Change and Continuity


[81] What we should do is retain our competence and contract out our capacity.

- Floyd L. Thompson, director of Langley Research Center


In the working partnership between universities, industry, and government ... each of the three has retained its traditional values.... I believe that each has become stronger because of the partnership.

- James E. Webb, NASA administrator


Born in 1898, the offspring of another century, Floyd Thompson was 62 years old when he took over officially from Henry J. E. Reid as the Langley director in May 1960. When defending the interests of his beloved Langley, Thompson could definitely play the part of a stubborn old curmudgeon.

He played it particularly well in July 1963 at a press conference called by NASA Administrator James E. Webb, President Kennedy's appointed successor to Keith Glennan. In his office at NASA headquarters, Webb announced the appointment of Earl D. Hilburn, a former vice-president and general manager of the Electronics Division of the Curtiss-Wright Corporation' as a new deputy associate administrator. Webb reported to the assemblage that Hilburn would now be responsible for the general management of all the NASA facilities that were not manned spaceflight centers- in other words, Hilburn would manage Ames, Lewis, Langley, Goddard, Wallops, JPL in Pasadena, and the Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB. After introducing Hilburn, Webb turned to Thompson, who had been invited to Washington just for the occasion, stuck out his chin, and asked Langley's director what he thought of the news. Thompson answered loud enough for everyone to hear, "Well, Langley has been around a long [82] time, and I suspect it will be around a lot longer no matter what you people up here do." 1

This arrogant reply stemmed from Thompson's devotion to Langley's long tradition of independence and freedom from bureaucratic headaches and political machinations in Washington. Why should the director of a research center be overly impressed by the news that another bureaucrat was joining the organization in Washington? Although most NASA personnel in the audience knew Thompson well enough not to be stunned by his comment, they were still surprised that he would make it in Webb's own office and with reporters present. Neither Webb nor any other NASA officials present would ever forget the incident. For many of them, it was just another instance of a prideful Langley trying to go its own way.

But Thompson's answer revealed more than just pride; it demonstrated his conviction that some essential continuity at NASA must be sustained amid the rapid changes taking place for the space race. Whatever management changes or reforms NASA headquarters made in the affairs of the research laboratories, Langley would continue to do its job.

The Langley center director was no thoughtless institutional reactionary. Thompson had shown by his nurturing of the STG, if not by his comments to headquarters officials, that he was no foot-dragger when it came to supporting and promoting the space program. Not for a moment would he try to stop the spaceflight revolution from happening at Langley; rather, in his own cautious and pragmatic ways he would advocate, encourage, and even delight in NASA's ambitious objectives. In the changes in the modus vivendi of the NASA laboratory that were taking place in the early 1960s, Thompson recognized an elevated level of excitement and commitment, a new degree of freedom, and an unprecedented opportunity for building unique capabilities that went beyond the constraints of traditional NACA-style, in-house research activities. After the fever of supporting the space race had passed, Langley, Thompson believed, would emerge not weakened, but strengthened.

Sometime in the early 1960s, Thompson invented a motto to capture what he wanted Langley's new operational philosophy to be: "We should retain our competence and contract out our capacity."2 By that Thompson meant that a NASA center forfeited none of its own capabilities by sharing some of its work with outsiders. Langley should nurture the industrialization of research and development (R&D), which had been taking place at an increasing rate in America since the end of World War II. Langley would not be losing control over its own destiny by farming out some of its responsibilities to American business and industry while taking on certain duties that went beyond the traditional in-house research function. Instead, Langley would benefit because it would now be able to focus on the genesis of valuable scientific and technological ideas, take its own potential to the limit, and accomplish important tasks that could not be done as well any other way. Moreover, in spreading its wealth to contractors, NASA would not just.....



Floyd L. Thompson, 1963

Langley Director Floyd Thompson might have done more to obstruct the spaceflight revolution at Langley if he had known how much the essential character of his research center was going to be changed by it. L-63-3879


.....be putting together a national team to beat the Soviets in the space race but would also be invigorating the aerospace industry and strengthening the country's economy. NASA's new style of managing large endeavors might even demonstrate a cooperative means by which other national and international needs, such as the alleviation of poverty, could be met.

Thompson's slogan was his own, but the broader message belonged to bigger thinkers. Whether Thompson was conscious of it or not, the phrase "retain our competence and contract out our capacity" echoed a more sweeping vision of his time, one that was an essential part of John F. Kennedy's "New Frontier." An ambitious program of space exploration would make the United States an overall healthier society, Kennedy declared during the 1960 presidential campaign. "We cannot run second in this vital race To insure peace and freedom, we must be first.... This is the new age of exploration; space is our great New Frontier." A successful space program would help in the ultimate defeat of communism by showing to all peoples of the world the great things a western democratic and capitalistic society can do when its resources are effectively mobilized. NASA would make manifest the essential superiority of the American way of life.3



Floyd L. Thompson, James E. Webb, and John F. Victory

President Kennedy's (actually Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson's) choice for NASA administrator, James E. Webb, sits between Langley Director Floyd Thompson (left) and the NACA's retired executive secretary, John F. Victory (right), at the 1964 NASA Inspection held at Langley. Although Thompson had some memorable run-ins with Webb, the two were much alike. Both were country bogs (Thompson from Michigan, Webb from North Carolina) with rumpled collars, corn-pone accents, and down-home homilies. They were also highly intelligent, complex, and cunning. L-64-6455.


A dynamic new union of science, technology, and government or what NASA Administrator Webb called the "university-industry-government complex"- would lead the charge in this campaign for a better world. NASA, above all other national institutions, would help to forge this relationship, which would serve as the means for winning the contest with the Soviet Union, for solving pressing social and economic problems at home and abroad, and for accelerating the pace of progress in the human community. The elaborate teamwork necessary for spaceflight programs would force some major changes and adjustments in the workings of existing institutions, but the end result would be for the best. Traditional values, those worth keeping, would be retained. But through the new partnership, each of the team members, including NASA, would become stronger.4

Given his democratic leanings and his position of responsibility within the space program, not even a stubborn old curmudgeon like Thompson [85] was outside the rising tide of thinking about how the world was changing and how even successful places like NASA Langley would also have to change if they were to contribute to and be a vital part of the new order. Thompson could be brusque with Webb, as at the Hilburn press conference, but in technological spirit he and the NASA administrator stood on common ground. "Every thread in the fabric of our economic, social, and political institutions is being tested as we move into space," Webb stated in a 1963 speech on the meaning of the space program


Our economic and political relations with other nations are being reevaluated. Old concepts of defense and military tactics are being challenged and revised. Jealously guarded traditions in our educational institutions are being tested, altered, or even discarded. Our economic institutions- the corporate structure itself- are undergoing reexamination as society seeks to adjust itself to the inevitability of change.5


Thompson, in his much less publicized talks around Langley, often echoed the same sentiments. Not even the oldest and best American institutions could go on as before, unaffected, in light of the technological revolution that was taking place as humankind moved into space. Even a place like NASA Langley would have to make some major adjustments, and Thompson knew it- no matter what curt remark he might make to the contrary.


The Organization


Apart from meeting the sizable personnel requirements of the STG, Langley laboratory initially did not change much to meet the growing demands of the nascent space age. Some new boxes were drawn on the organization charts, and a few old ones eliminated. Some existing divisions and branches received new names and experienced reorganizations, and a few significant new research sections and branches were built around emerging space disciplines (for example, the Space Applications Branch of the Full-Scale Research Division created in December 1959 and the Magnetoplasmadynamics Branch of the Aero Physics Division created in May 1960). Several major project offices also came to life at the laboratory in the early 1960s, but, for the most part, everything about the formal structure of the laboratory remained the same as before. Thompson and his senior staff believed that the organization of the laboratory for its general applied aerodynamic research under the NACA in the late 1950s would serve the new combination of aeronautics and space equally well. When Langley's diversified capabilities needed to be focused on mission plans or specific program goals, ad hoc task forces, steering committees, study groups, and other "shadow organizations" that usually did not appear on the organization charts were created.

