient engine, since not all of the air to produce thrust travelled through the compressor. Now Lundin hoped that Lewis's competence in air-breathing engines could be used to advance turbofan design. General Electric received a hefty government contract of $20 million to build three different fan designs and to mate them to an engine core. Lewis took charge of the test program to measure fan noise.

[204] Although the formal contractual relationship with General Electric was new, Lewis was used to dealing with the company. The space initiative had interrupted their relationship, but both were willing to adjust to new contractual obligations mandated by the government.6 Lewis also cooperated with General Electric on a demonstration program, the QCSEE (Quiet, Clean, STOL [short take-off and landing aircraft], Experimental Engine). The new demonstration engine was for an experimental transport plane that would be able to take off and land on short runways, a solution to the congestion of the nation's airports.

In another approach to the problem of a quieter engine for commercial transport planes, in 1973 Lewis, Pratt & Whitney, Boeing, and Douglas Aircraft negotiated a cost-sharing, no-fee contract for the test phase of what was called a refan program. The object of the program was to modify existing technology rather than redesign an entirely new engine. A single-stage fan was substituted for the two-stage fan of Pratt & Whitney's JT8D engine. The two airframe manufacturers agreed to install acoustical material in the nacelles, or pods within which the engines are housed, to muffle the noise of the engine. It was a simpler, less expensive, approach to the problem.7

The strong return to research in air-breathing engine systems included work on helicopters, widely used in the Vietnam War. Lundin agreed to a joint research program in low-speed aviation with the U.S. Army Material Command. This was the first time that civilian Army employees were integrated into the Lewis workforce. Although the program involved only a handful of engineers, this arrangement broke new ground in the relationship between the military and NASA. In the past, the Air Force Liaison Office had requested test programs carried out in NACA's wind tunnels, but the NACA had valued its independence. NASA of the 1970s did not have that luxury. The Army established an Air Mobility Research and Development Laboratory on Lewis grounds. Its research program is secret.

 

LEWIS TURNS EARTHWARD

 

The search for a new research agenda coincided with the national environmental concerns of the early 1970s. Louis Rosenblum and J. Stuart Fordyce formed the NASA Volunteer Air Conservation Committee to respond to the down-to-earth problem of air quality in the city of Cleveland. In the early 1970s, before the closing of many steel plants, the location of Cleveland industry downtown in an area called The Flats produced heavy air and water pollution. In 1969 an oil slick on the Cuyahoga River, which snakes through the industrial heart of downtown Cleveland, caught fire. The burning surface of the river caused the spectacular conflagration of several wooden bridges. National media attention brought the city shame and increased commitment to clean up the air, the river, and Lake Erie.

Local concern for the environment coincided with a new national awareness of the fragility of our life-sustaining globe. The probes of the solar system lofted by Atlas-Centaur and Atlas-Agena shattered illusions about life in outer space. The unmanned missions of Viking, Surveyor, and Mariner gave scientists a more precise understanding of the atmospheres and extreme surface temperatures of the planets and the Moon. Photographs of the stark, lifeless outlines of the Moon, Mars, Mercury, and Venus made scientists aware that they shared Earth's interminable geologic history. Life was unlikely to appear in the solar system for millions of years.8 Popular arguments for extraterrestrial life were now balanced by the sobering thought that the biosphere might be unique after all. Earth's atmosphere had limits. It was a fragile membrane, wrote the essayist Lewis Thomas. "The color photographs of the earth are more amazing than anything outside: we [205] live inside a blue chamber, a bubble of air blown by ourselves. The other sky beyond, absolutely black and appalling, is wide-open country, irresistible for exploration."9

In December 1970 several scientists and engineers at Lewis began to look into the availability of graduate courses related to environmental problems. They found that within the center there was sufficient expertise to begin to plan a course similar to Evvard's "From Mach 4 to Infinity." Robert Hibbard, a scientist in Lewis's Advanced Research Institute, took charge of coordinating this informal graduate seminar. It drew an unexpected response of 100 students. The course covered topics such as "Pollution and Legislation," taught by Kenneth Coffin, "Combustion Fundamentals" by Sanford Gordon and Frank Belles, and "Fossil Fuels" by Robert Hibbard. Other lectures by Albert Evans, Helmut Butze, Charles Blankenship, Marvin Warshay, Frank Zeleznik, and Phillip Meng covered various potentially cleaner engine configurations. Gas turbines, steam cars, and electric cars caught the imaginations of Harold Rolik, William Strack, and Stuart Fordyce. Lester Nichols, Reese Roth, and Robert Rohal explored fission and fossil-fueled electric generating stations. These topics, which covered pollution caused by automobiles, airplanes, and nuclear and electric power generation, were the seeds from which an entirely new effort would grow.10

