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Guide to the NACA Ames Aeronautical Laboratory and NASA Ames Research Center Records at NARA San Francisco, 1939-1971
Record Group 255.4.1  
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Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Administrative History
  • Scope and Content
  • Common Abbreviations in the Ames Records

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: NACA Ames Aeronautical Laboratory and NASA Ames Research Center Records at NARA San Francisco
    Date (inclusive): 1939-1971
    Collection Number: Record Group 255.4.1
    Creator: National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, Ames Aeronautical Laboratory; National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Ames Research Center
    Extent: This collection is currently unprocessed.

    Number of containers: 632 containers

    Volume: 632 cubic feet
    Repository: National Archives and Records Administration, Pacific Region, at San Francisco.
    San Bruno, California 94066-2350
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    This collection is unprocessed, but otherwise open for research. A small amount of materials may still have U.S. government security restrictions. Please contact NARA prior to visiting.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright does not apply to United States government records. For non-government material, researcher must contact the original creator.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], RG 255.4.1, NACA Ames Aeronautical Laboratory and NASA Ames Research Center, [Container number], [Folder title], National Archives and Records Administration, Pacific Region (San Francisco), San Bruno, California.

    Administrative History

    The Ames Aeronautical Laboratory was the second laboratory of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA). The NACA was created by act of Congress on March 3, 1915 and charged with the development of aeronautical research and testing facilities to improve both civil and military aviation. By 1917 the NACA had built a fully operational aeronautical research facility called the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory near Norfolk, Virginia. By 1939, American political leaders recognized that the world was heading toward war and that other nations had surpassed the United States in basic aeronautical research. NACA leaders recognized that the Langley laboratory had run out of space for new wind tunnels and was straining the electrical capacity in the area. Thus, the Roosevelt Administration forcefully endorsed a report from the NACA Special Committee on Future Research Facilities, dated December 30, 1938, that argued for the establishment of a second research installation near the West Coast aircraft manufacturers. The tentative site suggested was the U.S. Naval Air Field and Army training base at Moffett Field in Sunnyvale, California. On February 3, 1939 President Roosevelt transmitted the $10 million request to Congress for incorporation into the second deficiency bill. A stiff partisan political struggle followed, however, and it was not until August 9, 1939, that the funds were approved as a part of the third deficiency bill.
    Construction of the second laboratory began on December 20, 1939, led by an elite group from Langley, whose building priorities indicated a sense of urgency: flight research building, wind funnels, the technical services facilities, and lastly the administration building. On April 18, 1940, the center was christened Ames Aeronautical Laboratory to honor Dr. Joseph Ames, the chairman of NACA from 1927 to 1939 and a staunch advocate for basic scientific research and the responsibility of the federal government in training people for it. Responsibility for organizing the center rested with the Engineer-in-Chief, Dr. Smith J. De France, served as Center Director from 1940 to 1965. Smitty DeFrance was ably assisted by John F. Parsons, his deputy in charge of administrative matters, by Harry Goett who directed low-speed wind tunnel research, and Harvey Allen who directed high-speed wind tunnel research. Allen joked in 1943 that he was actually in charge of "Theoretical Aerodynamics and Reinforced Concrete" because, in fact, the bulk of everyone's efforts at Ames was in building facilities as quickly as possible, rather than conducting research.
    The first research effort at Ames involved flight test aircraft rather than wind tunnels. The Royal Air Force Bomber Command raids over Germany pointed out the need for a de-icing system to allow aircraft to fly in all types of weather. Within a year an effective hot-air de-icing system had been developed at Ames for American heavy bombers, and Ames led the development of methods to test for icing conditions in actual flight. Lewis Rodert won the 1947 Collier Trophy in recognition of the outstanding research done at Ames. Later, the knowledge of heat transfer gained in wing de-icing experiments was applied to problems of jet aircraft and missile design.
    During World War II, Ames kept its wind tunnels in almost constant operation, working to improve such famous production aircraft as the P-51 Mustang and the P-38 Lightning. A complete set of wind-tunnels was available to West coast manufactures and their military customers: the smaller 1-by-3 foot tunnel that operated at supersonic speeds, to the workhorse 7-by-10 wind tunnels, to the 40-by-80 full scale wind tunnel, then the world's largest. In 1943, the Research Division was split into two divisions, one for theoretical and applied research and the other for full-scale flight investigations. In 1944, the technical service group and the technical shops were combined into the Service Division. Otherwise, Ames' organization changed little during the war years.
    Ames changed more dramatically in the post-war period. In 1953, as a result of the Hoover Commission on Government Reorganization and its recommendation on establishing a uniform nomenclature for all governament agencies, sections were renamed branches, the primary operational unit below the division. Two new divisions were added at Ames: the High-Speed and Flight Research Division, and the Research Instrumentation and Engineering Services Division.
    Another key addition, in 1950, was the Ames Unitary Plan Design Group. More high-speed tunnels and more sensitive instrumentation were required for the United States to compete in the world of jet aircraft and guided missiles. To combine the talents of NACA, university, military, and industry researchers--as well as to forge a unified front in lobbying for the enormous funds required--Ames led the formation of a Unitary Plan wind tunnel design group. This group was to design a series of high-speed wind tunnels located wherever such research was needed, at a total estimated cost of $10 billion. After Congress whittled down the Unitary Plan to $27 million only one such tunnel was constructed--at Ames. Not only was the tunnel itself an engineering masterwork--with three tunnels operating integrated to make the most efficient use of drive motors and researchers' time--but the tunnel supported much of the key work that led America into the space age.
    By 1957, international pressures, the arms race, and the orbit of Sputnik again forced change in the administrative structure of Ames. On July 29, 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Act was signed. On October 1, 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was born, it absorbed the NACA, and Ames became a part of America's space program.