The organization chart of 1962 shows the continuity in Langley's structure from the 1950s into the 1960s even though four years had passed since [86] the changeover of the NACA to NASA and one year had passed since President Kennedy had committed the country to a manned landing mission to the moon by the end of the decade. In the summer of 1962, Langley Research Center consisted, as it had since the mid-195Os, of three major research directorates. Heading each directorate was an assistant director. This person was responsible for overseeing the work being done in the subsidiary research divisions. In 1962 each research directorate had three research divisions, for a total of nine at the center. Within the nine research divisions were-some 50 branches, plus a number of sections, offices, facilities, shops, and testing units. Typically, a division numbered between 100 and 150 fulltime research professionals. In the management formula, 3 nonprofessionals, that is, secretaries, mechanics, data processors and the like, were needed to support one researcher. That did not mean that every division employed 300 to 450 support people; none in fact did. The research divisions instead received much of their nonprofessional assistance from two supporting directorates. One of these directorates, "technical services," employed the mechanics, modelmakers, electricians, and other technicians necessary for keeping the shops, testing facilities, and the rest of the infrastructure of the research operation alive. The other supporting directorate, "administrative services," handled fiscal matters, personnel affairs, the photo lab, the library, and the publications office as well as the rapidly increasing requirements for procurement.6

Until early in 1962, the research directorates did not have names or any official designation; on the organization charts were three boxes simply labeled "Office of Assistant Director" with no way to distinguish them, apart from knowing who the particular assistant director was and what divisions he directed. In February 1962, Director Thompson and Associate Director Charles J. Donlan decided to remedy this situation. There were three directorates, they thought, so why not call them "Group 1," "Group 2," and "Group 3." 7

Named to head Group 1 at the time of this nominal reorganization was Clinton E. Brown, formerly the chief of the Theoretical Mechanics Division. This division was one of several smaller Langley divisions that in the early 1960s were focusing on the study of lunar missions. Brown replaced Hartley A. Soulé, who retired. The new Analysis and Computation Division (ACD), whose chief was Paul F. Fuhrmeister, was part of Group 1. This division was established in January 1961 by combining the Analytical and Computation Branch of the Theoretical Mechanics Division with the Data Systems Branch of IRD. The goal of ACD was "to allow more effective management at the Center in the development and utilization of data systems for data reduction services and for theoretical analysis requirements." 8 Also within Brown's group were IRD, headed by electrical engineer and future assistant director Francis B. Smith, and the Theoretical Mechanics Division (in June 1963, renamed the Space Mechanics Division), led by Dr. John C. Houbolt, the champion of the lunar-orbit rendezvous concept for Project Apollo.



Langley organization chart, 1962.

Organization chart of NASA Langley Research Center, summer, 1962.


Clinton E. Brown



Eugene C. Draley



Laurence K. Loftin, Jr.


The heads of Groups 1, 2, and 3: Clinton E. Brown (top left), Eugene G. Draley (top right), and Laurence K. Loftin, Jr. (bottom). When these groups were baptized in February 1962, the three men had been working at Langley for a combined 62 years.


[89] Heading Group 2 was Eugene C. Draley, who had been serving as an assistant director since November 1958. Within this directorate was Joseph A. Shortal's (Class of 1929, Texas A&M) Applied Materials and Physics Division, the reincarnation of PARD, which had been dissolved in December 1959 PARD, created near the end of World War II, had developed the methods of rocket-model testing at Wallops and had provided instrumented flight data at transonic and supersonic speeds important for the design of the country's postwar high-speed jets and ballistic missiles. Led in its early years by Bob Gilruth, the old PARD had served almost unwittingly as Langley's training ground for the space age. One year after the birth of NASA, and in view of the changed programs and responsibilities of PARD, Langley had changed its name to the Applied Materials and Physics Division.9 The Dynamic Loads Division, headed by I. Edward Garrick, an applied mathematician who had graduated from the University of Chicago in 1930, and the Structures Research Division, headed by MIT aeronautical engineer (Class of 1942) Richard R. Heldenfels, were also in Group 2.

Laurence K. Loftin, Jr., a mechanical engineer who came to work at Langley in 1944 after graduating from the University of Virginia, had served the technical assistant to Floyd Thompson since December 1958. When Henry Reid relinquished his duties on 20 May 1960, Loftin began working for the laboratory's director. On 24 November 1961 Loftin replaced John Stack as Langley's third assistant director when Stack moved up to take charge of the agency's aeronautical programs at NASA headquarters. In practice, Loftin served also as Langley's director for aeronautics. When, four months later, Thompson assigned group numbers to the directorates, Loftin remained in charge of what was called from then on Group 3.

Group 3 was home to the Aero-Physics Division, headed by hypersonics expert John V. Becker (M.S. in aeronautical engineering, New York University, 1935). The roots of this division went back to the old Compressibility Research Division of the late 1940s and 1950s, in which NACA researchers had studied the vexing problems of high-speed flight in new wind tunnels and other unique test facilities. In December 1958, Langley had redesignated this division the Supersonic Aerodynamics Division. But this name, which Backer and others did not like because it did not capture the range of research areas covered by the division's work, did not last long. Seven months later, after another reorganization, it was rebaptized the Aero-Physics Division, a title that then lasted until the major organizational shake-up brought on in 1969 and 1970 by Thompson's successor as center director, Edgar M. Cortright.

The second division in Group 3 was the Aero-Space Mechanics Division, led by Philip Donely, an aeronautical engineer who had graduated from MIT in 1931. Like a few other parts of Langley, this division was created not long after the establishment of NASA, during the reorganization of September 1959. Essentially, the Aero-Space Mechanics Division combined two older aeronautical research groups: the Flight Research Division and.....



Langley's top staff members greet Raymond Bisplinghoff.

On the Langley tarmac in May 1964 to welcome Raymond Bisplinghoff, director of the Office of Advanced Research and Technology (OART) at NASA headquarters, are, left to right, Floyd Thompson, Langley director; Raymond Bisplinghoff; T. Melvin Butler, chief administrative officer; Eugene C. Draley, head of Group 2; and Laurence K. Loftin, head of Group 3. L-64-6446.


...the Stability Research Division, both of which dated to the late 1930s. As with many other changes at the time, the establishment of the Aero-Space Mechanics Division reflected the snowballing of space-related research activities at Langley and the de-emphasis on aeronautics. In a directorate such as this, where aeronautics always had been the byword, center management was reclassifying activities to show how even the airplane flight research groups were tackling critical problems in the new regime of space. Nobody in Donely's division much liked the new name, because it eliminated the word "flight" to add the word "space." Effective 30 June 1963, after a reorganization, Donely's division became the Flight Mechanics and Technology Division, a redesignation that stuck until the Cortright reorganization, when the political advantages of calling everything "space"-this or "space"-that had mostly passed.

The third division in Loftin's group was the Full-Scale Research Division, which comprised several, large aeronautics groups clustered around the laboratory's larger wind tunnels. This division began in the early 1940s but had recently expanded in May 1961 with the addition of the former Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel Division as one of its major research branches. Aeronautical engineer Mark R. Nichols, a 1938 graduate of the Alabama [91] PoIytechnical Institute (later Auburn University), led this division through the 1960s.

Not surprisingly, all three assistant directors and all nine division chiefs, as well as the director and associate director, were former employees of the NACA. The average age of these 14 men in 1962 was just over 44. When Lindbergh made his famous transatlantic crossing in 1927, they were young boys Many of them remembered the flight of "Lucky Lindy" as a seminal event in their lives, launching them toward professional careers in aeronautics Only two of them, ACD's Fuhrmeister and IRD's Smith, had not worked at NACA Langley during World War II, but they arrived only a few years later.

A few important changes in the structure of the organization occurred after 1962. A handful of new assistant directors would be assigned. In October 1965, IRD would be split into two divisions: a new IRD and a brand new Flight instrumentation Division. Both divisions would belong to Group 1. In the spring of 1964, a fourth major research directorate, the Office for Flight Projects, was formed to accommodate the growing number of special projects at the laboratory. Under this office was placed the Flight Reentry Programs Office, which handled Project Fire, the Lunar Orbiter Project Office, the Manned Orbiting Research Laboratory (MORL) Studies Office, the Scout Project Office, and the Applied Materials and Physics Division (the old PARD). The first assistant director of this new Office for Flight Projects was Gene Draley, who moved over from Group 2. Replacing Draley as head of Group 2 was Dr. John E. Duberg (Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, Class of 1948). Duberg was responsible for a directorate comprising only the Dynamic Loads Division and the Structures Research Division. The Applied Materials and Physics Division, which for its entire history had been the maverick in Langley's overall organization, moved over with Draley to Flight Projects.10 Curiously, this fourth research directorate was not called "Group 4."


Thompson's Obscurantism


Langley's organization charts did not reveal the substance of the laboratory operation. In keeping with a long-standing tradition of obscurantism fathered by George W. Lewis, the NACA's politically shrewd director of re search in Washington from 1919 to 1947, Langley Directors Henry Reid and Floyd Thompson never made the structure of the laboratory too apparent. If they had, they thought, then outsiders- and that category of suspicious people included Langley's own superiors at NACA/NASA headquarters in Washington- would be able to interfere with what was going on inside the laboratory. Micromanagement was something that the directors of the field "enters and their research staffs definitely did not want.11

[92] "Thompson was a great one for saying that you couldn't be too sensible about this kind of stuff," remembers Larry Loftin, assistant director for Group 3. He wanted to "keep things confused so that the people at headquarters wouldn't really know what was going on." Thus, Langley's formal organization, following the NACA way, was kept deliberately vague. Loftin remembers one instance from the early 1960s when a concerned Bernard Maggin from the Office of Aeronautical and Space Research in NASA headquarters asked Thompson outright how many people were working on space projects under William J. O'Sullivan, Jr., in Langley's Applied Materials and Physics Division. Thompson just looked at Maggin grimly (to some colleagues, the Langley center director was known as "The Grim Reaper") and said, "I'm not going to tell you."12

And he never did tell Maggin. Thompson could get away with veiling the organization because of his many years with the NACA, the outstanding reputation of Langley Research Center both inside and outside the agency, and the power Langley wielded early on within NASA. This policy of obscurantism, however, was not something that headquarters liked or wanted continued much longer; it was not to be carried on by Thompson's successor. Edgar M. Cortright, the headquarters official named by NASA Administrator Jim Webb in March 1968 to replace Thompson, believed that it would be to Langley's advantage if headquarters had a more detailed understanding of the laboratory operation. So, in 1969 and 1970, when he put Langley through what was the most sweeping and traumatic reorganization in its then more than 50-year history, Cortright made certain that the titles in all the boxes on the organization charts indicated exactly what staff members did. This was just what Thompson had avoided.