The following year, as grass roots support from within the laboratory strengthened, Lewis formed an Environmental Research Office to develop sensing techniques to identify and monitor trace elements and compounds in the city of Cleveland's air. Lundin worked out an agreement with Mayor Carl B. Stokes to lend technical assistance to the city's Division of Air Pollution Control. From 20 monitoring stations, the city would provide 50 samples a week for the laboratory to analyze. The goal was to develop inexpensive methods to pinpoint the source of a particular pollutant."11 To identify trace elements in the air, the Plum Brook reactor staff got into the act. They developed a technique called neutron activation analysis to detect mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and nickel from substances in air samples. The center also initiated a project, funded through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to study how treated wastes contributed to the pollution of Lake Erie, at that time choked with algae. A NASA program, directed from the Manned Space Flight Center in Houston, Tex., used RB-57F aircraft carrying remote-sensing instruments to photograph the effects of strip mining, crop diseases, and ice formation on the Great Lakes. In 1971 Lewis Research Center assisted in keeping track of the spread of corn blight over the mid-western states.12

In 1972 Lewis staff began to monitor samples from eight new meteorological stations in the city of Cleveland to study the effect of weather, particularly winds, on pollution levels. The stations were set up in Cleveland area schools, with students, supervised by a science teacher, taking the readings. A solar-powered remote control station located in the five-mile crib in Lake Erie tracked Lake Erie's effect on weather to show how pollution was spread in the Cuyahoga River Valley.

In 1970, to focus on pollution from automobiles, Lewis set up the Automotive Systems Office funded through the EPA. They hoped to develop a gas-turbine automobile engine based on the potentially cleaner and more economical Brayton cycle. Could a car powered by a gas turbine get good performance, fuel economy, and meet or surpass the 1976 Federal Emission Standards? Pushed by the rising voices of the environmentalists, the American automobile industry seemed poised to make the transition from the piston engine to the gas turbine. Lewis staff developed a type of thermal reactor to burn up carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons left from incomplete combustion. Members of the Materials and Structures Division tackled the problem of developing [206] low-cost materials, such as ceramics, to withstand the high temperatures and corrosion produced during the combustion process.13 In the mid-1970s they would add the Stirling engine and electric-powered cars to their automotive expertise.

 

THE ENERGY CRISIS

 

Staff cuts and the new commitment to the environment coincided with the growing awareness of the country's dependence on fossil fuels. Among the Lewis staff, Robert Graham saw a potential opportunity for Lewis to develop technology for new approaches to energy production. Graham argued in a memo to Bruce Lundin in October 1970 that Lewis had a unique capability to undertake energy research. "I know of no other major laboratory that incorporates the pertinent capabilities in thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, heat transfer, materials, chemistry, nuclear physics, plasma physics and cryo-physics under one organization."14 He asked Lundin to consider a long-range program to examine various power-producing systems. Graham suggested that a special projects panel be formed to awaken interest in ground-based energy systems.

Robert English independently reached the same conclusion after reading Alvin Weinberg's Reflections on Big Science, Weinberg, then the director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratories, argued that government laboratories had an obligation to the country at a time of crisis. To face the energy crisis the country needed the task or mission orientation of government laboratories, not the "remote, pure and fragmented" approach of university science.15 English thought Lewis should "step forward" to offer its propulsion expertise. New work in ground-based energy systems, in English's view, would also help solve Lewis's own crisis, brought about by the 1972 staff Cuts.16 A graduate of the University of Minnesota, English had been at Lewis since 1944. In thinking over the laboratory's past, he concluded that the essence of Lewis Laboratory was energy conversion. The skills and traditions that Lewis personnel had perfected as they advanced the turbojet were themselves a national resource. The same understanding of fluid dynamics, heat transfer, combustion, materials, turbine design, bearings and rotor dynamics, lubrication and seals, turbine cooling, and controls formed the basis of their work in rockets and space power systems. As chief of the Space Power System Division, English had contributed to the technology of the Brayton-cycle systems-designed to be used with either a solar or nuclear power source to heat the working fluid, a mixture of helium and xenon gases. In August 1972 this conversion system had completed more than 3200 hours of testing in Plum Brook's Space Power Facility. Now this work, conceived in 1957 and tested as early as 1966, was about to be shut down. English did not think that this experience should be lost. Brayton-cycle technology, developed as a closed system for continuous unattended operation in space, could be adapted for mass transportation needs. Buses and trains with revolutionary new engines would be cleaner and more energy efficient.

