Physical Research Lab

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Facility 1229/1229A
Building 1229

Center: Langley Research Center
Location: Hampton, Virginia
Year Built: 1945
Historic Eligibility: National Register Eligible
Important Tests: "Blowdown" Tunnel Development, X-15 Hypersonic Research

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[top] History

Buildings 1229 and 1229A in the NASA West Area have been sites of extensive aerospace research since their construction in April and September 1945. The following discussion provides a chronology of some of the most important activities associated with these buildings:

[top] Building 1229

[top] Physical Research Division

Building 1229 resulted from management interests in centralizing researchers conducting fundamental physical research including experimental and computational efforts in aerodynamics and structures. The first chief of the Physical Research Division (PRD) was the brilliant Langley physicist Theodore Theodorsen. Well-versed in theoretical issues such as the theoretical generation of wing sections, aerodynamics of propellers, and fundamentals of flutter, he had begun his career as a member of the Atmospheric Wind Tunnel (AWT) in 1929. Recognized for his superior understanding of fundamentals, he became head of PRD when it was created in 1931 in the East Area.

When the PRD was relocated to its new quarters in Building 1229 in the West Area in 1945, Theodorsen stimulated the development of several unique facilities in and near the building for fundamental research. Typical problems researched by PRD included high-speed flutter, propeller flow theory, compressible flow theory, boundary-layer mechanics, and helicopter vibration. The organization was the first to use Freon 12 in aerodynamic experiments. Theodorsen left Langley in March 1949.

[top] Potential Flow Tank

potential flow tank

A single document has been found for this test apparatus. Although not identified on the photo, it appears to be in building 1229. Electrical current in a water-filled tank was fitted with copper plates was used to measure electrical currents around models of insulating material to measure fluid flow over 3-D bodies. The tank went into operation in 1946. It is not known when it was dismantled.

[top] Supersonic Sphere

supersonic sphere
Supersonic Sphere

One of Theodore Theodorsen’s many areas of interest was propeller flutter and the development of theoretical methods to predict the phenomenon. In the early 1930s a special capsule-shaped sphere was constructed for tests of propellers and airfoil shapes. Essentially a whirling mechanism enclosed in a steel shell that could be sealed from the atmosphere, the apparatus was first used in tests near the Langley Full Scale Tunnel in the mid-1930s and appears in photographs of that era.

After the Physical Research Laboratory was constructed in the West Area in 1945, the testing apparatus was moved to a site immediately behind Building 1229 and became known as the Langley Supersonic Sphere. It was used initially for the study of airflow characteristics in Freon, since the power requirements and instrumentation costs were much less than for a large supersonic wind tunnel. During these tests the sphere was filled with either air or Freon 12 gas at pressures necessary for the testing conditions.

[top] Supersonic Free-Flight Apparatus

Free Flight Tank

One of the more unique facilities developed under the PRD was a ballistic-type free-flight apparatus for the study of dynamic motions and performance of aerospace vehicles flying freely at supersonic speeds. Constructed on the right-rear corner of Building 1229, the free-flight apparatus was 100 feet long with a diameter of 8 feet. Data obtained from the test included lift, drag, and stability of bodies propelled from a compressed gas gun at velocities between 500 and 1,000 mph in a test medium of air, Freon 12, or mixtures. A series of viewing ports was located for observation of the model's trajectory along the length of the apparatus.

The free-flight apparatus appears in photographs and building drawings of Building 1229 in about 1948 and is mentioned in the annual NACA report of 1948. Unfortunately, to date no formal research reports have been discovered regarding technical results obtained in the apparatus. Reportedly, the aerodynamic flow quality within the apparatus was unsuitable for reliable measurements.

Only one informal reference to applications of the free-flight apparatus has been found to date. In 1949, the apparatus was apparently used in the evaluation of nose jettisoning as a means of pilot escape during high-speed flight. Dynamic stability characteristics of aircraft nose shapes were determined at a Mach number of 1.2 in support of a project conducted by the Langley Spin-Tunnel Section.