Another hallmark of Thompson's management style was generating spirited competition among his research divisions. He did not want any one group to have all the research opportunities in a given technical area. No one group should be doing all the reentry heating work, all the space station design, or all the supersonic research. Monopolies such as that, though they might seem to prevent duplication of efforts, bred complacency. Better to have several research groups tackling the same set of problems from different angles.

This philosophy of creative research through friendly competition led to the formation of shadow organizations and invisible lines of organizational communication and responsibility within Langley- a process that would become known to management theorists by the 1990s as "nonlinear" thinking. For example, besides serving as assistant director for Group 3, Loftin also was responsible for all the aeronautics efforts at the laboratory- that included all of the aeronautical work in the Structures Research Division, which was technically under the auspices of Gene Draley's Group 2. As part of his everyday duties, Loftin had to review and approve all the important paperwork related to the aeronautical activity of someone else's directorate. 13

[93] This arrangement did create some tension but frequently resulted in a positive outcome. "There was enormous technical competition between the divisions at Langley," remembers Israel Taback, a longtime member of IRD who came to work at the laboratory in the early 1940s and stayed into the 19805 "People would fight with each other over technical details. That was all very healthy. The end result was a battle of ideas. Ideas that had merit tended to float to the surface. The good ideas won." 14


The Sinking of Hydrodynamics- and Aeronautics?


Only one major research division completely disappeared at Langley during the first years of the spaceflight revolution: Hydrodynamics. This division had done pioneering work in the field of waterborne aircraft research since 1930. Langley management decided to dissolve Hydrodynamics in late December 1959 and reassign its roughly four dozen personnel to other divisions. Many of its staff members went to Dynamic Loads, which dated back to the old Aircraft Loads Division of World War II and had specialized in the study of such problems as aeroelasticity, flutter, buffeting, ground wind loads, gust loads, and aircraft noise. In recent months, however, Dynamic Loads, like most other Langley divisions, had been taking on work related to Project Mercury and the space program.15

With the group that moved to Dynamic Loads went the continued responsibility for operating the High-Speed Hydrodynamics Tank, a 2177 foot-long, 8 foot-wide, and 5-foot-deep towing test basin. This long concrete water channel was located in the far West Area of Langley Field alongside the Dynamic Loads Division's Landing Loads Track.* In the High-Speed Hydrodynamics Tank, NACA researchers in the mid-1950s had evaluated the performance of floats for the navy's Martin YP6M-1 Seamaster jet-propelled flying boat. They had worked to develop retractable "hydroskis" for the navy's experimental little XF2Y-1 Sea Dart jet fighter built by Convair (still to this day the only supersonic seaplane ever to fly). In addition, they had searched for a way to provide water-based aircraft with the combat air performance of comparable land-based planes. These investigations contributed information essential to the design of several experimental military vehicles including a "panto base" airplane, a proposed amphibious type that could operate from concrete runways, grass, mud, snow, sandy beaches, or even from seaplane ramps and floating rafts.16

Those members of the Hydrodynamics Division who did not move to Dynamic Loads became members of the Full-Scale Research Division. This was the largest single division at the laboratory, and it was essentially composed of aeronautical researchers who staffed the larger wind tunnels. John B. [94] Parkinson, Hydrodynamic's ever-faithful chief and the 1957 winner of the first Water-Based Aviation Award given by the Institute of Aeronautical Science, was reassigned to this division. Parkinson had worked in Hydro dynamics since coming to Langley in 1931. He accepted with reluctance his new assignment as "Aeronautical Research Scientist, Aerodynamics,,, which then Associate Director Floyd Thompson invented for him. In that position, Parkinson was to help in program planning and serve as "the Center's consultant for the consideration of future vehicles that operate on or in the water as part of their mission and other future vehicles for which water landing or other hydrodynamic requirements affect and modify design requirements." As Parkinson would no longer be a division chief, Langley had to request an "excepted position" for him from the civil service that would allow him to retain his present salary of $15,500. Within two years of the dissolution of Hydrodynamics, Parkinson left Langley for a job overseeing the management of aerodynamics research in the Office of Advanced Research and Technology (OART) at NASA headquarters.17

Parkinson and his colleagues took with them to the Full-Scale Research Division the responsibility for maintaining what had always been Hydrodynamics premier facility, "Tank No. 1," a unique 2900-foot indoor seaplane towing basin on the shore of the Back River in the East Area. This tank was designed in 1930 by NACA civil engineer Starr Truscott, who according to Langley lore was a descendant of the Wild West outlaw Belle Starr and a veteran of the construction of the Panama Canal. The NACA's original hydrodynamics research program had begun in Tank No. 1 when, 29 years before, Truscott, Parkinson, and fellow engineers had employed it to test floats that were eventually used on several American seaplanes, including the Sikorsky twin-float "Amphibian," which set speed records in the 1930s. Data gained from work in this facility also contributed to the development of the famous Clipper flying boats, the romantic ocean-hoppers that before World War II had trailblazed air routes and carried hundreds of paying passengers over all the oceans of the world. In the big water tank, the NACA had studied the design characteristics of most American floatplanes and the performance of nearly all the early U.S. Navy flying boats that would be used for air-sea rescue, antisubmarine patrol, and troop transport in World War II. In the enlarged version of the tank (it was lengthened to its full 2900 feet from an original 2000 feet in 1937) and in its 1800-foot-long little brother, Tank No. 2 (built adjacent to it in 1942), Langley engineers discovered ways to ease the shock on a landplane when crash-landing or ditching in the water. Both tanks were equipped with an overhead electric carriage from which a dynamic model could be suspended and towed at up to 80 miles per hour, which was sufficient to make a model take off from the water and fly at scale speed. As the model was moving along the surface, researchers took motion pictures and recorded measurements demonstrating the aircraft's stability, controllability, water resistance, drag, and spray characteristics. The tanks were equipped with catapult devices,.....



Aerial view of the Full-Scale Tunnel and Tank No. 1, 1959.

Aerial view of Langley's East Area. The largest building on the shore of the Back River is the Full-Scale Tunnel; the long building seeming to run from the top of the tunnel is Tank No. 1. L-59-5655.


...for the study of the free launched landing characteristics of airplanes and with mechanical wave makers, for the simulation of takeoff and landing in rough water.18

On the eve of the dissolution of the Hydrodynamics Division, researchers is Tank No. 1 were studying the characteristics of revolutionary VTOL machines over water. They were even investigating the requirements of a supersonic seaplane and a prototype "ground-effect" machine, a platform-like vehicle that could hover and move just above the ground by creating a cushion of supporting air between it and the ground surface. Nobody, not even the U.S. Navy, was interested enough in the research going on in Langley's Hydrodynamics Division to ask NASA to keep it alive. Two ambitiously experimental Martin YP6M-1 Seamaster jet seaplanes had recently been lost due to design failures; the navy was about to terminate its entire flying-boat program; and Martin, one of the most dedicated builders of flying boats, was on the verge of moving into the guided missile business. 19 Langley's Hydrodynamics Division, historic as it was, had apparently outlived its usefulness. Tank No. 2 had already been deactivated in April 1958 after 16 years of continuous use. Beginning on the first working day of 1960, historic Tank No. 1 would be placed on standby status, with no operating personnel regularly assigned to it. It became an abandoned facility that was to be used "only to meet the requirements of such special needs as they might arise."20 Shortly thereafter, NASA would give complete control over the tank to the navy.



X-20 Dyna-Soar model in Tank No. 2, 1961.

A Langley engineer prepares a model of the proposed air force X-20 Dyna-Soar aerospace plane for testing in Tank No. 2 in 1961. L-61-6509.


Langley management explained its decision to abolish the Hydrodynamics Division by pointing to "the declining need for hydrodynamics research as it applies to seaplanes and other water-borne aircraft." Although that justification was apparently legitimate, it was only half the story. The other half was that the exigencies of NASA's space program were sweeping over Langley like a tidal wave and, in this case, engulfing an entire aeronautics-oriented division whose activities, facilities, and reason for being suddenly seemed antiquated. It did not matter that the division had been contributing to Project Mercury by making studies of the water landing characteristics of the capsule; it was better to get rid of the division and make its staff more clearly a part of the new regime of space. "In view of the changing nature of the nation's research programs," conceded Langley Director Henry Reid, "it is felt that the experienced personnel of the Hydrodynamics Division could best be utilized by transferring them to the staffs of divisions which have assumed increased space research responsibilities in recent months."21

As indicated by the elimination of the Hydrodynamics Division in 1959, Langley management was doing everything it could to transform Langley into an R&D center ready-made for the space age. But aeronautical engineers and their passion for airplanes and other winged flight vehicles did not completely disappear at the center. Floyd Thompson was not about to let aeronautics die at the historic NACA facility where he had worked....