Lundin began to work with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the EPA. Since coal was cheaper than oil, it seemed feasible to investigate ways to make coal burning cleaner and more efficient. Knowledge of the potassium Rankine system in space power generation could be applied to improve coal-fired electric power generation. The Rankine system had the potential to wring more energy from coal through a topping cycle.

The Arab oil embargo of 1973 brought home what should have come as no surprise. The dependence of the industrialized West on oil made the United States strategically vulnerable. In the decade after World War II many technical writers raised the spectre of dwindling oil reserves and their effect on both economic development and military preparedness. In 1952 Eugene Ayres [207] and Charles Scarlott, for example, had predicted an energy crisis in the 1970s in their book, Energy Sources: The Wealth of the World. Others also tried to awaken the nation to the need to conserve precious energy resources. Only after the aggravation of the long lines to purchase gasoline in 1973 did the Nixon administration fully appreciate the urgency of the energy situation. Nixon asked Dixy Lee Ray of the Atomic Energy Commission to chair a task force to define the problems and offer solutions. Ray set up 15 panels. English chaired the panel on energy conversion. Martin U. Gutstein, Harvey Schwartz, and George Seikel from Lewis also served on this panel. Lewis representatives on the Solar Energy Panel included Ronald Thomas, Gerald Barna, Daniel T. Bernatowitz, Patrick Finnegan, George Kaplan, Warren Rayle, and Joseph M. Savino. George Siekel served on the Fusion Energy Panel, and Thaddeus S. Mroz and Lloyd Shure on the Advanced Transportation Systems Panel.17

Wind, because it is driven by the Sun, was among the alternative energy sources considered by the Solar Energy Panel. The Lewis representatives on this panel were beginning to develop a unique expertise in wind turbine technology. In 1970, Cruz Matos, Secretary of the Interior of Puerto Rico, formally requested Lewis Laboratory to design a wind turbine to generate, electricity for the Island of Culebra. Although no one knew if the wind turbine would actually be built, interest in wind as a substitute for fossil fuels began to grow. Louis Divone of the National Science Foundation, upon hearing of the Lewis design, decided to authorize the funds to construct and operate an experimental 100-kilowatt wind turbine at Plum Brook. At average wind speeds of 18 miles per hour, the system was expected to generate 180,000 kilowatt hours per year in the form of 440-volt, 3-phase, 60-cycle alternating current output. Later the wind turbine was upgraded to produce 200 kilowatts of electricity. In 1973 the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA sponsored a joint workshop on wind power that brought together all existing information on previous wind power development, including a full-scale wind turbine experiment carried out in 1940 by Palmer Putnam and the S. Morgan Smith Company at Grandpa's Knob, Vt. A paper by Ronald L. Thomas and Joseph M. Savino, "Status of Wind-Energy Conversion," presented at a symposium sponsored by the NSF in 1973, summarized the point to which work at Lewis had progressed.18 In 1974 Lewis received $1.5 million for its wind energy program from NSF and the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA). A total of 13 experimental wind turbines, funded under ERDA and its successor, the Department of Energy (DOE), were put in operation between 1975 and 1979. The most impressive of these was a 3.2-megawatt Mod-5B wind turbine generator on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, now in commercial use.

