Langley Research Center

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[top] Location and Land Area

Langley Research Center (LaRC, Center) is located approximately 150 air miles south of Washington, D.C. in Hampton, Virginia.
Jamestown Tag
Elizabeth City County, now know as Hampton, was established in 1634 as one of the eight shires of the early colony. Hampton was established by an act of the assembly in 1680 and incorporated Elizabeth City County in 1952. Hampton is the oldest continually occupied English establishment in America. It's history is closely tied with nearby Jamestown. An archaeological artifact from Jamestown flew on NASA's space shuttle Atlantis and returned to earth on June 22, 2007 at the end of the STS-117 mission.

2011 Aerial
LaRC currently occupies 767 acres of Government-owned land and is located in two areas approximately 3 miles apart and divided by the runway facilities of Langley Air Force Base and the Headquarters of the Air Combat Command. The runways and taxiways which are under Air Force control are used jointly by the Air Force and NASA. NASA's requirement for use of these facilities is directly related to the agency's aeronautical flight research activities. Individual Property Pages provide details, photos, and documents associated with sites. Deeds and plat maps for the West Area originally defined 787 acres, 430 acquired by NASA by condemnation and 357 transferred to NASA from the Air Force. A survey of the property boundary in 2013, established the the West Area is 764 acres. The East Area currently comprises 3 acres under Air Force permit. As buildings in the East Area are abandoned, the land will revert back to the Air Force. Runways, some utilities, and certain other facilities are used jointly by NASA and the Air Force.

Currently, LaRC has over 20 major research facilities and approximately 150 shops, administrative facilities, and support facilities, and is the 5th largest NASA Research Centers. A portion of the NASA staff comprises professional engineers and scientists who are technical experts in the fields of aerodynamics, loads and structures, thermodynamics, electronics, space technology, digital systems, computational analysis, systems analysis, and related fields. The remaining personnel include skilled administrators, model makers, technicians, and other support personnel.

The East Area

The East Area is located on 3 acres of land permitted to NASA by Langley Air Force Base. It is the original 1917 portion of Langley Research Center. Runways, some utilities, and certain other facilities are used jointly by NASA and the Air Force. Structures in the East Area occupied by NASA are all older buildings, primarily consisting of 3 major wind tunnels, the Transonic Dynamics Tunnel, the 20-Foot Spin Tunnel and the 12-Foot Low Speed Tunnel as well as supporting offices, compressor stations, and substations.

The West Area

The West Area contains the major portion of the Center with the great majority of the facilities located there. The earliest facility was built in 1940; and the remainder were constructed primarily during spurts of construction activity. The buildings are generally two to three stories high, of permanent construction using brick, concrete, steel, and masonry block, and are well-maintained. Streets are paved, gently curving, and bordered in many stretches with shade trees such that this area of the Center presents a campus-like appearance.

[top] Early American History


Archaeological and historical evidence from the vicinity indicates that this region had been under water prior to human occupation. An accidental find in 1996 of fossilized whale bones was made by surveyors Vanessa Butler and Kit Cain. The bones were later identified as the remains of a baleen whale that died 3 1/2 million years ago. The 30-foot juvenile was found at a piping trench under construction.

Following the stabilization of sea levels and the formation of the Chesapeake Bay, evidence points to human occupation since circa 10,000 years ago with villages developing around 3,000 years ago. Sites most likely represent limited activity camps with more long-term occupations at the margins of the Back River. Occupants of the region during prehistoric times can be divided into several cultural-temporal periods, characterized by differing adaptations to changing climatic and environmental conditions: 1) Paleoinidian, 2) Archaic, and 3) Woodland. Artifacts at LaRC indicate the earliest occupation during the Archaic period. In 1964, skeletal fragments were uncovered at a construction site. The partially fossilized bones were analyzed at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and were in typical condition for bones subjected to ground water action for several hundred years. The material was comparable to to previously identified bone in the 7000-8000 year old range. The analysis estimated the bones to be of a young male in his thirties from the Archaic Period.

The Woodland period encompasses the introduction of horticulture and ends with contact by European societies. Archaeological surveys at LaRC have identified 14 sites with prehistoric components. All of the prehistoric sites consist of low density lithic scatters. Sites with discreet boundaries encompass almost 11,000 square meters. Artifacts appear to correspond to settlement patterns defined by archaeologists for the Coastal Plain in this region. In general, residential sites for Archaic and Woodland period sites have been identified along major drainages or at margins of large wetlands. Brick Kiln Creek and Tabbs Creek comprise the principal drainages in the LaRC facility.


Sustained direct contact between the Native American and European societies commenced in the region with the English settlement of Jamestown in 1607 and extended to 1622 when the Powhatan attacked the settlements in the James Valley. The period ends in 1646 after a second series of conflicts resulted in the Powhatans relinquishing their remaining claims in the area. The region relied on agriculture throughout its history and remained primarily rural until the twentieth century ( See Timeline and Associated Families).

By the 1630's, the areas around LaRC had been settled by European colonists. Much of the land was obtained through a grant from Charles I, King of England, in 1635. That patent however mentions earlier patents dating from 1620-1635 including the Moore, Laydon, Thompson, Garnett, Christmas, and Syms families. John Laydon was the first European married in the new country, and his daughter was the first child born in America who survived into adulthood.