Immediately after it became operational, the free-flight apparatus was dismantled by the direction of Langley's legendary leader John P. Stack. Stack wanted the new hypersonic pilot tunnel moved from the East Area to the West Area, and Building 1229 was selected as the new site for the tunnel. Accordingly, the free-flight concept was terminated and the facility was demolished.

[top] 11-Inch Hypersonic Tunnel

One of the most important wind tunnels conceived and developed at Langley was the 11-inch Hypersonic Tunnel, which was used in pioneering efforts in critical hypersonic aerodynamics research for the nation’s high-speed aerospace programs. Designed and managed by John V. Becker and Charles H. McLellan, the tunnel was inspired by post-war inspections of German facilities used in the development of the V-2 rocket ballistic missile.

Becker’s enthusiasm and dedication to the concept coincided with accelerated interests by the NACA and the military in hypersonic aerodynamics. Proposed as a pilot facility for hypersonic testing, the tunnel was first operational in 1947 in the building previously occupied by the Langley Propeller Research Tunnel in the East Area. Arguably, one of the most valuable lessons learned from this facility was that "blowdown" or intermittent hypersonic tunnels could be used for meaningful research with relatively low cost compared to continuous-run tunnels.

After a period of great success in fundamental hypersonic experiments, the facility and its associated pressure and vacuum tanks were moved to the West Area in 1949 and located in Building 1229. The test section of the tunnel was located on the first floor in the area previously occupied by the free-flight apparatus control room.

The Langley 11-Inch Hypersonic Tunnel contributed critical data in the development of the X-15 hypersonic research aircraft and numerous generic research projects. It remained operational until 1973 when it was dismantled and later given to Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

[top] West Area Library

The technical library of the NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory was initially located in the Service Building (586) located behind the NACA Headquarters Building (587) in the East Area. As construction of facilities and staffing of the West Area rapidly accelerated in the 1940s, Langley opened a West Area library in Building 1229 in a large room on the second floor. The East Area library provided services for all NACA centers, but the West Area library served only Langley. Subsequently, the West Area library services were moved from Building 1229 to a second-floor room in the West Area hangar (Building 1244). Finally, the Langley library was relocated to the second floor of a high-bay vehicle maintenance repair building (1246).

[top] NTF Aerodynamics Branch

When, after an extended competitive study the decision was made to locate the new National Transonic Facility at Langley, the construction and check out phases of the facility were conducted for several years. During the early 1980s the staff of the NTF were located in offices in Building 1229. Later, the personnel were relocated to the facility building (1236).

[top] Dynamic Loads Division

The management and senior staff of the Dynamic Loads Division moved into Building 1229 in 1949 where it quickly became internationally recognized for leadership in many aero-structural areas. Some of its accomplishments included:

  • Leadership of Langley's flutter research
  • Pioneering efforts on the dynamics of fluids in tanks used by liquid-propelled rockets
  • Major contributions to research on mechanical instabilities of rotary-wing aircraft
  • Conception and design of the Langley Dynamics Research Laboratory (Building 1261)
  • Design, construction and dynamic testing of a large model of the Saturn V rocket
  • Design of a simulator for vehicle dynamic impact testing for various planets
  • Anticipation and analysis of erosion and visibility problems for landing on the moon
  • Management of work at the Langley Landing Loads Track

In addition to its focus on dynamic loads and structures, the organization also initiated work on the generation of noise by aircraft and aircraft (See Harvey H. Hubbard), resulting in the spin-off of Langley's Acoustics Division which subsequently moved into Building 1208.

[top] Administrative Office Use

Building 1229 was then occupied by over 125 people involved in diverse research, administrative, and planning activities in support of Langley's mission. Organizations included the Independent Program Assessment Office, which serves the Agency as a nonpartisan review resource for assessments of potential programs and on-going projects. The Ground Facilities and Testing Directorate provides management and oversight for operation and scheduling of Langley's wind tunnels and other ground-based facilities. The Projects and Engineering Branch supports major research projects with engineering expertise and associated knowledge. The majority of personnel in Building 1229 were associated with management and maintenance of current and future Langley buildings and facilities including their impact on the environment. Other occupants of the building were remotely located from organizations located elsewhere at the center.