97] Aeronautics and Space Work as Percentages of Langley's Total Effort, 1957-1965










































Special Types











Aeronautics Total











Space Total










Source: "Distribution of Effort" pie charts in folder labeled "Research Effort," Laurence K Loftin, Jr., Collection, Langley Historical Archives.


....since before the Lindbergh flight and where so many ideas important to the progress of American aviation had been born.22

The place of aeronautics at Langley was nevertheless to change significantly in the wake of Sputnik. For the NACA to metamorphose successfully into NASA, aeronautics, out of political necessity, had to give up the center stage that it had enjoyed for over five decades so that an overnight sensation could now dazzle in the spotlight. The astronaut rocketing into the darkness of space would now get top billing; the aviator flying through the wild blue yonder, and the engineers and scientists who made that flight possible, would play the part of supporting actors. Already by the spring of 1958, aeronautics at Langley made up only 40 percent of the total work done at the center. By 1965 aeronautics would plummet to its lowest point, a measly 24 percent. The space program was outshining older stars.

For aviation enthusiasts, this turn of events proved traumatic. Veteran aeronautical engineer Raymond L. Bisplinghoff, who directed the OART at NASA headquarters from 1962 to 1966, put it mildy when in a 1983 memoir he stated that the formation of NASA had

a dramatic, and at first deleterious, influence on the on-going program of aeronautical research. The new space tasks were often under scientists who worked on a space problem for one week then switched back to aeronautics the next week . . . The massive priority which the country, from the president on down, placed on eclipsing the Russian lead in spaceflight had a profound influence on the NACA aeronautical staff as they assumed positions in the new agency. Many took advantage of opportunities to move to higher grades and levels of responsibility in space activities As a result, many moved from aeronautical research tasks to space program management tasks.23

[98] Others, such as Langley's fiery director of aeronautics, John Stack, were so sure that the first "A" in NASA was being erased forever that they decided to leave the space agency entirely. At the time, especially after NASA's annual R&D budget for aeronautics fell below a million dollars in 1962, these disillusioned aviation enthusiasts could not have known how extensively, or how successfully, NASA would rebuild its aeronautics programs following its major buildup for space.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, all that the aviation enthusiasts could think about was the overwhelming dominance of space over aeronautics. In private, many Langley aeronautical engineers held NASA's manned spaceflight programs in contempt, especially the quest to land men on the moon, believing it to be the height of dishonesty for their organization to undertake such a mission, even if it could be done, when it was not worth doing. John V. Becker, a talented Langley researcher who by the late 1940s had already shifted his attention to hypersonics and the possibilities of an evolutionary progression into space via transatmospheric vehicles like the X-15, remembers that his longtime colleague John Stack was "not really much interested in the reentry problem or in space flight in general." For Stack, even the X-15 was a program barely worth supporting, and he did so "with only the semblance of the notorious promotional fire he could generate if he was really interested."24

John Stack and his team of aeronautical engineers reserved their enthusiasm for advanced high-speed military jets and for a viable commercial SST. As Becker remembers about his volatile colleague, Stack developed "a hostile, adversary attitude towards Space, perhaps because it threatened to drain resources that otherwise might belong to aeronautics." When the Apollo program was established in 1961, Stack told Becker, "I don't buy this 'to the Moon by noon' stuff." Unimpressed by the great size and complexity of the booster rockets, he compared von Braun's Saturns to the impressive but very stationary Washington Monument and sided with some early but abortive attempts inside NASA to find viable air-breathing aircraft-like launch systems for the manned space missions. According to Becker, Stack, even after leaving NASA in 1962 for an executive position with Republic Aviation, "continued to favor advanced aircraft as opposed to space projects." 25

Most members of the Stack team, as well as many of Langley's other aviation enthusiasts, felt exactly the same way. The hard-core aeronautical engineers in the years following Sputnik were in Mark R. Nichols' Full-Scale Research Division and in Philip Donely's Flight Mechanics and Technology Division, both of which were part of Group 3. Inside the wind tunnels and flight hangars of these two divisions, torrid love affairs with aerodynamics, with high lift/drag ratios, with satisfactory flying and handling qualities, and with the comely shapes and exciting personalities of airplanes and helicopters continued to flourish long after the formation of the STG. Far too numerous to count or name them all, the strongest adherents to aeronautics....



John Stack, 1959

If accomplished high-speed aeradynamicist John Stack looks disgruntled in his staff photo from 1959, it may be became of the growing predominance of the space program at Langley. L-59-5435


....during the 1960s can be spotted simply by looking at an organization chart or thumbing through the Langley phonebook noting who belonged to these divisions. From top to bottom, these men were the "aero guys."

And they were not happy. In the aftermath of the Sputnik crisis, "there was a real strong emphasis on getting people out of aeronautics and into space," remembers Mark Nichols, the Full-Scale Research Division chief. In fact, Nichols himself was moved. In 1959, Floyd Thompson put Nichols in charge of Langley's first space station committee, choosing him, one of the laboratory's most die-hard aeronautical engineers, as a lesson to all others. Laurence K. Loftin, Jr., a devoted aeronautical researcher and aerodynamic flutter expert, also found himself immersed in planning for both space stations and lunar missions in the early 1960s. As this substitution pattern became clear, the air-minded at Langley found themselves in "an adversarial mode with management, which was always trying to take our people and put them into space." Nichols and his buddies looked "for ways of resisting this," but were not successful. 26

No one was unhappier with this development than Langley's number one "aero guy," John Stack. No one at Langley grew more disgruntled over what he believed the space agency was doing to, and not for, the country's precious aeronautical progress. Stack, the brilliant and outspoken head of aeronautics, set the tone for the numerous dissatisfactions of the air-minded engineers at the center during the first years of the space revolution. This was true especially after he, one of the most decorated and powerful men at the laboratory, started to lose out in some infighting within the Langley front office. Most notably, in March 1961, Thompson made Charles Donlan,...



Scale model of the General Dynamics F-111A.

One of the aeronautical passions at Langley in the late 1950s and early 1960s was variable wing sweep, a technology by which an airplane's wings could be mechanically adjusted to different sweep angles to conform to either subsonic, transonic, or supersonic flight requirements. In this photo from May 1965, a wind-tunnel engineer checks the mounting of a scale model of the General Dynamics F-111A, the air force's version of the nation's first variable-sweep fighter. The F-111A first flew in December 1964; the navy version, the F-111B, made its initial flight in May. L-65-2870.


....and not Stack, Langley's associate director. A man of rare accomplishments and visionary ambitions, Stack was not accustomed to being passed over. Not even NASA's heavy involvement in the national SST program could keep Stack working for the space agency.

However preoccupied NASA became in the 1960s with space related matters, at Langley aeronautics research continued and resulted in outstanding contributions to everything from hypersonic propulsion to the handling qualities of general aviation aircraft.** One reason for the unexpected degree of success, ironically, was the fact that aeronautics did not receive much attention from NASA management or from the public at large. The Apollo program and all its related activities so consumed NASA headquarters that it let the aeronautical engineers do as they pleased. In this sense, the aero-....



Model of SCAT 15F in Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel.

In this photo from 1970, a technician readies a model of Langley's own pet Supersonic Commercial Air Transport, known as SCAT 15F ("F" for fixed wing), for testing in the Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel. L-70-1356.


....-nautical work at Langley kept much the same personality and flavor as during the NACA era when the engineers, not the bureaucrats in Washington, had been in charge.

But oddly, in retrospect, the rearguard of aviation enthusiasts at Langley in the 1960s in some ways resembled the vanguard of the spaceflight revolution As much as the air-minded hated NASA's emphasis on space exploration, these air-minded engineers and scientists nevertheless became equally caught up in their own dreams of monumental new accomplishments. Perhaps it was just the nature of the revolutionary times brought on by Sputnik and President Kennedy's New Frontier to think so grandly and to feel that the old limitations no longer applied.

NASA's aeronautical engineers had their own Apollo program in the 19605: the design of the most revolutionary aircraft ever built- a commercial supersonic airliner capable of flying two or even three times the speed of sound and crossing the Atlantic from New York to London or Paris in a few hours. This dream compared favorably with the lunar landing because an SST would have such immense economic, political, and social significance that it would change how humankind traversed the face of the earth. The Apollo program would accomplish nothing similar. Neither, of course, would the aeronautical engineers' national SST program because the U.S. Congress killed it in 1971. In this sense, too, the space cadets emerged "one up," for [102] they had their spectacular moment with the manned lunar landings; the "aero guys" never did.


