Guide to the NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory and NASA Langley Research Center Records at NARA Philadelphia, 1918-1996

Original NARA finding aid adapted to Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS) by April Gage

NASA Ames Research Center History Office
Mail Stop 207-1
Moffett Field, California 94035
©2012 NASA Ames Research Center.

Guide to the NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory and NASA Langley Research Center Records at NARA Philadelphia, 1918-1996

NASA Ames Research Center History Office

National Archives and Records Administration at Philadelphia

Record Group 255

Contact Information:

  • National Archives and Records Administration at Philadelphia
  • 900 Market Street
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107-4292
  • Phone: 215-606-0100
  • URL: http://www.archives.gov/midatlantic
Collection processed by:
National Archives and Records Administration
Encoded by:
April Gage
Date encoded:
June 2012

Descriptive Summary

Title: NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory and NASA Langley Research Center Records at NARA Philadelphia
Date (inclusive): 1918-1996
Collection Number: RG 255
Creator: Langley Research Center
Extent: Number of containers: 1,687

Volume: Approximately 716 linear feet
Repository: National Archives and Records Administration at Philadelphia
900 Market Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107-4292
Abstract: The records of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and its precursor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), comprise Record Group 255 of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The bulk of the records pertaining to Langley are held at the Philadelphia facility of NARA. Records pertaining to the Scout satellite launch vehicle system are held at the Georgia facility of NARA. Both sets are described in this guide. The collection contains records pertaining to all aspects of Langley's administration and aerospace research and development activities, including design and testing; accident investigations; reporting; correspondence, memoranda, and other communications; operations; and collaboration with other government agencies and private industry.
Language: English

Administrative Information

Access

Collection is open for research. All queries for records described in this guide should originate with NARA at Philadelphia. Access to some records may be restricted due to their national security classification status.

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 record item]; [File unit]; [Series]; [Subgroup]; Record Group 255. National Archives and Records Administration, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Administrative Information

Related Material

Full RG 255 (Langley) Finding Aid with Container List

(rg255_langley.pdf, 569 KB) 
Supplemental Finding Aids:
Langley General Files Numerical Subject Code Book

(rg255_langley_series2_filecodes_numericalsubj.pdf, 4.9 MB) 
Roll Report for Series III: Microfilm Copies of Subject Correspondence Files, 1920-1984 (Rolls 001-01 to 191-05)

(rg255_langley_series3_microfilm_1of2.pdf, 7.1 MB) 
Roll Report for Series III: Microfilm Copies of Subject Correspondence Files, 1920-1984 (Rolls 191-06 to 390-15)

(rg255_langley_series3_microfilm_2of2.pdf, 7.1 MB) 
Original NARA Finding Aid for This Collection

(rg255_langley_ORIG.pdf, 438 KB) 
Historical Archives at NASA Dryden Flight Research Facility History Office
Historical Archives at NASA Langley Research Center

Acquisition Information

Transferred from NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory and NASA Langley Research Center.