    Scope and Content

    This finding aid describes records that are housed at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Pacific Region facility in San Bruno, California. Although the records belong to the National Archives, San Bruno, as the regional repository for permanent archival records of Federal agencies in northern California, this finding aid was authored to the Web by staff of the NASA Ames History Project ( http://history.arc.nasa.gov ).
    Researchers must contact NARA at (650) 238-3500 before using these records. Because they are unprocessed, it takes substantially longer to make them available in the NARA reading room. NARA kept these records in the same boxes and folders in which they arrived from Ames, between 1953 and 1975. When Ames officials transferred these records to the custody of NARA, they described the records in standard U.S. Government transmittal forms (SF135 and SF258). This finding aid largely duplicates the information on those standard forms. In some places, staff of the NASA Ames History Project enhanced the folder descriptions. In other places, the file descriptions are completely new.
    NARA RESERVES THE RIGHT TO DISPOSE OF NON-PERMANENT RECORDS AT THE TIME OF PHYSICAL PROCESSING OF THE RECORDS. That is, NARA still needs to fully implement the retention schedule for these records, and process them according to archival standards. As this happens, portions of this finding aid may become outdated or irrelevant.
    This collection both continues and complements a processed collection of NACA records at NARA San Bruno ( RG255.4.1: Inventory of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, Moffett Field, CA,1939-1957 ). Both sets of records were created at Ames, compiled by the Ames Central Files Branch. The processed set of records were most likely closed out in October 1958, when NACA facilities were absorbed in the the newly-established NASA. This unprocessed collection, however, also includes a great many records generated before October 1958, mostly pertaining to on-going projects that continued under the new Administration. Ames' transformation into a NASA facility was gradual, as a result of many historical factors. The same basic science projects continued, using the same facilities, and under the same staff and director (Smith DeFrance). X-15 research is one example of work that spanned the needs of the two agencies. Not until the mid-1960s did Ames have more in common with the new NASA facilities than with the old NACA facilities.
    Thus, these two collections do not divide cleanly in October 1958. While this unprocessed collection contains several headings pertinent only to Ames' role within NASA--space capsule design, supersonic transport, Apollo missions, and life sciences projects--researchers should always check the finding aids for both collections.
    Researchers are also encouraged to consult the following published histories of Ames prior to conducting research at the National Archives:
    • Hartman, Edwin. Adventures in Research: A History of Ames Research Center, 1940-1965. (NASA SP-4302, 1970).
    • Muenger, Elizabeth A. Searching the Horizon: A History of Ames Research Center, 1940-1976. (NASA SP-4304, 1985)