Growth Within Personnel Ceilings


Despite the dissolution of the Hydrodynamics Division and the wane of aeronautics, Langley's formal organization did not change significantly in the early 1960s. This was in part because the center did not grow much bigger. By the changeover to NASA, Langley Research Center was already a large operation. It had greatly expanded during its NACA history from a few small buildings in an isolated corner of the military base prior to World War II to a 710-acre complex on both sides of the air force runways. It was now an establishment that included 30 major wind tunnels and laboratories and whose replacement worth to the federal government was estimated at nearly $150 million. In 1958 the center paid approximately $6 million in operating expenditures, including nearly $2 million just for electric power. Its annual payroll stood at $22 million. Its full-time civil service staff numbered about 3300, of whom approximately one-third were engineers, scientists, mathematicians, and other professional people.27

With the transition to NASA, the size of the Langley staff actually became a little smaller before it grew any larger: from 3795 paid employees in June 1959 to 3456 by the end of that year. The staff fell to 3191 six months after the previously auxiliary Wallops Station became an independent field installation (on 1 January 1960). In the next three years, the number rose to 4007. By June 1966 the Langley staff reached its all-time high of 4485 employees. This was nearly 1000 more staff members than Langley's peak number in 1952. But relative to the agency-wide growth of NASA in the 1960s, Langley's expansion was actually quite moderate.

In 1958, Langley's 3300 employees represented more than 41 percent of NASA's total first-year civil service complement of 7966. But in 1964, the 4329 employees of the Virginia facility amounted to barely 13 percent of the agency's entire number, which in a span of just five years had doubled and doubled again, to 33,108. In other words, while Langley was growing, its rate of growth was slow compared with NASA's. At this rate Langley would be unable to retain its traditional position of dominance in the agency. NASA was adding large new manned spaceflight centers such as Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, the Manned Spacecraft Center in Texas, and the Launch Operations Center (in November 1963, renamed the Kennedy Space Center) at Cape Canaveral in Florida. The addition of Marshall alone had meant the mass influx of over 4000 personnel from the U.S. Army as part of the transfer of the ABMA's Development Operations Division to NASA.

Moreover, NASA's total personnel headcount of 33,108 in 1964 represented a diminishing fraction of NASA's overall effort. In the late 19605, NASA estimated that Project Apollo employed some 400,000 Americans.....



Number of paid employees at NASA Langley, 1952-1966.

Number of paid employees at NASA Langley, 1952-1966.

Paid employees at NASA Langley- percentage of NASA total, 1958-1968.

Paid employees at NASA Langley- percentage of NASA total, 1958-1968.


[104] ....in government, industries, and universities. NASA's civil service employees amounted to just a little more than 10 percent of the total NASA work force, broadly defined. The other 90 percent were contractors.

Langley was often called "Mother Langley" because it had been the mother lode for all NACA facilities. A guiding force throughout NACA history and for the first years of NASA, Mother Langley now was losing its central position in the agency. Although only a few concerned research-oriented people like Hugh Dryden would have thought about the significance of the changing personnel numbers at the time, they were symptomatic of a slow but sure decline of the formerly predominant influence of the research centers and the coming hegemony of the development centers. The personnel numbers signified the ascendancy of organizations devoted primarily not to research but to planning and conducting actual spaceflight operations and building hardware.

The trend did not go unnoticed. Thompson received a forewarning of the siphoning of research center staff funds for development centers from Earl Hilburn, whose appointment as a NASA deputy associate administrator Thompson had summarily discounted. On 9 September 1963, Thompson sent a four-page letter to NASA headquarters regarding Langley's personnel requirements. His letter underscored what he called "the problem of manpower distribution" among the NASA centers. "The immediate needs of a development program are always more easily recognized," he began, "than is the requirement for a continuing research program that lays the basic foundation of technology upon which the development program can continually depend for guidance in solving detailed technical problems."28

At the heart of Thompson's illuminating letter was his concern about an ongoing tug-of-war between the manned spaceflight centers and the research centers over the apportionment (or reapportionment) of NASA's personnel quotas. The internal struggle, which the research centers were losing, was the result of work-load stresses caused by the ceilings that were imposed on the total number of people NASA could employ. The way the system worked, the agency asked for the amount of money it needed to pay salaries based on the number of people it anticipated it would employ. However, if Congress or the Bureau of the Budget found reason to trim the request, then NASA had to cut back on its staffing projections accordingly, even though the requirement to do so was not explicit in the appropriation act. 29

In the first years of NASA, this sort of cutting back had happened frequently because Congress, the Bureau of the Budget, President Eisenhower, and even NASA Administrator Glennan hoped to keep a rather tight lid on civil service staffing. For Glennan as well as for many others, keeping the lid on the personnel total played directly into the Republican philosophy that government was already too big. At a NASA staff conference in Monterey, California, in early March 1960, Glennan claimed that "there was a need for some kind of arbitrary limitation on NASA's size. By limiting the number of employees, NASA would limit its in-house capability and thus be forced....



Kitty O'Brien-Joyner, 1964.

The first woman to work as an engineer at NASA Langley was Kitty O'Brien-Joyner (left), who was also the first female to graduate with an engineering degree from the University of Virginia. L-64-5210


Langley's women scientists, 1959.

In 1959, Langley employed six women who were classified by NASA as "scientists." During the Apollo era, women made up 3 to 5 percent of the professional work force agency-wide. The percentage of African American professionals was significantly smaller, from 1.5 to 3 percent. These percentages rose slowly for both groups as the decade proceeded.


[106] ....to develop the capabilities of contractors." 30 This development would be far better for the American economy than hiring larger coteries of government workers. Glennan sanctioned relatively low personnel ceilings. For fiscal year 1962, for example, he approved a limit of 16,802 employees, which was less than 3 percent above the total authorized for the previous year.31 Naturally, no NASA center director facing the high public expectations and enormously expanded work load of the early 1960s could be expected to be happy about such limits on hiring.

The acceleration of the space program brought on by President Kennedy and his dynamic new man, James Webb, jacked the personnel ceiling up to new heights. Instead of the 3-percent increase for fiscal year 1962 proposed by Glennan, an increase of a whopping 43 percent was approved. Between 1961 and 1965 the total number of agency personnel would double, from 17,471 to 35,860.32 Given this rapid growth in the size of the NASA staff, it may seem more than a bit astonishing to find a NASA center director worried about the need for more personnel. But by late 1963, that was the case. Government controls on personnel totals even during the ensuing Democratic administrations of Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson were such that the only way to take care of any unforeseen requirements that occurred during a fiscal year was to transfer manpower and related financial resources among institutions. And when a transfer was needed, the research laboratories invariably lost.

On more than one occasion, subsequent to a preliminary formulation of the basic data regarding the agency's manpower requirements at NASA headquarters, the managements of Houston and Huntsville would request a substantial number of supplementary personnel. (Earl Hilburn was warning Thompson about such a request in September 1963.) To give the space centers several hundred additional staff positions without obtaining the congressional authorization to increase the agency's overall complement meant that NASA headquarters had no other choice but to reapportion the personnel quotas among the field centers. In other words, in order for Houston and Huntsville to get more, Langley and other research centers would have to get less.33

In Thompson's mind, this was a tug-of-war that the research centers, given the priorities of the space race, could not win, but which the nation could not afford to lose. "Two-thirds of the current total effort of Langley is utilized in support of the NASA space effort," Thompson wrote to the NASA administration. "These programs have been prepared in cooperation with and approved by the OART and other cognizant program offices. They have been endorsed by NASA as essential to continued leadership in space exploration and vital to the success of such basic NASA programs as Saturn, Gemini, and Apollo."34 To support this claim, he attached to his letter (along with lists and charts illustrating "the wide range of activity" at Langley) a 10-page document listing all the then-current Langley investigations relevant to the program interests at the Manned [107] Spacecraft Center. This document, prepared by Axel T. Mattson, whom Thompson had dispatched as a special attaché to Houston in the summer of 1962, demonstrated that Langley was spending some 300 man-years just in support of the Texas center's projects.35 If NASA continued to neglect Langley's manpower needs and persisted in improperly distributing the quotas, something would have to give. Too few people would remain at the research center to perform the total center mission. Either Langley would do all the support work, leaving little if any time for fundamental research, or the support work would have to subside, thus putting the goals of the American space program at risk.