Drawing on experience in developing solar cells for space power systems, Lewis also initiated programs to develop electric systems in remote areas of the country that could not be effectively serviced by the electric power industry. The village of the Papago Tribe at Schuchuli, Ariz. (about 120 miles from Tuscon) was chosen as the site for the world's first solar-powered village. A Lewis team, headed by Louis Rosenblum, designed and installed the system, which consisted of a solar cell array field of 192 photovoltaic power modules. Excess electrical energy, stored in a bank of lead acid batteries, provided power for lights and appliances in the evenings.19

Lundin could not win the full cooperation of the electric power industry. The new solar technology threatened the power industry. It proved easier to develop the technology than to achieve the hoped-for technology transfer. A memo from the Chief of Industrial Programs to Bruce Lundin made the situation clear:

 

[208] Although entirely peripheral to the Lewis program of large-scale experiments (which relates directly to utility generation of bulk power), it is well to recognize that the overall solar program is viewed with reservation by much of the utility industry. This is because solar power devices used by their customers will reduce utility energy sales but will not reduce utility need for total generating capacity. The combination would add to their financial problems.20

 

Lundin and his staff discovered the difficulties of developing new relationships with industry. Industry's wary attitudes were similar to the initial reluctance of the aircraft engine industry. For many years Lewis had carefully cultivated its good relations with General Electric and Pratt & Whitney. The delicate interplay between the military, the NACA, and industry was missing in this ground-based energy venture. NASA had the capability to provide hardware based on the most advanced technical concepts, but it was powerless to get industry to accept the new technology.

The year 1974 brought new disappointment. The center's program in communications satellites, growing out of the revolutionary "depressed collector" traveling wave tube invented in 1971 by Henry Kosmahl of the Space Technology Division, was cancelled. This traveling wave tube dramatically increased the efficiency and reliability of satellite transmissions while it reduced costs. 21

Despite emphatic denial by NASA Deputy Administrator George Low, rumors circulated that Lewis Research Center would sever what was now a very tenuous connection with NASA and become part of ERDA, where the major part of its research programs were concentrated. 22 Smarting from the devastating cuts in staff, Lewis professional staff unionized. Rather than affiliate with the existing union - the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 2182, organized in 1962 at Lewis - they created the Engineers and Scientists Association in December 1974 under the leadership of Lyle Wright. They joined the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

Toward the end of Lundin's tenure as director, Congress authorized a NASA research and technology program in 1976 to find ways to conserve aircraft fuel. As a result of the Arab oil embargo, between 1973 and 1975 the cost of aircraft fuel tripled. Compared to the 1950s, it had gone up 1000 percent. Fuel costs were now an important factor in keeping the U.S. airline industries profitable. Under NASA's Aircraft Energy Efficiency (ACEE) program, Lewis took responsibility for two projects: the Energy Efficient Engine (EEE), or E3, and in 1978, the Advanced Turboprop Program (ATP). Through the E3 program, Lewis managed contracts with General Electric and Pratt & Whitney to develop new designs to improve the efficiency of their engines. Both companies were eager for the financial and technical assistance that NASA could provide. Now threatend by Japanese and European engine makers, only through continued innovation could they keep their dominance of the world engine market.23

The Advanced Turboprop Program was far more daring and innovative. A team of Lewis engineers had begun to cooperate with Hamilton-Standard, a division of United Technologies, as early as 1973. Under a program called Reducing the Energy Consumption of Commercial Air Transportation (RECAT), they began work on the design for a prop-fan, an aircraft powered by a propeller and gas turbine engine. Turboprops had fallen into disfavor after 1955 because they were slower and noisier than turbojets. In addition, they have complex gear boxes, making them difficult to maintain. However, with the potential to reduce fuel consumption by 20 percent, it....

 


[
209]

100-kilowatt wind turbine at Plum Brook.

100-kilowatt wind turbine at Plum Brook.

 


[
210]

Henry Kosmahl's traveling wave tube made satellite transmissions cheaper and more reliable. In 1987 the center won an Emmy Award for contributions to television technology.

Henry Kosmahl's traveling wave tube made satellite transmissions cheaper and more reliable. In 1987 the center won an Emmy Award for contributions to television technology.

 

 

....seemed worth trying to resurrect the concept, despite formidable technical problems. Engine and propeller acoustics, propeller efficiency and structures, and the problem of gearing to connect the engine with the propeller were among the many areas of research continued at Lewis through the 1970s.24

 

THE OUTSIDER: DIRECTOR JOHN R McCARTHY, JR.

