John Stack

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John Stack is internationally regarded by aerospace historians as one of the world’s most important aeronautical engineers with superlative technical expertise, leadership qualities and demonstrated management capabilities for critical national programs. As a pioneer and specialist in the field of high-speed transonic and supersonic aerodynamics he personally conceived, advocated, and conducted some of the productive aviation projects ever undertaken by the United States.

Stack graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1928 and joined the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in July 1928 as a junior aeronautical engineer working in the Variable Density Tunnel. The tunnel was the first major breakthrough for the laboratory and earned it a place alongside leading European countries in the field of aerodynamics.


John Stack at NACA, 1930

He soon developed an interest in the unexplored region of high-speed wind tunnels in the early 1930s and participated in the development of special facilities and acquisition of the first supersonic aerodynamic data and specialized flow visualization equipment which permitted researchers to visualize shock waves emanating from aircraft at supersonic speeds.

By 1939 he had already become a noted specialist and was put in charge of all the high-speed wind tunnels at Langley and in 1942 he became chief of a new Compressibility Research Division which focused on high-speed flight. In 1947 he was promoted to Assistant Director of the Langley Laboratory. Stack was a major driving force behind the conception and development of the Bell X-1 research airplane which was piloted by Chuck Yeager and exceeded the “sound barrier”; the use of slotted walls in wind tunnels to permit testing at transonic speeds; the highly successful North American X-15 rocket-powered hypersonic research airplane; the beginning of the U. S. National Supersonic Transport Program; and the development of the variable-sweep-wing concept and the General Dynamics F-111 airplane. He was also a strong supporter of international cooperative programs with European countries which resulted in revolutionary aircraft such as the Boeing AV-8 fighter flown by the U.S. Marine Corps. In recognition of his extraordinary achievements he was a recipient of the prestigious Collier Trophy (twice) and the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy.


In 1951, the Collier Trophy was awarded again to John Stack and his associates at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory for the development and use of the slotted-throat wind tunnel. Stack, head of Compressibility Research Division, was a hard-charging man whose attitude toward unproven technology was usually, "Let's try the damn thing and see if we can make it work." He shared the 1947 Collier Trophy with Chuck Yeager and Laurence Bell for the development of the Bell X-1, in which pilot Yeager broke the sound barrier.


Stack retired in 1962 after serving a year as Director of Aeronautical Research for NASA Headquarters in Washington and then became vice-president and director of Republic Aviation.

John Stack died on June 18, 1972 when he was thrown by a horse at his farm.


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See the John Stack Archives Collection: John Stack (1906-1972) was a world renowned aeronautical engineer. His career in aviation spanned forty years, thirty-two of which were spent at the Langley Research Center.Graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1928, Stack came directly to NASA where he became a junior aeronautical engineer. His most important work was done in the field of high-speed, transonic, and super sonic research and testing. Stack is responsible for many of the wind tunnels at Langley and he used those tunnels to develop technology for use on some of the world's most important planes such as the P-51 "Mustang," the DC-3, and the B-24, among others.

Stack sat on many boards and committee's such as the NACA Subcommittee on Aerodynamics. He was a member of many professional organizations and was invited to speak internationally. Stack retired from NASA in 1962 to take a position as vice president as director of engineering at Republic Aviation Corporation.

This collection is more valuable to the aeronautical historian than is the Thompson collection because it includes a greater number and wider chronological range of older business correspondence and research program files-many of which concern Stack's pioneering work in transonic and supersonic technology. The papers were donated to the Langley archives by Stack's son, Peter, who, like Mrs. Thompson, chose to keep several of the more private letters in the family's possession, at least for the time being.

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