Administrative History

The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the precursor organization to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), was created by an act of Congress on March 3, 1915 "to supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight with a view to their practical solution, and to determine the problems which should be experimentally attacked, and to discuss their solution and their application to practical questions" (Public Law 271, 1915). The principal activities of the Committee were the scientific study of flight and aeronautical research and experimentation. Committee membership included the Chairman of the Research and Development Board of the Department of Defense and representatives from the Departments of the Air Force and Navy, the Civil Aeronautics Authority, the Smithsonian Institution, the U.S. Weather Bureau, and the National Bureau of Standards.
The NACA selected Langley Field, a U.S. Army airfield in the Tidewater region of Virginia (now Hampton, Virginia) as the site of its first laboratory, the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory (also referred to as Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, Langley Laboratory, and Langley). Construction began on July 17, 1917, but completion was slowed by the nation's mobilization for World War I and the difficulty of construction on the site's marshy terrain. When formal dedication of the laboratory took place on June 11, 1920, Langley consisted of just four facilities: an administration building, a warehouse, a dynamometer lab, and an atmospheric wind tunnel called NACA Wind Tunnel No. 1. During this decade, the laboratory grew and added research facilities, including the Variable Density Tunnel (called NACA Wind Tunnel No. 2, the world’s first pressurized wind tunnel, 1922), the Propeller Research Tunnel (1927), the 7 x 10-foot Atmospheric Wind Tunnel (1930), the 5-foot Vertical Wind Tunnel (1931), and the 30 x 60-foot Full Scale Tunnel (the world’s first full-scale tunnel, 1931). By the early 1930s, Langley was considered to be the world's premier aeronautics research facility (Bilstein, 1989). The laboratory focused on solving aircraft design problems using empirical research. By performing systematic tests of airfoils, tails, body shapes, propulsion systems, and other aircraft characteristics in its impressive collection of wind tunnels and in flight, the laboratory steadily advanced aircraft performance and high-speed research. Research at Langley "established many of the basic building blocks of aeronautics, changed the shape of aircraft and helped allow jets to fly at supersonic speeds" (Langley Research Center, 2011).
As the NACA expanded in the following decade, the organization drew from Langley's technical and management expertise. Langley personnel were sent to staff Ames Aeronautical Laboratory near Sunnyvale, California, which broke ground in 1939, as well as the Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio, which was dedicated in 1940 (renamed Flight Propulsion Research Laboratory in 1947, then Lewis Research Center in 1948 in honor of former NACA Director of Aeronautical research George Lewis, and ultimately renamed John H. Glenn Research Center in 1999 after the astronaut). In 1943, Langley embarked on rocket research, which led to the establishment in 1945 of a specialized rocket research facility nearby, called the Wallops Flight Center. From 1946 through 1954 Langley managed an outpost for flight testing and research in Muroc, California, first called NACA Muroc Flight Test Unit, then renamed the NACA High Speed Flight Research Station in 1949, and ultimately called NASA Dryden Flight Research Center in honor of distinguished aeronautical engineer Hugh L. Dryden.
Throughout Langley's NACA days the center was directed by two men, called engineers-in-charge: Leigh M. Griffith (1923-1925) and Henry J. E. Reid (1926-1958). Reid's tenure directing the center spanned the NACA and NASA eras, ending in 1960.
With the passage of the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, the NACA was terminated and its functions and records transferred to NASA. As part of NASA, the center was renamed NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC). While aeronautics remained a focus, Langley research efforts turned toward spaceflight and facilitating human and robotic exploration of space. The Space Task Group, which formed at Langley in 1958, supervised the country's early manned spaceflight efforts until 1961, when responsibility for those efforts moved to the newly-constructed Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. In 1959, the center launched and managed Project Mercury, the country's initial human spaceflight program, which put the first American into Earth’s orbit. As the nation's space program matured, Langley employed its collection of wind tunnels to study launch configurations and spacecraft, trained early astronauts, and conceived of the lunar-orbit rendezvous concept to land the first men on the moon. The center managed the Viking missions to Mars in the 1970s, which produced the first high-resolution images of the planet and greatly advanced our knowledge of the structure and composition of its surface and atmosphere. Following Alfred J. Eggers' conception of lifting bodies in 1957, the center participated in NASA's lifting body research, which advanced the first designs of the wingless, reusable, reentry spacecraft that formed the basis for the Space Shuttle.
As a NASA research center from 1958 to the present, Langley has been headed by ten directors: Henry J. E. Reid (1958-1960), Floyd L. Thompson (1960-1968), Edgar M. Cortright (1968-1975), Donald P. Hearth (1975-1984), Richard H. Petersen (1984-1991), Paul F. Holloway (1991-1996), Jeremiah F. Creedon (1996-2002), Delma C. Freeman, Jr. (Acting, 2002-2003), Roy D. Bridges (2003-2005), and Lesa B. Roe (2005-present).