    Common Abbreviations in the Ames Records

    1. Branch Codes used by the Ames Report Unit

    The Report Unit was the office at Ames that compiled and published technical reports. These reports were written by researchers working in the technical branches at Ames. These branches were identified by a two-letter code which often appear in the file headings for Report Unit records, as well as in the Central File records.
    The two letter code mimics the organization chart at Ames. For example, every branch within the Aeronautics Division began with the letter A. The second letter identified the specific branch. The branches were usually defined as a group working with a specific tool, like a wind tunnel. More recently, the branch codes can be found in the Ames telephone directories. For the 1950s, these branch codes were used.
    • AA 7-by-10 foot Wind Tunnel Branch
    • AB 16 foot High Speed Wind Tunnel Branch
    • AC 1-by-3 foot Speed Wind Tunnel Branch
    • AD 40-by-80 foot Wind Tunnel Branch
    • AE 1-by-3 foot Supersonic Wind Tunnel
    • AF 12 foot Pressure Wind Tunnel Branch
    • AG 6-by-6 foot Supersonic Wind Tunnel Branch
    • AH Flight Research Branch
    • AK Flight Engineering Branch
    • AL Theoretical Aerodynamics Branch
    • AM Instrument Development Branch
    • AN 10-by-14 inch Supersonic Wind Tunnel Branch
    • AO Supersonic Free Flight Wind Tunnel Branch
    • AP Low Density Heat Transfer Wind Tunnel Branch
    • AQ Unitary Plan Design Group

    2. NACA and NASA Report Abbreviations

    The basic product of all NACA work, and to a lesser extent NASA work, was the technical report. Thus, RG255.4 contains a great many reports or draft reports, primarily in the Report Unit series but also interfiled in the Central File series. All reports were published by the Government Printing Office, and some were reprinted in scientific journals, though not all were given broad public distribution.
    Each report is identified by an alpha-numeric code. The suffix is a number assigned chronologically. The prefix is a letter code (shown below) that identifies the type of report it is, and these categories have changed several times over NACA and NASA history. For a complete description of the report generation process see: Alex Roland, Model Research: The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, 1915-1958 (NASA SP-4103, 1985) especially volume II, Appendix G "Reports." Generally, advance reports, notes, and memorandum present partial or preliminary results of a research project and are data-rich but text-light. These are intended to expedite the flow of information to NACA customers. Reports are the more formal presentation of ideas, hypotheses, and supporting data.
    The report-related files in RG255.4 only occasionally hold the final published reports. Mostly they contain raw research data, drawings or photographs, draft versions, peer reviews, distribution lists, and correspondence with the printing office. Thus, researchers can always start their research into NACA reports more efficiently by finding the published report elsewhere. Reports can be found on microfiche at most federal government depository libraries (to locate the one nearest you point your browser to http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/libpro.html ). NASA's technical report server (RECONselect) allows users to search NASA and NACA publications by author, title, report name, or subject heading, and the Digidocs system allows readers to download digitized versions of select NACA reports. To access the technical report server point your browser to: http://www.sti.nasa.gov/RECONselect.html . Reports can also be found at many engineering libraries or NASA Center libraries.
    Prefix abbreviations for NACA reports:
    • ACR = Advance Confidential Report
    • ARR = Advance Restricted Reports
    • CMR = Confidential Memorandum Report
    • CR = Contract Report
    • CRM = Confidential Research Memorandum
    • Memo = Memorandum
    • MR = Memorandum Report
    • Rep = Report
    • RM = Research Memorandum
    • RMR = Restricted Memorandum Report
    • TM = Technical Memorandum
    • TN = Technical Note
    • TR = Technical Report
    • WR = Wartime Report