The Shift to the Periphery


The trend pushing Langley from the center of NASA toward its periphery is evident not only in the personnel numbers but also in the budget figures. In 1959 the direct cost of Langley's administrative operations in terms of its obligations to pay employees and honor all those contracts (not including Wallops') that were not funded by R&D money was $30.7 million. This amounted to 36 percent of the NASA total. In 1967, Langley spent $64.3 million, the most money it would spend on operations during any one year in its entire history; however, this amount was less than 10 percent of the NASA total for that year. In 1959 the cost of running Langley was significantly higher than that of operating any other NASA facility. But by 1967, Langley was down to seventh place on that list, while Marshall stood at the top, at 5128.7 million, or double what it cost to operate Langley. Even the price of running NASA headquarters was nearly up to the Langley figure. Whereas 55.5 million kept the offices in Washington going in 1959, by 1967 that figure had shot up over tenfold to a grandiose $57 million.36

NASA headquarters was growing by leaps and bounds in the early 1960s. It was a larger, more multilayered, and more active bureaucracy than had ever been the case for the NACA's Washington office. A host of headquarters officials congealed and took charge of all the programs at Langley and the other NASA centers. This meant that the field centers had to work through Washington not only for their allotment of resources but also for many levels of program initiation and administration. Also unlike the days of the NACA, the bureaucrats in Washington were now directly in charge of their own little empires. They issued major contracts to universities and industries for R&D and for design studies.37 Between 1960 and 1968, the value of contracts awarded by NASA headquarters rose from 3 to 11 percent of the total value of contracts awarded agency-wide. During the same period, Langley experienced a decline from 35 to 3 percent of the total value of contracts agency-wide, and Huntsville and Houston centers collectively hovered consistently between 50 and 60 percent of the NASA total.38

[108] Compared with the megabucks turned over to the spaceflight centers for R&D during this period, Langley's funding was also relatively small. In 1963 the center received less than 2 percent of the total money set aside by NASA for R&D programs. On the other hand, Marshall received almost 30 percent of the total NASA R&D budget. The most Langley ever received in R&D funding was $124 million in 1966; the least that Marshall received in the same period was 10 times that in 1968.39

The point of going through these numbers is not to show that Langley was being treated unfairly. As a facility devoted primarily to applied basic research in aviation and space, Langley simply was not doing as much procurement as were those NASA centers responsible for designing, building, launching, and operating spacecraft. What the numbers do show is a new technological order brought on by the spaceflight revolution. In examining the numbers we hold up a mirror to the new sociopolitical context of research activities at the former NACA aeronautics laboratory. The mirror reflects NASA's determination to allocate the lion's share of its financial resources to those arms of the agency most directly involved in what the country was intent on achieving through its space program. In the 1960s that was, first, getting astronauts into orbit around the earth; second, per President Kennedy's May 1961 commitment, landing American astronauts on the moon; and third, in the process, refreshing the nation's spirit, reinvigorating its economy, and showing the world just what the U.S. system of democracy and free enterprise could do when the American people put their minds and energies to it. In other words, the intent was to win the space race.

These figures signify more specifically the rather immediate effects that NASA's broader mission had on the lives of the old NACA research laboratories. Unlike the NACA, NASA would be an operational organization, not just a research organization. It would become heavily involved in projects with goals and schedules and it would contract out to American business and industry a great part of its work. As this happened, Langley staff feared that administrators in Washington would no longer see the center as special. With headquarters now running many of its own shows through contracts to industry, a place like Langley could come to be regarded by many at headquarters as just another contributor to the program. Langley was just one more possible center where work could be done, if NASA headquarters chose to locate it there. But headquarters might instead choose the General Electric Company's Command Systems Division; BellComm, Incorporated; the Douglas Aircraft Company; Thompson-Ramo-Wooldridge (TRW); MIT; or some other very capable organization.40 Langley was now for the first time in competition with "outsiders," the many laboratories and firms that had been springing up or growing in competency in conjunction with the burgeoning of the "military-industrial complex" after World War II.

The competition was not inherently harmful to Langley. Given the ample budgets brought on by the spaceflight revolution, NASA had more money than it could spend on itself or on its research laboratories. Langley was [109] simply not accustomed to the competition, and it was not accustomed to relying on others. For more than four decades its organization had been largely self-sufficient. As an internal Langley study on the history of contracting at the NASA center by Sarah and Steve Corneliussen has noted, the laboratory staff had almost always conducted its own research, built its own models and instrumentation and wind tunnels, and handled its own logistical needs, from mowing the grass to operating its two cafeterias. 0nly occasionally had outsiders been brought in during the NACA period to augment the civil service staff- and "only temporarily at that, just to help out with occasional peaks in the center's housekeeping workload."41

Thus, many former NACA staffers would need time to adjust to the new environment of NASA and to see that the involvement of outsiders in the work of the new space agency would not take anything away from their historic capabilities or their tradition of self-sufficiency, but would instead add to them. "Contracting out" was not substituting the work of others for what the in-house staff had always done. It was augmenting the capabilities of the NASA researchers so that they could accomplish more. The Langley organization would be no less cohesive nor would contracting damage its best qualities; it would only enhance them.42 That, at least, was the argument.


Contracting Out


0ther than the occasional employment of temporary laborers for odd jobs, Langley had accomplished almost everything it had to do with its own staff. This self-sufficiency worked well during the NACA period because the range of what needed to be done was usually narrow enough for the civil service work force to handle it. If the work load increased significantly, as during World War II, then the solution was to obtain authorization from Congress for additional civil service staffing. The answer was not to hire contractors.

With the quickening pace of the space race and the urgency of NASA's expanded mission, however, the work load increased so dramatically that civil service staffing authorizations could not keep up. An evolving mismatch between the high work load at the research center and the low level of congressional authorizations for more research staff eventually forced a reluctant Langley into contracting out for much of the work that it always had done and would have preferred to continue doing itself.

At first the research center resisted the trend toward contracting out and was only willing to hand over to outsiders mundane maintenance and administrative jobs, such as delivering the mail, operating the cafeterias, running the center's credit union, and maintaining some of the warehouses. Procurements for these jobs involved so-called support service contracts, that is, binding legal relationships drawn up so that the time and the services of an outside firm (i.e., the contractor) could be secured to attain a specified in-house objective.43

[110] Even for the tasks of routine housekeeping, Langley wanted the best employees. "If we're going to hire outsiders," the procurement officers emphasized, "then let's choose a way of doing so that maximizes their contributions as adjunct members of the team."44 The best way to do this, they found, was to use a "cost-plus-award fee," a special- and for the government, novel- form of cost-reimbursement contract. In Langley's opinion, this arrangement had the highest potential for inducing quality in the contractor's performance because the contractor's profit- the award fee rises or falls in direct correspondence to the customer's (i.e., Langley's) appraisal of the work. As with straight cost reimbursement, the expense to the government is not preset, but changes over time with the changing circumstances of the work. This process differentiates both cost-reimbursement and cost-plus-award fee contracts from the more typically used "fixed-price" contract, in which the contracting party specifically delineates the job requested and the time allowed for completing it, and the bidder assumes the risk of matching the forecast of the demands of the job to what those demands will in fact turn out to be. However, in Langley's case of contracting for ongoing support services usually for terms of several years, during which working circumstances would change and jobs would have to be adjusted, the fixed-price approach would not work.45

In essence, the cost-plus award fee was an incentives contract; according to a formal NASA definition, it provided for "a basic fixed fee for performance to a level deemed acceptable, plus an additional award fee, not in excess of a stipulated maximum, for accomplishment of better than the 'acceptable' level."46 Its downside was the administrative burden. The amount of the award was linked to the contractor's performance; thus, on a regular and in some cases almost daily basis, responsible Langley employees had to inspect and evaluate the contractor's work. A board of senior managers had to appraise the contractor's performance at agreed-upon intervals and decide the amount of extra money deserved. A much larger and more formal mechanism for handling contractors therefore had to be developed at Langley. One clear indicator of the burden of this added responsibility was the growth in the size of the Langley procurement staff itself. Before NASA replaced the NACA, this staff comprised 25 people. After the changeover, the staff quickly expanded to more than 100 before leveling off at 70 to 80 after the STG left for Houston.47

In this fashion, Langley did what it could to bring out the best in its contractors and to make them feel a vital part of the center. This method of contracting was a way of bringing outsiders "in," of making "them" part of "us." However, an inherent and potentially serious difficulty existed in carrying out the philosophy of these contracts. Like all other procurements by the U.S. government, these contracts for support services were governed by federal regulations. The regulations clearly allowed, and the then-current federal policy indeed encouraged, the direct involvement of American businesses, industries, and universities at government facilities like....



Langley's computer complex, 1959

The Langley division most assisted by support-service contractors in the early 1960s was ACD. By mid-decade, contractors were programming the computers and handling the hardware and software support of the mainframe systems, and by 1970, contractors were contributing substantially to the development of computer programs for the guidance, navigation, and control of aircraft and spacecraft.

In this photo, taken in 1959, engineers are at work in Langley's computer complex. Langley's electronic analog brain (seen in photo) with its plugboards and vacuum tubes was replaced in 1965 by mainframe digital computers. The conversion from analog to digital was a major technological development of the spaceflight revolution. Without it the on-board navigation and control needed to achieve the manned lunar landing would have been impossible. L-59-352.


....Langley, but the same body of regulations also insisted that the contractors make their contributions at arm's length from civil service management. In other words, the two could not be "in bed together." If civil servants did not maintain this distance, the contractors might become entrenched, their expense charges could get out of hand, and they would essentially have a license to steal."48

Over the years, despite the best intentions of government, Langley staff would have trouble adhering always to the arm's-length requirement. Because Langley wanted to make the contractors feel that they were part of "the family" and in spirit no different from any other employee, staff could hardly treat contractors in the formal, mechanical ways required by the rules. Contracting officials were supposed to follow a labyrinth of procedures and policies to arrive at the letter of the law required by federal procurement. But as civil servants and contractors worked side by side, ate lunch together in the NASA cafeteria, and often became close friends, feelings that Langley should keep to the spirit of the law, as opposed to the letter, prevailed. As a result, the position of the contractors at Langley slowly grew stronger.