Sources Consulted:

Bilstein, Roger E. 1989. Orders of Magnitude: A History of the NACA and NASA, 1915-1990. NASA SP-4406.
Dryden Flight Research Center. Lifting bodies. Retrieved June 11, 2012 from http://www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden/news/FactSheets/FS-011-DFRC.html 
Hansen, James R. 1987. Engineer in charge: A History of the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, 1917-1958. Washington, D.C.: NASA SP-4305. http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4305/sp4305.htm 
Glenn Research Center. A Brief History. Retrieved June 25, 2012 from http://www.nasa.gov/centers/glenn/about/history/brief_history.html 
Hansen, James R., ed. 2003. The Wind and Beyond: A documentary journey into the history of aerodynamics in America. Washington, D.C.: NASA SP-2003-4409.
Langley Research Center. 2011. Retrieved June 7, 2012 from http://www.nasa.gov/centers/langley/about/history.html 
Public Law 271, 63rd Congress. H.R. 20975, March 3, 1915.
U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). Retrieved June 11, 2012 from http://www.centennialofflight.gov/essay/Evolution_of_Technology/NACA/Tech1.htm 
Wallops Flight Facility. Wallops history. Retrieved June 11, 2012 from http://www.nasa.gov/centers/wallops/about/history.html 

Indexing Terms

The following terms may be used to index this collection.

Corporate Name

Langley Aeronautical Laboratory
Langley Research Center
United States. National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics
United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Subjects

Aerospace engineering
Aeronautical engineering

Geographic Names

Langley Field (Va.)

Scope and Content

This collection of records pertaining to the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia (approx. 716 linear feet) documents nearly eight decades of the center's operations, management, and technical activities. The bulk of the material is declassified, although some records remain restricted.
Series I is comprised of project correspondence files spanning from 1944 to 1973. Included are records pertaining to Langley's involvement in aerospace research such as the design, development, and testing (flight and wind tunnel) of jet aircraft, experimental aircraft, rocketry, space capsules, satellites, and lifting bodies.
Series II contains official subject correspondence files spanning sixty years, from 1918 to 1978. The files include the broad variety of information generated, exchanged, and stored by center managers and technical personnel in the course of their research, as well as development, fiscal, administrative, and other business.
Series III contains copies of subject correspondence files found in Series II.
Series IV consists of copies of the center newsletter (appearing under various names over the years), from 1942 through 1996.
Series V consists of management files accumulated by former center directors Richard H. Petersen (1984-1991) and Paul F. Holloway (1991-1996).
Series VI contains nearly four decades of project and other records related to the Scout (Solid Controlled Orbital Utility Test system, or NASA SCOUT) satellite launch vehicle system, from 1956-1995. (These records are housed at NARA's facilities in Atlanta, Georgia.)
Series VII includes personnel files for temporary work performed by skilled contractors such as scholars and engineers from 1989 through 1995.

System of Arrangement

The collection is arranged into seven series:
  • I. Project Correspondence Files, 1944-1973
  • II. Subject Correspondence Files, 1918-1978
  • III. Microfilm Copies of Subject Correspondence Files, 1920-1984
  • IV. Newsletters and Publications, 1942-1996
  • V. Management Files, 1980-1996
  • VI. Office Records of the Scout Project, 1956-1995
  • VII. Intergovernmental Personnel Act, 1993-1995 and Personnel Mobility Agreements, 1989-1991
Series I is arranged alphabetically by project name and thereunder in reverse chronological order. Series II is arranged alpha-numerically in reverse chronological order. Series III is in numerical order. Series IV is arranged chronologically by date of publication. Series V is organized by subject. Arrangement of Series VI to VII was not recorded in the original finding aid.

Series Description

 

Series I: Project Correspondence Files, 1944-1973

Physical Description: 178 LTA-1 containers.