[top] Current Status

Building 1229 was abandoned and closed in 2012. Demolition began in the fall of 2013 and was completed in February 2014.

[top] Building 1229A

[top] 4.5-Foot Flutter Tunnel

As the maximum speed of aircraft approached transonic conditions near the end of World War II, the onset of compressibility further aggravated aeroelastic phenomena associated with potentially catastrophic flutter of wings and control surfaces. In addition, the design trend toward thinner wing structures resulted in an urgent need to develop a specialized wind tunnel to provide design information for future aircraft and to evaluate the flutter susceptibility of emerging designs. Accordingly, the NACA constructed a transonic tunnel which became operational in September of 1945 in Building 1229A.

The Langley Flutter Tunnel was a single-return, closed-throat tunnel with unique flutter testing capability including pressurization of up to 1.8 atmospheres and the use of air or Freon-12 as a test medium. Its test section was 4’6” in diameter with interchangeable test sections and a maximum speed of Mach 1.

Researcher accomplishments in the Flutter Tunnel firmly established Langley's leadership in the field of flutter. Major contributions to the studies of propeller and rotor blade flutter were conducted there, and growing interest in adapting the Langley 19-Foot Tunnel in the East Area for testing of airplane configurations as well as management of Langley's flutter research were centered in Building 1229.

[top] Metal Clean Laboratory

After the Flutter Tunnel was dismantled, the facility became the Metal Cleaning Laboratory. Opened in 1998, the lab performed chemical and electro-chemical cleaning, etching, polishing and plating of metallic materials in support of center-wide research facilities. The primary purpose of this facility was surface preparation of lightweight aluminum- and titanium-based alloys in support of forming and joining activities in the structures and materials research organizations. Such studies included the manufacture of aerospace structures from foil and sheet gage materials which typically require multiple-step, surface treatment in both the pre- and post-processed condition. The Laboratory also performed work on a broad range of metallic materials in support of Wind Tunnel research and for other government agencies. Specific surface preparation techniques which could be applied included chemical cleaning, etching and milling, electro-plating, passivating, polishing, anodizing and specialty products such as Iridite. Plating capabilities included the application of copper, gold, indium, nickel, platinum and silver for dimensional change or protection purposes. An example of materials handled at this facility included alloys of aluminum, copper, iron, nickel, tantalum and titanium, a wide variety of steels and specialty products, such as Inconel and Vascomax. Most of these materials could be chemically cleaned, etched or plated, but implementation of other surface treatments was limited.

As with many of the buildings at Langley, this one had been modified throughout the years to serve a variety of purposes. The last of the buildings known as 1229A was demolished in 2008.

[top] Photos

[top] 1229

Site in 1941 (farm house)1945 Aerial1946 Site Plan1947 AerialLab Description and PhotosSphere DescriptionFree Flight Apparatus>1947 Supersonic Sphere Behind Building 1229Diagram of 11-Inch Hypersonic Tunnel1948 Set-up1948-08-20 Test Section1948-08-20 Tunnel Set-up1949-01-7 Tunnel Nozzle1949-10-25 Map #291950 Interior View1950 John Becker1950 Set-up1951 11-Inch Hypersonic Presentation1951 Exterior View1951-05-4 Charles McLellan and Test Section19521952 Aerial1954 Group Photo1957-12-30 Various Tested Models1959 Hypersonic Test of a X-15 Research Airplane Model1962-06-18 Gemini Capsule19701973 11-Inch HT Piping and Vacuum Pump1973 11-Inch HT Test Section and Console1974 11-Inch HT Low-Pressure Tank1974 11-Inch HT Low-Pressure TankConnection to Building1963 Missles and Rockets Photo196819721980 Personnel19841987 Personnel2002 Exterior

[top] 1229A

1229APhotoCard.jpgFloor Plan1945 Props from P-38 (See P-38 with matching blades)Curtiss Electric Propeller LogoPropeller Support Detail1945 exterior view of Flutter Tunnel and Supersonic Sphere1946-0119461946194619461946 Test Section Inspection194619471229 showing Flutter Tunnel1990 Activities19982002 Exterior2006 Prior to Demolition2009 1229A Demolished