 

Lundin's skills were technical rather than administrative. He never learned to craft relationships in Headquarters to win concessions for Lewis. In his wrangling over the issue of contracting and his determination to find work for the laboratory outside NASA, Bruce Lundin isolated Lewis from NASA and failed to solve the question of the laboratory's future. The creation of the Department of Energy in 1977 brought new insecurity. DOE planned to manage its contracts from Washington, D.C., calling on Lewis only for expert advice. That would hardly guarantee the continuity of jobs at Lewis, which would depend on the year-to-year whim of the new agency. At the same time NASA Headquarters imposed a 350-man limit on Lewis's involvement in energy programs. This was perhaps the final blow for Lundin. He retired in 1977.

The post of director remained vacant, fueling speculation that Lewis would soon be closed. However, when NASA announced in late 1978 that John R McCarthy, Jr., director of the Center...

 

 


[
211]

Testing the advanced turboprop. A team from Lewis won the Robert J. Collier Trophy for an outstanding contribution to aeronautics in 1987 for research begun in response to the energy crisis.

Testing the advanced turboprop. A team from Lewis won the Robert J. Collier Trophy for an outstanding contribution to aeronautics in 1987 for research begun in response to the energy crisis.

 

 

[212] ....for Space Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had accepted the post, it seemed a good omen. McCarthy had distinguished academic credentials and strong connections with the aerospace industry, Headquarters probably counted on McCarthy to take orders from Washington and to bring Lewis back into NASA's fold.

McCarthy was the first leader of Lewis Research Center who was free of the NACA traditions that had given Lewis its character. No one at Lewis had ever met him. His first speech as center director did little to win the allegiance of the staff, particularly its upper management. He noted that one of the first things that needed work was Lewis's image. Lewis was perceived as a laboratory "searching for an image and a mission." He tactlessly reminded the staff of the embarrassment caused by the recent declaration of Cleveland's bankruptcy. Like the city of Cleveland, McCarthy declared, the laboratory was "supposed to have a severe case of hardening of the arteries." However, McCarthy also noted some of Lewis's positive qualities. He was impressed with "the expertise of the people, the caliber of the work, the facilities, and the fine workmanship." He also made it clear that Lewis had a poor record in the hiring of minorities and women-something that he planned to change. With respect to the issue of the balance between in-house expertise and contracting out support services, McCarthy was more sympathetic to the Lewis point of view than many employees expected. He was concerned with keeping at least a minimum of in-house expertise:

 

As all of you know, we have tremendous pressure from Headquarters and the administration to contract work out. But the kind of work we do requires that we have a minimum level of capability in order to monitor contracts to do the kinds of expert work that we do... When the thing becomes routine, boring, and mediocre, farm it out. If it is something that we cannot do on the outside, we should be able to do it in-house. And that balance will have to be looked at and monitored constantly.25

 

McCarthy thought the center needed to work more aggressively to promote itself both outside and within NASA. Sharp had reached out to the community beyond Lewis during his years as director. Silverstein and Lundin, more at home with technical problems, had failed to maintain these important connections, all the more important in the political agency that NASA had become.

In aeronautics, McCarthy set reduction of the center's reliance on fun-scale testing as a goal, one of the recommendations of a study by the National Research Council in 1977. With the country's premier test facilities now managed by the Air Force, Lewis's future contributions to engine development would depend on basic research in components, accompanied by increased expertise in computing. 26

McCarthy's appointment coincided with the funding of $6.14 million for the construction of a new Research Analysis Center to consolidate existing computer equipment and to acquire additional capacity. He reported that the center was perceived by Headquarters as weak in computational mechanics and "testing for the sake of testing without doing the analytical work required to justify that test."27 Computing had grown steadily from 1949, when Lewis acquired the clumsy mechanical differential analyzer. In 1955 the first electronic system, the IBM 607, followed by the Sperry Rand Univac 1103, was used to process experimental data. The Central Automatic Digital Data Encoder (CADDE) was the first centralized computer system and the first to record data on magnetic tape. In 1966 Lewis acquired the IBM 650/653. Much of this previous computing capability was used to record the results of testing. McCarthy emphasized the potential of [213] computer analysis prior to any kind of experimental work. The computer could eliminate much of the costly testing on which the laboratory had depended in the past.28

