Tow Tanks

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Facility 720
1997 aerial of tank complex

Center: Langley Research Center
Location: Hampton, Virginia
Year Built: 1931
Historic Eligibility: National Register Eligible
Important Tests:

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[top] History

The NACA tow tanks were built to provide information on the performance of seaplanes on the water. The original Tank No. 1 was approved in March 1929 with an extension approved June 1936. Preliminary work on the tank commenced in July 1929 and was placed in operation May 1931. The enlarged tank was placed in operation October 1937. Tank No. 1 was one of the largest and longest high speed (50+ knots) towing facilities in the world. It is believed to have been the only tank in the U.S. at the time capable of conducting studies in both fresh and salt water environments.

The tank structure was 2,960 feet long, averaged 28 feet wide and 26 feet high. The tank itself was the full length but 24 feet wide and 12 feet deep. It had a capacity of over 5 million gallons. The steel structure was coated with a corrugated asbestos cement covering. At the time of construction, the north end extended a few feet into the Back River; later a bern was built so that an access road could loop around the entire building. Tank No. 2 was constructed in 1942, parallel and east of Tank No. 1. It was built to share a common inner wall with Tank No. 1.

The hydrodynamics of the takeoff and landing performance of seaplanes were important in the 1920s. The workload at Tank No. 1 during the 1930s became heavy enough to necessitate adding Tank No. 2. During World War II, military aircraft encountered major operational problems with ditching or the forced landing of of planes at sea. During this time, the focus of research in the tow tanks was redirected to study structural design and optimized procedures to avoid damage to the airplane and crew. In 1943, the Army and Navy requested a major study to provide procedural recommendations for the military. This work continued after the war, these studies were important for propeller-driven commercial transport and later, the jet transports. Click here for more on the importance of ditching research.

In 1960, the building was vacated by NASA under an agreement with the Naval Ship Research and Development Center, Bureau of Ships, Department of the Navy. The Space Task Group continued to use the tank itself for flotation tests of the full-sized Mercury capsules and ground-effect tests of an aspect-ratio 20 wing. The Navy utilized the facility in model evaluation of hydrofoil systems, resistance and propulsion characterization of high speed planing boats, surface effects ships, and aircraft proposed to operate at or near air/water interface. In the early 1980's the Naval Undersea Warfare Center used the tank for research such as underwater missile and torpedo studies and countermeasures. The structure was refurbished in 1983 when it was being used to develop laminar flow technology for drag reduction of small underwater vehicles.

Later, the tank was used primarily by the Navy, NASA, and private industry research organizations to study fundamental fluid mechanics on large scale models at high Reynolds numbers. The goal of this research was to improve aerodynamic efficiencies of conventional, transonic transport aircraft.

The property this facility was built on was part of the Sherwood Farm prior to government ownership in 1916. Historical records show small structures on the farm as early as 1854, and it was believed the area had been farmed for over 200 years. The parcel was granted to NACA in 1919 by the U.S. Secretary of War. The tow tanks were demolished in 2005 and the office building transferred to Langley Air Force Base.

[top] Photos

HAER Documentation4048.jpg4049.jpg4379.jpg4461.jpg4805.jpg4806.jpg4807.jpg4808.jpg4809.jpg1930 Aerial1930 Breaker Panel Installation1930 Construction4942.jpg5095.jpgSea Plane Towing Channel Partitions 19315365.jpgSea Plane Channel Partitions 19315393.jpgPlane Channel Work Shop 19315496.jpg1931-04-23 Model for Tow TankTank No. 1 Description and PhotosDescription and Photos720PhotoCard2.jpg1932 Flight Performance of BirdsBird Tests1938 Aerial of Tow Tank19411941 Tank No2 Construction1941194119411941194119411941 Tank No2 Construction19411941 Tank No2 Construction26264.jpg19411941194130743.jpg30744.jpg31327.jpg31330.jpg31331.jpg31332.jpg32151.jpg32152.jpgTank No. 2 Description and PhotosTank No. 2 Description and Photos1943 Spruce Goose (video) ( +photos) 1945 Tow Tank Test Apparatus1946-04-24 Model Construction1954 Boeing Stratoliner1955 F-86 AF Sabre Jet1963 Sandy Stubbs with ApolloExterior viewAsh Wednesday Storm of 1962Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962Ash Wednesday Storm of 19621972 Model Shop1981 Tank Complex1984 Front view1986 View of office building1997 Building ComplexBuilding 7201985

