NACA Inspections

Ames Aeronautical Laboratory

1958

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Ames hosted its last Inspection on July 14 and 15, 1958. Again, the dates were selected to follow the meetings of the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences in Los Angeles. Even at the time, Ames people suspected it would their last. The NACA was being absorbed into a new agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which portended a different relationship between Ames and the aerospace industry. The NACA Executive Committee held a regular meeting at Ames during the Inspection, during which they discussed plans to be absorbed into NASA. Furthermore, specialized NACA technical conferences, like one in March 1958 on High Speed Aerodynamics, showed that no general one-day Inspection could satisfy the increasingly focused interests of American aerospace leaders. NACA Director Hugh Dryden, in his introduction, noted guests would hear nothing about the X-15 airplane or aircraft operating problems because those were the subjects of future NACA technical conferences.

Of the nine presentation topics, eight addressed issues in spaceflight. The sole presentation on atmospheric flight dealt with a military topic: how to extend the range of supersonic turbojet bombers (noting it could someday carry civilian passengers). In a photograph from that presentation you can see a tunnel model of the sleek aircraft wing—following the theoretical work of Robert T. Jones and designed by Elliott Katzen—that inspired the red wing of the forthcoming NASA meatball logo.

Harvey Allen's work on the blunt body had been declassified the previous fall. His theory, and the test facilities Ames built to validate it, took a starring role at the Inspection. In his introduction to the Inspection pamphlet, NACA Chair Jimmy Doolittle noted: "More than six years ago in this Laboratory an NACA scientist worked out the principle of the high-drag blunt nose cone to reduce to a minimum the aerodynamic heating experienced by a body entering the Earth's atmosphere at high speed. All current ICBM and IRBM warheads employ this concept. From this and even earlier beginnings NACA's work in space technology has grown in orderly fashion until it now receives half of our research attention."

Manley J. Hood structured the presentations. A presentation on the uses and orbits of Earth satellites (information useful in the International Geophysical Year satellites) was done in the 40- by 80-foot wind tunnel. A presentation on aerophysics (the chemical composition of air in the upper atmosphere) was done in the hypervelocity air flow apparatus, and a presentation on aerodynamic heating was done near the low-density and heat transfer tunnels. A presentation on entry research techniques was done at the new Ames atmosphere entry simulator, one on piloting problems during entry was done in the flight research laboratory, and one on stability during atmosphere entry was done in the supersonic free-flight tunnel. Engineers from Langley discussed the X-7 rocket booster program for flight research on spacecraft in the Ames 11- by 11-foot transonic tunnel, and engineers from Lewis presented on electrical and nuclear space propulsion systems in the 6- by 6-foot supersonic wind tunnel.