[top] Demolition

Demolition Preparation in 2011

2011 Front and North Side2011 Front and South Side2011 Main Entrance2011 Main Lobby2011 Office Space2011 Rear and North Side2011 Rear and South Side2011 Office Space2011 Restroom2011 Support SpaceLocationFirst FloorSecond Floor

December 12, 2013


December 18, 2013


January 14, 2014


[top] Films

1949 Flight of Sphere and Conical Models

1950s: Melting of Models by Aerodynamic Heating]

1955 High Temperature Oxidation and Ignition of Metals

1957: Flutter Tests of X-15 Tail Surfaces in the 9 X 18-inch Supersonic Flutter Tunnel

1958: 0.02-Scale X-15 Force Tests and Angle of Attack Force Tests

Surface Flow on a Model of the X-15 at M=6.8

1961: Dyna-Soar Tests

1964 Documentary on Model of Saturn Launch Vehicle

Ground Vibration Tests of the XH-17 Dynamic Helicopter

[top] Interviews

2007 Jim Penland on the 11-Inch Hypersonic and X-15 Development

[top] Documents

[top] 1229

1949 Experimental Investigation of Flutter of a Propeller with Clark Y Section Operating at Zero Forward Velocity at Positive and Negative Blade-Angle Settings (Baker & Paulnock)

Investigation of a Two-Step Nozzle in the Langley 11-Inch Hypersonic. Mclellan, Charles Herbert; Williams, Thomas W; Bertram, Mitchel H. 1950. TN 2171.

1962 Property Transfer

1964 Facility Description

1964 Humidity Control

1965 Langley 11-Inch Hypersonic Tunnel

1965 Real Property Record

1966 Facility Resume

1968-1979 Reference Documents

1974 Characteristics Sheet

1974 Floorplan with Tunnel

1976 Utilization report

1979 Transfer of Responsibilities

2000 Freezer

[top] 1229A

1948 Floor Plan

1953 Flutter Tunnel Description

1965 Real Property Record

1967 Hypersonic Aeroelasticity Relocation

1974 Floorplan with Tunnel

1976 2X2 Demolition

1976 2X2 Demolition

1990 1229A Utilization

1990 1229A Utilization (details)

2007 Map

1229A Floor Plan

Physical Research

[top] Memories

Gloria Champine: . I was in B-1229 from about 1970 to 1974 and met Bob while I was there. I worked for Ed Garrick in DLD and then Homer Morgan in LD. A couple of the fellows there were Percy Bobbitt and I think Domenic Maglieri. I believe they are both still working, probably with Eagle Engineering.

Another resource might be my NASA TM X-73925, A Compilation of Research Reports of Physical Research Division, Dynamic Loads Division, and Loads Division 1921 - 1973. A quick glance found reference to quite a few reports in Section III, Research and Technical Memorandums, pages 26 and 27 which are flight test results on Disk-Gap Band Parachutes Deployed at Mach ___ 1969-70.

Milt Skolaut: The people who tested the B-47 were in 1229 in the mid-1960s (in the rear of the building, just to the right of the front entrance). They had had NO requests for the test data (actual raw test data -- not the reports) for 15 years. So they destroyed the test data. Three weeks later, someone called -- desperate to see the data. I was not told why they needed it. It was gone.

In the mid-1960s, some people in the building (1229) were working on parachutes for Mars (Jim Manning, Hal Murray, Charles Hardesty(?)). They were locate in the rear of the building to the LEFT of the entrance door. They went to White Sands to shoot several rockets 100,000 to 250,000 feet altitudes and then opened the parachute on the way down where the air density was about the density of the air on Mars and took pictures of what happened.

They kept losing data when a payload hit the lava beds at White Sands and was destroyed, and wanted to know when they should shoot the rocket or not -- based on tracking a weather balloon to 100,000 feet about an hour before launch and determining the wind speed and direction using it. We set up a (by hand) CRUDE integration of a falling body pushed from the side and found that we could predict ROUGHLY where the payload would land, using the weather balloon data. IF certain patterns of wind were found, they did not launch. That ended the payload loss from hitting the lava beds.