Scope and Content Note

This series contains record files of official correspondence pertaining to specific NASA projects, which were kept by the Langley Research Center. Correspondence records here and in Series II and III reflect the organizational methods regarding the written communications of the NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory and NASA Langley Research Center. During the NACA days, copies of all letters, incoming and outgoing, were made for central files. (All outgoing correspondence was reviewed and revised up through the division level until sanctioned in its final form by the office of the chief of research; then it was signed by the engineer-in-charge. All incoming letters were opened and copied by mail clerks before being routed to addressees.) Copies of correspondence were placed into one or more subject files, which were arranged according to an alphanumeric code unique to Langley (see the Related Material section of this guide for access to a PDF version of the document). Within each subject, papers were arranged by date.
This series provides researchers with an in-depth look at the Langley Research Center when it was the premier aeronautical and aerospace facility in the world. The records in this series cover Langley's valuable contributions, in terms of scientific knowledge and use of Langley facilities, in the fields of supersonic and hypersonic jet flight; satellite development in the commercial and scientific sectors; rocket and missile development for military and civilian use; and NASA's space flight program, to name a few examples.
The largest project files here deal with the D-558 Douglas Skyrocket (and its off shoots, the D-558-I and the D-558-II--the first plane ever to reach Mach 2; the Dyna-Soar (an early precursor to the Space Shuttle); the Mercury and Gemini space programs; and the X-1, X-2, and X-15 experimental flight testing programs which allowed NASA to explore the supersonic, thermal, and hypersonic flight regimes, respectively.
Researchers should note that frequent use of Langley's wind tunnels during the development and pre-flight testing of early missiles, jet planes, and spacecraft are a dominant feature in this series. Another item of interest for researchers is the periodic status reports sent from Edwards Air Force base in California to Langley concerning experimental flight test programs. The official status report of Chuck Yeager's historic first supersonic flight in the X-1 can be found in the X-1 (FCR) file. The accident report of Milburn Apt's fatal X-2 flight where he flew at Mach 3 can be found in the X-2 file. A letter personally autographed by the late NASA astronaut Donald K. "Deke" Slayton can be found in the Skylab project file. The names of many famous pilots and astronauts can be found in this series: Neil Armstrong, Chuck Yeager, and Scott Crossfield, to name a few.
The records in this series are textual, photographic, and graphic in form. Textual records will consist mostly of, but will not be restricted to, status reports on NASA projects, internal memos, proposals for experiments, flight tests, wind tunnel tests, and official papers on NASA programs. Photographic records consist mainly of pictures of various types of aircraft and spacecraft, layouts of airplane cockpits, accident wreckage, displays of new pressure suits and equipment. Graphic records will deal primarily with telemetry data from various NASA flight-test programs dealing with aircraft, rockets, and missiles; wind tunnel charts; and diagrams of aircraft.
The records are arranged alphabetically by project name and thereunder in reverse chronological order. The container list includes project name, date of files, box number, and shelf location of the files.
This series contains both unclassified and formerly classified material. All recently declassified materials in this series will have "F.C.R.," which stands for formerly classified records, written on the folders.
 

Series II: Subject Correspondence Files, 1918-1978

Physical Description: 869 LTA-S containers.

Scope and Content Note

This series contains the central correspondence files of the Langley Research Center. The scope of these files is much broader than in Series I. Researchers will find a greater variety of information in these files. Series II consists of textual, photographic, and graphic records. The subject correspondence records may feature photographs, telemetry data on rockets and aircraft, routine correspondence, annual reports on flight test programs, research papers on aeronautical phenomena, accident reports on plane crashes at Langley and other NASA facilities, trips taken by Langley's top scientists and directors.
Most files in this series are coded according to the following list. There are other file codes in this series, but those listed here correspond to the vast majority of the records here. (A General Files Numerical Subject Code Book, which lists all of Langley's numerical subject codes, is available as a supplemental finding aid. See the Related Material section of this guide for access to a PDF version of the document.)
  • File Code "A" concerns aircraft and helicopter development. The files deal with aircraft, engine, and wing designs, aircraft companies, equipment, meteorological problems encountered in flight.
  • File Code "B" contains correspondence Langley sent to and received from its sister facilities in NASA and other government organizations throughout the United States.
  • File Code "C" deals with Langley's internal matters such as personnel, hiring policies, budget concerns, construction of new facilities, occupational concerns, employee morale, to name a few.
  • File Code "E" deals with Langley's managerial structures, processes, and decision-making mechanisms; also included are files concerning visits by domestic and foreign dignitaries, as well as individual files kept on Langley's most prominent scientists and directors.
  • File Code "AA" concerns Langley's relations with private companies.
  • File Code "H" pertains to Langley's research of Hydrodynamic phenomena, i.e., the study of the dynamics of fluids, especially incompressible fluids in motion.
  • File Code "P" deals with Langley's research in propulsion systems and power plants in aircraft.
  • File Code "T" deals with Langley's research in aircraft instrumentation.
The records in this series are arranged alpha numerically in reverse chronological order. The container list includes the file code, subject matter, dates, and box numbers of the files. Full entries of abbreviated subject names are footnoted for most listings.
This series contains both unclassified and formerly classified material. All recently declassified materials in this series will have "F.C.R.," which stands for formerly classified records, written on the folders.
 