[top] Ditching Tests

 1944 B-24 James River Ditching1944 Ditching CatapultCatapult DiagramTank 2 Readied for Ditching Tests1946 B-29 Ditching Test1968 C-5 Ditching Model1969 C-5 Ditching Test Damage

[top] Demolition

2011 LintelDemolitionDemolition2002 Aerial2002 Aerial

[top] Film Clips

[top] General

NACA-era: Ditching Tests of the 1/20 Scale Model of the B-29 Airplane

1937 Representative Models Tested in the NACA Tank

1940s: Ditching Tests of Army B-24 Airplane

1940: Tests of Model Dynamically Similar to Boeing 314 Airplane

1942 Ventilated Circular Chine

1944: Tank 2 A-26

1944: Experimental Ditching of a B-24 Airplane

1945: Ditching Tests in Tank #2 of a 1/9 Scale Model of the P-38 Airplane

1947: Second Progress Report on Tests of NACA Hydro-skis for High Speed Airplanes

1948 Grumman JRF-5 Water landings

1949 Rough Water of Vosper Design PT Boat

1950s: JRM-1 Flying Boat Model 164F and 164H

1950s: Cargo Transfer in Rough Water-part 1

1950s: Landing Tests DR-77 With and Without Shock-Absorber Ski

1956: External Wing Fuel Tanks Used as Ditching Aids

1957: Ditching and Hydro-Ski Landing Tests of a 1/10 scale Model of the Chance Vought Regulus Missile

Skid-Rocker Landing Characteristics of Spacecraft Models

Calm and Rough Water Ditching Investigation of a 0.043 Scale Model of a Typical Jet Transport With Landing Gear Extended

Tank 2 Ditching XP4M-1, Parts 4 & 5

Ditching Tests Navy XP2V-1, Part 1

Ditching Investigations of Five Transport Airplanes

Ditching Tests of a Boeing B-47 Airplane

Correlation of Ditching Performance of a 1/24 Scale Model and Full-size Army B-24 Airplane

Ditching Investigation of a 1/30 Scale Dynamic Model of a Heavy Transport Airplane

B-24 Ditching with Hydro Scoop

Ditching Investigation of a 1/20-Scale Model of the Space Shuttle Orbiter

1962: Landing Characteristics of a Winged Re-entry Vehicle with all Skid Landing Gear Having Yielding Metal Shock Absorbers

PBN-1 Flying Boat

Landing Characteristics of the HL-10 Manned Lifting Entry Vehicle

[top] By Test Number

1939 Test Model 94, 94A, 94D Glen Martin

1939 Test Model 94-F Glen Martin

1940 Test Model 108 Dynamic Tests of Boeing 314

1941 Test Model 113 XPB2M-1

1941 Test Model 113 (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3)

Test Model 116-B Flying Boat (Part 1), (Part 2)

1941: Test Model 119 1/5 Scale Model of Army 0A-9 Amphibian

1942 Test Model 116-E Skipping and Yaw Tests of XPB2Y-3

1942 Test Model 116-E Spray Tests

1942 Model 139 Navy XLRH-1 Amphibian Glider

1943 Test Model 131 PB2Y-3

1943 Test Model 131 With Simulated Jet Motors

1943 Test Model 131-X PB2Y-3 with Hydrofoil

1942 Test Model 132 PBN-1

1942: Test Model 133 1/10 Scale Model of Towed 12 Place Float-Wing Amphibian Glider

1942: Test Model 133

1942: Test Model 139 1/10 Scale Model of 24 Place Twin Hull Amphibian Glider

1942: Additional Test Model 139

1942: Additional Test Model 139

1942 Test Model 139-H

1942: Test Model 140

1942: Test Model 141 1/10 Scale Model of Navy 24 Place Seaplane Glider XLRG-1

1943 Test Model 142 Hydrofoil Boat

1942 Test Model 143

1942 Test Model 143

1942: Test Model 152 Tietjens Type Hydrofoil Boat

1942 Test Model 155-A Hughes-Kaiser Cargo Plane

Test Model 158-1 Kaiser-Hughes Model

Test Model 164 (Part 1), (Part 2)