There were no computers (or hand calculators) at the time -- that they could use. "Computers" aka "Mathematical Aides" had 13 digit Freidan electrically-driven mechanical calculators. Integration was either done by hand, by using an mechanical device called an "integrator", or numerically on a Freidan calculator. You set the mechanical integrator up and set the needle on a starting point and traced the curve around until you completed a closed loop. It then gave you the answer and you had to determine the units. It worked as a small calibrated wheel turning, while slipping at an angle, across the paper.

The parachutes were made from cotton (kite?) string (sometimes multiple strings woven together to make it stronger) and sheet plastic with a flashed aluminum coating, for radar tracking. The designs used today are roughly the same shape with newer materials and MUCH larger diameters. One, which was called the disk-gap-band parachute,looks like the picture of one with Juan Cruz in a wind tunnel.

A C-47 was sent to recover some of the parachutes. One day a rocket malfunctioned and one of the parachutes opened at 100,000 feet, on the way up, rather than at 250,000 feet on the way down. It was torn to shreds -- string torn, plastic material missing or torn off. The C-47 recovered it at about 10,000 feet. One Rocket was the Aerobee or Aerobee Hi and went to 100,000 to 150,000 feet altitude. Another was the Loci Dart. It's booster burned for 1 second (and it coasted to 250,000 feet). That payload was much smaller. Both were rail-guided (tower) launch systems.

Later, perhaps in the early 1970s, there were plans to send a lander to Mars using a 20 foot diameter heat shield with a Satern V rocket. It was called Voyager. It was cancelled.

David Hartman:

File:1229a Before Hartman.jpg
1229a as a Processing Lab
Before I got there (1229A), it had been a processing lab for 1205. Those operations were moved to the “new section” of 1205, the Light Alloy Labs, when that construction was completed.

We called it the SPAM Lab. “Surface Preparation of Advanced Materials.” The locals in 1229 didn’t really know what was going on in my building, other than “some chemical operation.” Dave Fuller, the Facility Coordinator for 1229, and I would chat at times outside once in a while. I made a joke one day, if he saw me running from the building, try to keep up. I was late to a meeting, and was almost running towards 1205, he spotted me, and was overtaking me! I told him, “late to a meeting.” He stopped immediately. This was around 2000.

During a copper tube plumbing (soldering) operation in the balcony prior to opening, a small fire was started when a rubber hose to a MAPP gas cylinder gave out. I had just left for 1205 for lunch, about 11:00, as I had a few things to do there also. I came wandering back about 1:00 pm or so, and someone stops me and points to a helicopter heading back to the Air Force Base. He said “You see that helicopter?” and then told me when the alarm went out as a fire in a 2 story chemical building, they had the helo do a recon to see how bad it was, and I had just missed it all. All the fire trucks had left by then also. For the next few hours, black soot rained down in the building, and I spent months wiping up from surfaces.

On September 11th, Steve Hales called to ask if I knew what was going on. I was busy in the lab and away from my computer. The second plane had not hit yet, and I was really busy. About 11:45 I decide to check the computer. That is when the mad rush to shut down for the day began for me. I could have easily been still working past the Center Closed time of noon, and Security would have found the last person to find out, still working.

I was constantly being written up during safety walkthroughs for some problem there (1229A). I had nothing to do with that building, or the old locksmith shop nearby.

The attached document is the official statement of my function there. I still continue most of the functions, but they are very limited now due to lack of space. Most of the work performed there was for the MISSE Project and the Free Form Fabrication project, where I chemically cleaned aluminum parts and plate metal. I also was a major step forward for the “Blended Wing Project.” One day the phone rang, it was a researcher looking for a specific chemical cleaning process to be performed here (hopefully), as Boeing was stopping the process at their facility in Washington State. He nearly dropped the phone when he found out I had the process in use daily, and asked to send samples. Needless to say, I processed many parts for that project.

I was even in Researcher News!

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