[112] Starting with the assignment of the Scout booster rocket project to the center in the late 1950s, as Chief Procurement Officer Sherwood Butler recalls, "Langley began to branch out and contract for some highly technical services such as launch support, support of research, and maintenance and calibration of instrumentation."49 Several representatives of the prime contractor, Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) worked on-site on a daily basis as integral members of the Scout "team." These contractors included 12 LTV engineers working specifically in the field of instrumentation. Bringing in instrumentation experts amounted to "the first instance of support services contracting in a technical field at Langley." 50 With the start of other major projects like Fire and Lunar Orbiter, many contract employees of industrial firms came to work at the center and were such an integral part of the team that they could not be distinguished from the government workers without a glance at their ID badges.


The Brave New World of Projects


In the brave new world brought on by the spaceflight revolution, Langley, as we have seen in its support of the STG, for the first time became heavily involved in project work and the formal management of large-scale endeavors involving hardware development, flight operations, and the administration of contracts. For some of these projects, Langley personally handled the reins of management for NASA headquarters as the designated "lead center." In the early 1960s such projects included Scout, which began in 1960 for the development of NASA's first launch vehicle, a dependable and relatively inexpensive solid-propellant rocket; Radio Attenuation Measurements (RAM), which came to life in 1961 to address the radio blackout that occurred during a spacecraft's reentry into the atmosphere; Fire, which was started in 1962 to study the effects of reentry heating on Apollo spacecraft materials; Lunar Orbiter, which was initiated in 1963 to take photographic surveys of the moon in preparation for the Apollo manned lunar landings; and the Hypersonic Ramjet Experiment Project, which began in 1964 to explore the feasibility of a hypersonic ramjet engine.

Other NASA organizations took the lead for many other projects, and Langley helped by providing diversified R&D support. Langley contributed in this way to all the manned spaceflight projects, from Project Mercury through Apollo. Langley also participated in "cooperative projects." These were projects for which NASA headquarters assigned the overall project management to another center but gave Langley the official responsibility for subsidiary projects or for specific project tasks. The earliest example of a cooperative project involving Langley was Project Echo, which was started in 1959 for the development of a passive communications satellite For Project Echo, NASA assigned the project management not to Langley [113] but to Goddard; however, Langley was responsible for the development of the Echo balloon, for the container in which the balloon was carried into space, and for the balloon's in-space inflation system. Beyond that, Langley was also responsible for managing two flight projects in support of Echo, Projects Shotput and Big Shot, which were designed to test Echo designs under suborbital conditions before the balloons were launched into orbit.

Before exploring the history of NASA Langley's early involvement in project work in subsequent chapters of this book, I want to address a few basic points about projects and about research. A project sets out to do something quite specific and to do it in a limited time frame. For example, the goal of the Manhattan Project during World War II was the design and construction of an atomic bomb; the goal of Project Sherwood in the 1950s, as mentioned in the next chapter, was the design and construction of an effective fusion reactor. To fulfill these objectives, the projects' researchers had to move ahead quickly and adhere to strict schedules. They could not afford many detours. The Manhattan Project started in 1941 and concluded in 1945. To achieve the project goal in those four years, a vast array of resources had to be effectively mobilized, organized, and supplied. The enormously complex task of creating the first atom bomb would not have been successful if the U.S. government and its wartime military establishment had not given high priority to completing such a "crash effort." With a far lower priority and with more intractable problems to solve, Project Sherwood staff never did achieve the project's final goal.51

In its bare essentials, a NASA project was no different from the two projects discussed above. According to a formal NASA definition in the early 1960s, a project was "an undertaking with a scheduled beginning and end," which involved "the design, development, and demonstration of major advanced hardware items such as launch vehicles or space vehicles." The purpose of a NASA project was to support the activities of a program. NASA defined a program as "a related series of undertakings which continue over a period of time and which are designed to accomplish a broad scientific or technical goal in the NASA Long-Range Plan." 52 Typically, the time span of a NASA project was two to three years. Two examples of the agency's "broad scientific and technical goals" from the early 1960s were manned spaceflight (spearheaded by Project Mercury) and the exploration of the moon and the planets (supported early on by the Ranger and Surveyor projects). After President Kennedy's speech in May 1961, NASA's most important goal became a manned lunar landing that was achievable by the end of the decade. That goal was so primary that Apollo, the project, quickly became Apollo, the program. It so dominated NASA's efforts that the moon landing became virtually coextensive with the mission of the entire space agency.53

In contrast to projects with their definite beginnings and ends and specific goals, research is by nature more open-ended and unpredictable. To obtain significant results from research, even from the more practical engineering [114] kind carried out at Langley during its NACA period, risks must be taken. Researchers must venture down long and winding roads that might lead nowhere, ask questions that might turn out to be unanswerable, and spend money on experimental equipment to conduct demonstrations that might never work.

In other words, the environment for research has to be flexible. Needless to say, so too does the researcher and, perhaps especially so, the research manager. For a technical culture to be understanding and supportive of research, it must be forgiving of failure and the apparent lack of progress. On the other hand, as a 1979 NASA study of the R&D process declares, "Projects often provide the ultimate reality. [They] are practical demonstrations. New equipment must function well, performance is measured against the previous experience, and success needs to be achieved."54 Otherwise, the project is a total failure. The situation is rather black-and-white.

In research, the criteria for success and failure are gray; success needs to be achieved only once in a while. One fundamental breakthrough that can be built upon for many years makes up for dozens of wrong turns and dead ends. A breakthrough may even be accidental or the fortuitous consequence of some meandering. This is rarely the case in a project. When success is a necessity and the timetable is short, nothing can be left to accident or luck; a "fail-safe" system is called for. Constructing such a system requires systematic and detailed planning, rigorous discipline, proof-tested technology, and extremely prudent management and overall leadership- not to mention enough talented and motivated people to work all the overtime required to complete the job on schedule.

During its 41-year-long history as an NACA laboratory, Langley's "ultimate reality" had been firmly rooted in research, not in projects. Generally speaking, Langley valued research more than anything else. The most meritorious thing that a Langley scientist or engineer could do was to write an outstanding research paper that the NACA would publish as a formal technical report. Langley researchers did not design or build airplanes; as government employees, they were not supposed to, or allowed to, do that. What they did was the basic testing that generated the fundamental knowledge that the aircraft industry used to advance the state of the nation's aeronautical art.

The NACA laboratory was, therefore, not a place for pure research; it was a place for applied basic research and for technology development. As such, Langley staff understood and placed great importance on project work. Most NACA research was neither "basic" nor "scientific" in the usual sense of those words; almost every investigation at the center, whether "fundamental" or "developmental," was aimed at a useful aircraft application. What Langley researchers did best was attack the most pressing problems obstructing the immediate progress of American aviation, particularly those vexing the military air services, and aircraft manufacturing and operating industries. This had often meant "fighting fires," bringing diversified R&D [115] talents to bear on a problem of the moment, and eliminating or solving that problem in as short a time as possible. Doing so was virtually like carrying out a project.

Thus, in the NACA's way of doing research, of developing wind tunnels and other test facilities, and of attacking technical problems, Langley researchers often followed an approach akin to project management. Many people at NACA Langley felt that their best research programs were those run as projects. For instance, the approach the center adopted to building many major new facilities had been very much like project management. Frequently during meetings of employee promotion boards in the 1950s, a member of the senior staff would ask whether the candidate was a "project engineer" or simply a "researcher." By project engineer, they meant someone who could take on all the responsibilities for carrying out a task and meeting a deadline. To do this, the project engineer had to deal with wind-tunnel operators, get work done in the shops, consult with systems engineering and other technical support people, and perhaps even do a little bit of procurement, such as arranging for the purchase of supplies, materials, or some minor piece of equipment.

This kind of management was done on a much smaller scale than would be done for a NASA project, but NACA Langley researchers did have comparable experiences. With the coming of NASA, they only had to learn to do it on a larger scale. From the end of World War II, PARD had been involved with rocket acquisitions and launch operations, and starting in the mid-1950s, Langley was also heavily involved in the large Project WS-110A. (The designation "WS" stood for "Weapons System.") This was a top secret air force project for the development of what became the North American XB-70, an experimental, six-engine, 520,000-pound strategic bomber designed for a speed in excess of Mach 3. (Only two were built before the project was canceled in 1964.) 55

Experiences such as those in PARD and with WS-110A made the management of a project easier for Langley when the time came. Most people who would be assigned to many of the earliest NASA projects at Langley would come from PARD. Although Langley staff moved into the project work brought on by the spaceflight revolution and the changeover to NASA without too much difficulty, the novelty or the essential differences between conducting project work and doing research should not be underestimated.