1943 Test Model 164F and 164H JRM-1 Flying Boat

1944: Test Model 164J-I JRM-1 Flying Boat

1943 Test Model 165A PB2Y-3 Aircraft

Test Model 165A

1944 Test Model 180 JRM-1 Flying Boat (Preliminary Data), 1944 Test Model 180 (180-1, 180-4 and 180-5

1944 Test Model 192 PBN-1

1946 Test Models 203, 213, 214

1946 Test Model 208 Columbia XJL-1 Amphibian (Part 1), (Part 2)

1946 Test Model 208-M Columbia XJL-1 Amphibian

1946 Test Model 212-A Grumman XJR2F-1

1959: Test Model 384

1959: Test Model 389 Smooth Water Take-Offs and Landings (N.P.Princess Flying Boat)

Hydrodynamic Investigation of Two Configurations for Transonic Seaplanes

Tow Tank Footage

Aerodynamic and Hydrodynamic Characteristics of Models of Some Aircraft-towed Mine Sweeping Devices

Lecture Film Showing Hydrodynamics Division Facilities and Typical Research Projects

[top] Documents

1930 NACA Tank Floorplan

1938 Details of Structure

1939 The Enlarged NACA Tank, and Some Of Its Work

1942 NACA Tank Information

1942 Tank Number 2 Information

1942 NACA Tank Number 2 Floorplan

1942 Dynamic Model Shop

1942 Model Shop Floorplan

1944 Daily Press Article on B-24

1944-09 Bomber Ditched in River as Part of Laboratory Test

Ditching Tests with a 1/16-Size Dynamic Model of the Army B-24 Airplane in Langley Tank No. 2 and on an Outdoor Catapult.

Ditching Tests with a 1/11-Size Model of the Army B-25 Airplane in NACA Tank No. 2 and on an Outdoor Catapult. George A. Jarvis and Margaret F. Steiner. 1944. L-623.

Air Scoop, American Towing Tank Conference Here on Oct 7 and 8

1946 Correlation Tests of the Ditching Behavior of an Army B-24D Airplane

1949 Model Ditching Investigation of the Douglas DC-4 and DC-6 Airplanes

1955 Model Ditching Investigation of the Boeing 707 Jet Transport

1956 Model Ditching Investigation of a Jet Transport Airplane

1956-05-25 FST and Tank No.1 Complete Quarter Century of Service (Air Scoop)

1957 Ditching Investigations of Dynamic Models & Effects of Design Parameters on Ditching Characteristics

1958 Report 1347 Ditching Investigations

1966 Facility Resume

1972 Ditching Investigation of a Heavy Jet Transport Airplane Model (TM X-2445)

1974-10-22 Letter Regarding Demolition of Tow Tanks

1974-11-6 Future Utilization of NASA Langley Tank No. 1

1978-07-12 Floorplan

1982-11-29 Rehabilitation of Two Tank No. 1


1984-07-17 Use of the Hydrodynamics Research Facility in 1985

1985-03-18 Change in Building Designation

1985 Description and Operation of Langley Sea Water Tow Tank Facility

1987 Engineer in Charge, pg 38

1990 Facility Resume

1991-04 Environmental Assessment for Property Transfer

1992-05-14 Experimental Flow Physics Branch Research Plan for the Langley Tow Tank

1993-06-16 Slideshow: What Do We Do Next?

1995 Historic American Engineering Record

1995-1996 Seaplane Towing Channel

1996 Project Mercury Fact Sheet

1997 Environmental Baseline Survey

1992-05-18 R.L. Swain's Notes

1999-07-01 Original Floorplan

2001-03-28 Disposal and Demolition of Building 720

2001 Environmental Assessment for the Demolition of Tow Tanks

2001-05-04 Cover Letter for Historic American Engineering Record

2001-06-06 Suspension of Tow Tank Demolition

2002-03-20 Miniature Floor Plans

2003 Lockheed C-5 Galaxy (excerpt from NASA SP-2000-4519 Partners in Freedom by Joe Chambers)

2005 Stefan Cavallo Interview Transcript on B-24 Ditching

2009 A Plane Crash in 1944 is Saving Lives Today (Peter Frost)

2009 NASA Contributions to Knowledge in Aircraft Ditching (Joe Chambers)

Liberator Ditching Tests

2009 Category:Commercial Airline Water Landings

Investigate Current and Planned Uses for B720 Complex

P-38 National Association

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