McCarthy fought hard to reverse the fortunes of Lewis. Much of his time was spent in Washington, D.C., rather than at the center, a change from the personal day-to-day involvement in Lewis management by past directors. Upper management resented these frequent absences. Nevertheless, McCarthy laid the groundwork for strong connections with the Ohio Congressional Delegation and never turned down an opportunity to speak at both local and national functions. Through McCarthy's advocacy, Congresswoman Mary Rose Oakar came to play an increasingly strong role in promoting the interests of the center. For example, McCarthy spoke at public hearings of the Subcommittee on Compensation and Employee Benefits Committee conducted by Oakar at the Cleveland Federal Building in July 1981. He described the reduction in staff over the previous ten years from 4200 in 1971 to 2690 by the end of 1981, a reduction of 1510 positions. McCarthy pointed out that Lewis had a high attrition rate because of a pay ceiling for federal workers and changes in the government retirement system that actually penalized senior people who did not choose to retire. "These individuals could not afford the economic penalty associated with not retiring, even though many would have preferred to stay on at Lewis. Many of these individuals have accepted positions in private industry at considerably higher salaries."29 Of 1200 scientists and engineers, less than 6 percent were under the age of 30. It was difficult to attract young scientific and engineering talent because of the instability of Lewis programs.

The greatest blow to McCarthy's efforts to chart a new course for Lewis came with the publication of a study funded by the conservative Heritage Foundation. Prepared for newly elected President Ronald Reagan, the Agenda for Progress focused on ways to cut government spending. It included a short paragraph on aeronautical research and technology. The report called this research unnecessary because the aircraft and engine industries were mature enough to do their own research and development. It recommended that all civil aeronautics programs funded by NASA be abolished. With the 1983 aeronautics budget to be cut in half, it looked as though this time Lewis would not be spared.30

The adversities of the 1970s had toughened the Lewis staff. They were ready to take Lewis's future into their own hands. Mervin Ault organized the "Save the Center Committee" to work with members of the Ohio Delegation to Congress. Senator John Glenn, the former Mercury astronaut who had received some of his Mercury training at Lewis, and indomitable Congresswoman Mary Rose Oakar needed no convincing. They joined Howard Metzenbaum, Donald J. Pease, and Louis Stokes to pressure Congress to keep the center open.

McCarthy chose this inopportune moment to resign. However, he left in place a group of ten division chiefs, chaired by William "Red" Robbins and Joseph Sivo, charged with the first strategic planning for Lewis. They had the 1982 Strategic Plan ready the first day that Andrew J. Stofan returned to Lewis from Headquarters to take over as director. Stofan had the charisma and confidence of a former manager of the Titan-Centaur launch vehicle. He had directed the Launch Vehicles Program from 1974 until called to Headquarters as Deputy Associate Administrator for the Office of Space Sciences in 1978. The Office of Space Sciences was a locus of power within NASA. It put Stofan in a position to move Lewis away from its dependence on the weak and underfunded Office of Aeronautics and Space Technology (OAST) into the mainstream of NASA.

The Lewis planners recommended that Stofan go after five major programs: the power system for the space station, the advanced turboprop program, refurbishing of the Altitude Wind Tunnel for an expanded icing test program, the Advanced Communications Technology Satellite [214] (ACTS), and the Shuttle-Centaur Program. Of the five programs, the space power system was the most controversial among the members of the group.

Management of major projects like Shuttle-Centaur and the power system for the space station was new to Lewis. Although staff in the launch vehicles programs had managed large projects like Agena and Centaur, they had never dealt with the Manned Space Flight Program, with its strong political connections. Stofan saw that these large programs were the key to Lewis's future viability in NASA. He had the personal skills of persuasion that his predecessors had lacked. He landed four of the five programs. In Red Robbins's view, "it was a damn miracle.31

Energy research was gradually phased out. Stofan exorcised the NACA research ghosts that still haunted some of the facilities. He called past management autocratic and instituted "participative management" to heal some of the rifts between managers and staff caused by the prolonged trauma of the 1970s. After the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in January 1986, Stofan reluctantly agreed to return to Headquarters to head the space station project. The present Director, John M. Klineberg, sees Lewis as less a research laboratory and more a conduit for ideas, technology, and funds to the private sector. In his view, Lewis's future rests with the large projects. With the center employing 2700 civil servants and 1200 support-service contractors, a return to the days when the laboratory functioned as a self-sufficient unit is unthinkable.