PARD had more critics within Langley than did any of the laboratory's other research divisions. From the moment of PARD's establishment as a separate division in 1946 through its reincarnation as the Applied Materials and Physics Division in 1959, researchers in other divisions were always bickering with someone in PARD. Wind-tunnel groups questioned the merits of PARD's wing-flow and rocket-model transonic testing techniques, arguing that they were too costly and often took priority over more basic tunnel programs. Each firing of a PARD rocket model from Wallops Island required that a precious test model be sacrificed; often the models had expensive [116] instruments inside. Among others, John V. Becker, the influential head of the Compressibility Research Division, complained about the "voracious appetite" of the rocket-model advocates, suggesting that many engineers in PARD were more interested in making their rocket models perform with increasing accuracy than in solving research problems. Becker warned that the practice was causing "a major slowdown" in the production of the models and instruments required by his division and by others. In his judgment, what PARD was expecting, and often receiving, from Langley's model shops and other technical support services was "roughly equivalent to the requirements of perhaps 10 major wind tunnels."56

Although much of the criticism was unfair, these feelings about PARD and about its focused, rather aggressive project-like approach to doing things worried many senior staff members of the 1960s. Becker and others thought that most of the personnel in PARD were "blacksmiths," hairy-armed, technical musclemen who did things hit or miss, with hammer and tongs, and without much serious forethought. One of Becker's branch heads, Macon C. Ellis, Jr., remembers that feelings against PARD within the Gas Dynamics Laboratory were so strong that "when we became MPD [the Magnetoplasmadynamics Branch, in 1960], we definitely didn't want to go into PARD. That was for sure."57

As Langley took on more project work during the 1960s, people strictly involved in research grew increasingly upset. Larry Loftin, Floyd Thompson's technical assistant and later director of Group 3, remembers with some hard feelings that "anything with the name 'project' got first priority in the shops." Again, this perturbed those research groups involved in wind-tunnel testing. "You couldn't do wind-tunnel tests without models," Loftin recalls, "and you couldn't get your models done without the shops. All a person had to do was mention Mercury or some other project to somebody in the shops, and it got done. Everybody else waited their turn." Hostility was particularly high regarding Project WS-110A. Any work connected to WS-110A received the highest priority at Langley. Any test model needed for the project immediately was built in the shops, then was pushed to the front of the line for wind-tunnel testing. This situation led a frustrated researcher to try connecting one of his job orders to Project WS-110A so that he could get some of his own work done.58

In analyzing the impact of NASA project work on the traditional character of Langley, continuity from the NACA period must not be exaggerated. Researchers like Becker and Ellis drew a line dividing the ways of NASA projects from NACA research and continued to draw it well into the NASA years. John Stack, the billy-goat-gruff of the Langley senior staff, never abandoned the research ideal of the NACA. In his opinion, the most valuable thing that any Langley employee ultimately could contribute was a published research paper that the American aerospace community could use. Without such contributions, a laboratory would amount to no more than an industrial plant.59



Scale model of WS-110A in 7 x 10-Foot High-Speed Tunnel.

In this 1957 photo, aerodynamicists prepare a scale model of the top secret WS-110A for testing in Langley's 7 x 10-Foot High-Speed Tunnel. L-57-5231.


Uncharted Territory


No matter what PARD had done that was akin to project work during the NACA period, large-scale projects for spaceflight were totally new. Langley was inexperienced in many details of project management, in procurement, and in matters concerning the administration of the space agency's expanded R&D and mission activities.

In putting together its diversified operation, NASA faced a complex task: it had to build an effective organizational structure involving intra-agency relationships; it had to devise a rational complex of administrative procedures that took care of both internal and external matters; and it had to find the best ways to procure supplies and services. This last requirement, procurement administration, was especially problematic for a technical organization like Langley because it involved the writing, negotiating, and managing of contracts. This meant extensive dealings, legal and otherwise, with corporations and industrial firms in the profit-motivated private sector of the American economy. Such a complicated affair had never been the case for NACA research.

In the early days of the space agency, NASA headquarters realized that most of its executive personnel, especially those running the field centers, were "excellent technical people" who "lacked experience" in managing large [118] projects. Two outside studies sponsored by NASA in mid-1960, one by an advisory committee on NASA organization chaired by University of Chicago President Lawrence Kimpton and the other done under contract by the Washington management consulting firm of McKinsey & Co., found that NASA's executive class needed beefing up. With Administrator Glennan enthusiastically in support of this finding, NASA immediately began a formal program to train project managers. It hired a contractor, Harbridge House, to develop and lead a series of two-week training courses in project management. The first of these courses convened in Williamsburg, Virginia, not more than 25 miles from Langley, in December 1960. Employees from all the NASA installations attended. Langley sent several people - not all of them picked for their potential as project managers. Some general administrative staff also attended the seminars, as did a handful of senior managers like Larry Loftin and Gene Draley. Top NASA officials and managers of industry addressed the participants, while specialists from Harbridge House took groups through case studies "from actual, but camouflaged, R&D problems" faced by NASA and the DOD. Essentially, what everyone was supposed to glean from the training, and for the most part did, was a heightened concern for certain basic management principles and theories.60

What NASA hoped to achieve through this training course was "a measure of uniformity" in the management of its diverse projects agency-wide. NASA did not want more centralized control over the projects; this had already been tried to some extent in the first two years of NASA's operation and had resulted in an impossibly heavy work load at NASA headquarters. 61 NASA wanted to move toward a more decentralized system in which one field installation would have virtually complete management control over the execution of an entire project the need for interinstallation coordination would be at a minimum; and NASA headquarters could stay out of the intraproject coordination and instead could concentrate on interproject coordination, which included "the review and approval of projects in the light of overall objectives, schedules, and costs of the entire agency." All three points were underscored in the October 1960 final report of the McKinsey & Co. study of the NASA organization. In fact, the firm's advocacy of a training course in project management stemmed directly from the conclusions of its specialists about the advantages of a decentralized system. Such a system could work, the report said in emphatic terms, only if each NASA center trained 10 or 20 people in this kind of management.62

NASA would need three years to create the decentralized system called for in the McKinsey report. With the NASA reorganization of October 1963 asked for by Administrator Webb, the system finally was firmly put into place. From that point on, as Arnold S. Levine explains in his 1982 analysis, Managing NASA in the Apollo Era, NASA leadership stressed that "project management was the responsibility of the centers." For all flight projects, "there was to be one lead center, regardless of how many installations [119] actually participated." *** To take the lead, "a particular center had to [have] (or was assumed to have) the capacity to manage large development contracts' the skills to integrate the subsystems of a project parceled out among two or three different centers, and the ability to draw on the resources of the centers instead of needlessly duplicating them."63 Those in charge of a project at a lead center would report their business, in a direct and official line of communication, to the head of the appropriate program office at NASA headquarters, for example, to the head of the OART. Senior staff in these program offices then supervised and counseled the work of the project managers in the field as they saw fit. 64

Ironically, where this shift in NASA project management policy seems to have led by 1963 was back to the NACA concept of giving the field centers the responsibility for technical decisions. Of course, the overall political and cultural context in which those decisions were made was far different from the one in which Langley had operated as an NACA aeronautics laboratory. The NACA was not involved with contractors and all the snarly legalities and procedures that necessarily came with them. In the narrower context of the NACA, technical decisions were not nearly as visible or important to the American public as they would be in the high-profile space program. If an NACA decision had been wrong, the result might have been tragic- if, for example, the aircraft industry or military air services had applied a mistaken NACA research finding in a new airplane design. But the overall context for NACA research was such that major mistakes were almost impossible to make. In normal periods, researchers could usually take all the time necessary to be scrupulously careful and certain of their findings. Even during the rush to support the Allied air forces in World War II, which involved "cleanup" of existing aircraft designs as well as fundamental research and development, researchers had time to be systematic. 65 Furthermore, the NACA's clients never applied aerodynamic test results indiscriminately. All sorts of institutional checks and balances would be exercised to confirm the veracity of the government's research data before using it. In comparison, the context for NASA projects involved a much higher degree of institutional risk. As we have already noted about projects, "success needs to be achieved" and in a limited amount of time. The successes of the space race projects would eventually cost NASA and Langley in ways their researchers could not have calculated in the early 1960s. In research, success had always been broadly defined and its price not so dear, but Langley would learn quickly just how exacting a space project could be.


* The Landing Loads Track was an outdoor facility that simulated aircraft landing loads and motions through the braking and impact of a catapult-launched test carriage onto a hard runway-like surface.

** Originally, I planned to include a long chapter dealing specifically with aeronautics. As the study's thesis evolved, however, I realized that, although the spaceflight revolution certainly affected the aeronautics efforts in many significant ways, I could not do justice to the complete history of aeronautics at Langley during the 1960s within the confines of an already long book. So, I decided not to cover the aeronautical programs and leave them for separate treatment at some later date, perhaps by someone other than myself.

*** This was not true for Apollo, which was so big and so important that NASA divided up the work among lead centers the spacecraft development to Houston, the launch vehicle development to Marshall, and the tracking system to Goddard

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