Series III: Microfilm Copies of Subject Correspondence Files, 1920-1984

Physical Description: 388 MIC-B containers.

Scope and Content Note

This series contains microform copies of Langley's subject correspondence files dated from 1920 to 1984. Materials in Boxes 79 and 80 contain classified material. (Note: There are no roll #'s 199-200.)
An index, file codes, numerical codebook, and roll report are available as supplemental finding aids (see the Related Material section of this guide for access to a PDF version of the document).
 

Series IV: Newsletters and Publications, 1942-1996

Physical Description: 8 LTA-1 containers.

Scope and Content Note

The center's newsletter began as a weekly news bulletin from the Public Affairs Office containing information pertinent to the Langley Research Center employees. Although it remained constant in style, the title changed several times: LMAL Bulletin, 11/30/1942-11/24/1944; Air Scoop, 12/01/1944-09/14/1962; The Langley Researcher, 09/28/1962-07/03/1987; and The Researcher News, 07/17/1987-1996. World War II era publications describe patriotic wartime efforts and bond drives. Issues include articles about Langley Projects, developments in space exploration and aeronautical technology, and training. There are also features (some with photographs) relating to the Mercury and Apollo missions and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. The publications sometimes include official memorandums from the Langley Field Director and various government officials, and world news items. Many editions offer sports and entertainment news, engagement and wedding announcements, and bulletins regarding retirements and deaths. With the exception of a few missing issues, the collection is complete.
This series is arranged chronologically by date of publication.
 

Series V: Management Files, 1980-1996

Physical Description: 29 FRC-S containers.

Scope and Content Note

This series consists of management files kept by Langley center directors Richard H. Petersen and Paul F. Holloway. The files consist of senior staff meeting notes, OAST Management Council records, records of the reorganization of the Langley Research Center in 1994, appointment books, presentations, and monthly senior management meeting records.
 

Series VI: Office Records of the Scout Project, 1956-1995

Physical Description: 214 containers.

Scope and Content Note

This series consists of reports and other records of the NASA SCOUT Project. The records consist primarily of specifications, design information releases, correspondence, procedures, manuals, reports, investigations, log books, photographs, and various studies and test result papers dealing with rockets and satellites. Many of the reports concern different systems relating to the SCOUT project and there exist a number of preliminary, pre-flight and final flight reports. Most of the work occurred at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia but there are also financial and operational records relating to the San Marco test site near Malindi, Kenya.
(Note: All NASA Scout records were sent to the National Archives at Atlanta, Georgia).
 

Series VII: Intergovernmental Personnel Act, 1993-1995 and Personnel Mobility Agreements, 1989-1991

Physical Description: 1 FRC-S container.

Scope and Content Note

This series consists of Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) and Personnel Mobility Agreements (PMA) entered into by the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. The records were kept for scholars and engineers and other skilled personnel who were hired by the Langley Research Center for temporary duty in affiliation from various colleges and universities in Virginia and other areas. The IPAs and PMAs list the following information: employee's name, address, personal background, positions held, fiscal obligations, any conflicts of interest, letters of recommendation, and how their travel expenses or allowances would be covered (either by NASA or by the affiliated university). Access restrictions apply to records containing personally identifiable information.