Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Guide to the NACA Ames Aeronautical Laboratory Records at NARA College Park, 1939-1958
View entire collection guide What's This?
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Administrative History
  • Indexing Terms
  • Scope and Content

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: NACA Ames Aeronautical Laboratory Records at NARA College Park
    Date (inclusive): 1939-1958
    Collection Number: RG255
    Creator: Ames Aeronautical Laboratory
    Extent: Number of containers: 28
    Repository: National Archives and Records Administration
    College Park, Maryland 20740-6001
    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). At the College Park, Maryland facility of NARA (known as "Archives II"), there are two groups of textual records and one group of photographic records that contain documents pertinent to Ames. Materials in these groups are presented in this guide, and include research authorizations, material from pubic affairs officers, and photographs.
    Language: English

    Administrative Information


    Collection is open for research.

    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], NACA Ames Aeronautical Laboratory Records, [Container number], [Folder number], National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

    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 tunnels, 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.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms may be used to index this collection.

    Corporate Name

    Ames Aeronautical Laboratory

    Geographic Names

    Moffett Field (Calif.)

    Scope and Content

    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). When NASA assumed the functions of the NACA in 1958, there were three NACA laboratories in the United States, one of which was the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, located at Moffett Field, California. Per federal guidelines, NACA material meant for permanent retention was sent to the National Archives, which was located in Washington, DC during the 1950s.
    This guide provides a detailed list of the materials relating to the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory that have been deposited with the NARA branch at College Park, Maryland (known as "Archives II"). While there are many more records in RG255 than those listed here, this guide is intended to provide access only to the records that relate to the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory. For more complete documents related to the other NACA laboratories and the NASA field centers, please contact the National Archives.
    Materials listed in this guide are from three separate sub-groups of RG255, all of which contain some amount of records related to the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory.
    RG255.2.2 consists of Records of the Research Coordination Division and includes three boxes of Ames research authorizations, which are primarily made up of correspondence between NACA headquarters and Ames regarding the funding of aeronautical research during World War II.
    RG255.4.1 consists of the records of the NASA Ames Research Center, previously known as the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory. While the bulk of materials (over 700 cubic feet) in RG255.4.1 are located at the Pacific Region branch of NARA in San Bruno, California, a few boxes (approximately 3.5 cubic feet) are located at Archives II in College Park, Maryland. Materials in these 10 boxes include press releases, newspaper clippings, and reports from public affairs officers.
    The NACA records at Archives II include three sets of photographs that pertain to the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory: RG255-RF, RG255-RFA and RG255-RA. Photographs of NACA research facilities make up RG255-RF, and there are five boxes (numbered 10-14) that contain material related to Ames, such as photos of buildings and facilities, wind tunnels, and aerial photographs of the laboratory campus. Photographs of NACA aeronautical research facilities make up RG255-RFA, and there are 34 folders that contain material related to the aeronautical research conducted at Ames, such as personnel, wind tunnels, facilities, aircraft and spacecraft. Photographs of scientific research conducted at NACA facilities makes up RG255-RA, and there are 11 boxes that are organized by scientific research subject. This guide does not provide detailed information about RG255-RA, and further information must be obtained from the National Archives.
    The photograph files were all closed out in 1958, when the NACA was absorbed into NASA. Most of the photos relating to Ames were generated by Ames photographers and thus can also be found using the Ames negative numbers in the Ames photograph collections at NARA San Bruno. Many of the images have also been scanned and indexed by the Ames Research Center and can be found on the Ames Imaging Library System (AILS) on the NASA Ames Web site.