Scope and Content
Title: NACA Ames Aeronautical Laboratory Records at NARA College Park
Date (inclusive): 1939-1958
Collection Number: RG255
Ames Aeronautical Laboratory
Number of containers: 28
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.
Collection is open for research.
Copyright does not apply to United States government records. For non-government
material, researcher must contact the original creator.
[Identification of item], NACA Ames Aeronautical Laboratory Records, [Container number], [Folder
number], National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.
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
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
The following terms may be used to index this collection.
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
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.