Lewis Research Center has come full circle. It is no longer a research laboratory where the majority of work is done in-house. It is now firmly established in NASA's mainstream: the development and missions side of NASA. The power system for the proposed space station is its key component. NASA administrators estimate that over the next ten years the country will spend $1.6 billion on the development of this system. Lewis staff will manage this development through contracts with industry, principally Rocketdyne and its subcontractors, Ford Aerospace, Lockheed, and General Dynamics. Case Institute, now part of Case Western Reserve University, is among the many universities that provide research to support the space station and other programs through contracts with NASA.32

The plans for the space station represent the fulfillment of T. Keith Glennan's vision for NASA. NASA has become a conduit for the nation's tax dollars to industry and the universities. Hugh Dryden's concept of a government research laboratory to provide technical capital for the nation's future in the form of ideas and innovations is no longer viable. The NACA research tradition, nurtured after World War II and brought to full flower from the late 1940s to the early 1960s at Lewis, now has but a small comer of the camel's tent. Lewis Research Center's struggle to keep a measure of autonomy was an effort to preserve the independence and creativity of its technical people. Although never free of Cold War pressure to improve existing engines, Lewis Laboratory kept its independence. While it served both the military and industry after World War II, it remained an autonomous institution. The success of liquid hydrogen as a rocket fuel is an example of a long-term commitment that began in the late 1940s. It was basic research. The development of this tricky fuel to the point of routine use over twenty years ago put the United States far ahead of the Soviet Union in the area of space propulsion. Only recently has the Soviet Union developed the expertise to use liquid hydrogen in its space shuttle.

NASA's contractual relationships with industry have supported short-term development, not advanced technology. America has been living off the technical capital of the 1950s and early 1960s, much of it the product of government in-house research. In 1988 the National Research Council criticized NASA's neglect of advanced technology research. For the preceding 15 years, less than 3 percent of NASA's total budget has gone to research. Of that 3 percent, virtually [215] none went to applications more than five years in the future. Ironically, according to the National Research Council's study, the nation's "foremost technical need is for new propulsion systems, including nuclear space power systems and electric propulsion for flights to Mars and more distant planets" - the very programs Lewis Research Center was forced to give up in the 1970s.33 Lewis Research Center in the 1990s is poised on the edge of a new era. One of its challenges is to see whether a balance between research and development can be restored.

 


Footnotes

 

1. See Cleveland Plain Dealer, 15 February 1973. See also internal Lewis Research Center document, "How Should NASA Conduct Research and Technology in Aeronautical Propulsion?" 27 January 1978. (Copy in author's files.) The Office of Aeronautics and Space Technology (OAST) managed the main programs of the three former NACA laboratories, Langley, Lewis, and Ames, and Dryden. OAST budget items on nuclear power and propulsion were reduced from $29.8 million in fiscal year 1972 to $17.1 million in 1973 to $4 million in 1974.

2. How Do You Measure a Person's Career?" Lewis News, 28 June 1974.

3. These missions are detailed in a typescript by Walter T. Olson, "Some Highlights of Lewis Research Center Technical Achievements in the 1970s," January 1980.

4. See shuttle accounts in Malcolm McConnell, Challenger: A Major Malfunction (New York: Doubleday, 1987); and Joseph J. Trento, Prescription for Disaster (New York: Crown Publishers, 1987).

5. Lewis contributions to the shuttle are discussed in two documents: G. Mervin Ault to Director, "LeRC-Managed Technology Work for Space Shuttle," 9 June 1975, and an unsigned, undated typescript, "NASA Lewis Research Center's Role in Space Shuttle." (Copies in author's files.)

6. See "Center's Future Looks Promising," Lewis News, 30 January 1970. Aircraft Engine Noise Reduction, Proceedings of a conference held May 16-17, 1972, at the NASA Lewis Research Center, NASA SP-311, 1972.

7. "Refan Program Aimed at Quieting DC-9s, 727s," Lewis News,'13 July 1973.

