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Guide to the NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory and NASA Langley Research Center Records at NARA Philadelphia, 1918-1996
RG 255  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Acquisition Information
  • Administrative History
  • Sources Consulted:
  • Indexing Terms
  • Scope and Content
  • System of Arrangement

  • 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


    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


    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.