8. Bruce Murray, Michael C. Malin, and Ronald Greeley, Earthlike Planets: Surfaces of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Moon, Mars (San Francisco. W.H. Freeman, 1981), p. xi.

9. Lewis Thomas, The Lives of the Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher (New York: Viking Press, 1974), p. 43.

10. "Pollution Course Taught at Lewis," Lewis News, 31 December 1970.

11. "Center Helps Curb Air Pollution," Lewis News, 15 January 1971.

12. "Big Benefits Come Right from Lewis," Lewis News, 17 December 1971.

13. "NASA Aids Gas Turbine Car Study," Lewis News, 13 July 1973.

14. Robert W. Graham to Director, 1 October 1970. Across the top of this document someone wrote, "Not received by Director:' Graham sent a second more detailed memo, "Lewis Involvement in Electric Power Research and Development," 14 June 1971. File marked Ground Based Electric Power. Educational Services Office, NASA Lewis Research Center.

15. Alvin M. Weinberg, Reflections on Big Science (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1967), p. 156-160.

16. Interview with Robert English by V. Dawson, 11 July 1986.

17. The final report, The Nation's Energy Future, 1 December 1973 (WASH-1281) was submitted by Dr. Dixy Lee Ray, Chairman, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. See also Eugene Ayres and Charles Scarlott, Energy Sources: The Wealth of the World (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1952).

18. NASA TM X-71523, November 1973. See also Wind Energy Conversion Systems, Workshop Proceedings, NSF/RA/W-73-006, 1973. NSF's Research Applied to National Needs Directorate (RANN) had a solar power research program begun in 1971. See also "Solar Energy as a National Energy Resource," NSF/NASA Solar Energy Panel, December 1972. NTIS No. PB-221-659.

19. "Solar Electric Replaces Kerosene and Diesel for Arizona Indian Village," Lewis News, 5 January 1979. The system was dedicated in January 1959.

20. James Burnett to Director, 11 October 1974. File marked Ground Based Electric Power, Educational Services Office, NASA Lewis Research Center.

21. Henry Kosmahl's invention, the Multistage Depressed Collector (NASA TN D6093, 1971) was patented in 1972. It is used in NASA's communications technology satellites like the ACTS. In 1987 NASA won an Emmy Award for outstanding achievement in television engineering because of the improvements in television broadcasting brought about by the development of communications satellites. See Lewis News, 2 October 1987.

22. George Low, "Memorandum for the Record," 14 February 1975, Lewis file, NASA History Office, Washington, D.C. Funding for Lewis's ground-based energy work grew from about $3 million in fiscal year 1972 (NSF, ERDA, DOT etc.) to $60-70 million in 1978 under DOE.

23. This program is discussed in detail in Jeffrey L. Ethell, Fuel Economy in Aviation, NASA SP-462 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1983), p. 29-42.

24. Ethell, Fuel Economy in Aviation, p. 43-57.

25. John McCarthy, "Meet the Director," 8 November 1978.

26. The National Research Council Turbine Engine Test Facilities Committee, Advanced Gas Turbine Engine Development: The Potential Role of the NASA Lewis Research Center (Washington, D.C,: National Academy of Sciences, 1977).

27. Ibid.

28. A lengthy discussion of Lewis's transition to computer analysis can be found in the transcript of Interview with William McNally by V. Dawson, 4 March 1985.

29. "McCarthy Testimony Underscores Manpower Restraints at Lewis," Lewis News, 17 July 1981.

30. Eugene J. McAllister, ed., Agenda for Progress: Examining Federal Spending (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, 1981), p. 171-172. Some in Washington saw the Lewis closing as a fait accompli; for example, a headline for the Defense Daily, "Budget Cuts Forcing NASA to Close Lewis Research Center, FY '83 Aeronautics Budget Halved to $139 million." (vol. 119, no. 25, 9 December 1981).

31. Transcript of Interview with William H. ("Red") Robbins by Michal McMahon and V. Dawson, 15 May 1986.

32. See James R. Hawker and Richard S. Dali, "Anatomy of an Organizational Change Effort at the Lewis Research Center," NASA Contractor Report 4146, April 1988.

33. Joseph R Shea, "NASA Short on Research Budgeting," The Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1 August 1988. Shea chaired the Council's committee on space technologies to meet future U.S. needs.


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