Part of the Laydon and Garnett lands would become part of the land owned by Thomas Wythe in 1676. Thomas Wythe, father to George Wythe, inherited the land in 1694. The Chesterville Plantation, or Wythe homeplace, was the home of George Wythe, signer of the Declaration of Independence.
G. Wythe
Among the known features at this former plantation were two dwellings, a brick kiln, a cemetery, and a boat landing and granary. The older of the two dwellings had a stone foundation and appears to represent a seventeenth-century house. The other consists of a brick, two-story house was built around 1771. Chesterville Plantation is listed on the Virginia Register (1972) and the National Register of Historic Places (1973) for its archaeological significance and association with a historic person.

Benjamin Syms left the first legacy for the promotion of education by deeding his land and eight cows for the establishment of a free school around 1647. Thomas Eaton followed establishing the Eaton Charity School. The two schools operated independently of each other until after the Revolution. They were probably on adjoining sites, occupying land where Langley Field was later located. In 1804, Hampton residents called for combining the schools and relocating the resulting school from the Back River to the town of Hampton. The petitioners won their case and the Hampton Academy was in operation by 1810.

Cloverdale Pottery
Although the earliest European occupation of the area dates to the seventeenth century, most of the archaeological sites date between the mid-eighteenth to early twentieth century. Twenty-one sites from this period lay within LaRC boundaries or within a 1.6 kilometer radius of the center. These sites appear to represent domestic habitation sites with associated outbuildings, cemeteries, and other related features. These sites offer the opportunity to study several aspects of tidewater history and cultural development. Site types include relatively large plantation complexes as well as small subsistence farms.

The original four room house at Cloverdale was built about 1737 with a two and a half story addition built about 1830. The site represents the remains of a plantation occupied between the 18th and 20th centuries. Excavations revealed brick and cobble foundations dating from the 18th through the 19th centuries. In addition, a cellar was noted within the foundation walls as well as a possible trash pit. The site is a relatively rare example of a rural domestic farmstead spanning a lengthy period or social and economic change in the area. The Vaughan-Smith cemetery, associated with Cloverdale, is in the area closest to the Syms School site. The Cloverdale property was for a time split between the Vaughan and Smith families. The property was reunited during 1875-1878 and would later become part of the NASA installation. The house was demolished in 1955.

John Moore patented land that would become Moorefield Plantation in 1635. Moorefield was constructed in 1750 and served as the Moore residence until the house burned in 1895. Artifacts from the Moorefield Plantation include materials from the main house as well as what is likely the remains of a slave quarter. This is one of a few sites in the Peninsula with an archaeological manifestation of potential slave occupation spanning a period of rapid social and economic change. However, with the disturbed condition of the soils, it has been concluded that the archaeological research potential for this site has been exhausted. Most of the plantation was part of the governments 1916 purchase with the remainder included in the 1942 purchase.
1880s Plantations

It was determined that the Ross Site, a small eighteenth-century farmstead, possessed qualities of significance. Archaeological features and deposits from the site reflected occupations and structures dating between the 1720s and late 18th century. The Operations Support Complex was redesigned to avoid important portions of this site.

Two non-domestic archaeological sites relate to early transportation: the Kings Road and the Chesterville Road. These features may have existed as early as the 1730s and the Chesterville Road apparently remained in use into the early 20th century. Evidence of the roads still exists today in portions of the the wooded sections of the West Area. Exploratory trenches encountered deposits of shell, evidently representing attempts to pave the road.

The Historic Maps with Plantations contains links to brief histories and virtual tours of pre-NACA era features.

Revolutionary War

George Wythe was not the area's only link to the American Revolution. The British and Patriots skirmished in Hampton in 1775. In 1781, the British landed at the mouth of Wythe Creek and marched toward Tabb. On their return, they claimed a victory against Colonel Francis Mallory at Big Bethel. Seven month later, the British under Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown at the home of John Moore who also owned Cloverdale Plantation at what is now the Reid Center area.

Observance of the American Revolution Bicentennial in 1976 included the publication of Revolutionary War Public Service Claim Records for Elizabeth City County, Virginia. The existing records in the Virginia State Archives related to the goods and services impressed during the latter part of the War. Most of the claims were made for provisions or services impressed in 1780 and 1781 during the British campaign. Farms in the county produced crops, and in spite of the British efforts to blockade the coast, Hampton was a major center of trade with Europe and the West Indies. AS early as May, 1777, Governor Thomas Jefferson was empowered to appoint commissioner for search for, to impress, and to store 'surplus' supplies. General Thomas Nelson, Jr., succeeded Jefferson as governor in 1781 and he vigorously raised provisions for the armed forces without much concern for the limitations set by the Virginia Assembly. After the British surrender in 1781, the General Assembly passed an act declaring all impressments, with few exceptions, to be illegal. With only a faint hope of payment, the farmers and merchants of Elizabeth City County were undoubtedly strained to supply provisions for their local militia and Virginia forces. The seventy-two bushels of potatoes and five bushels of peas furnished by George Wythe were probably a welcome change to the soldier's diet of beef and cornbread (and rum) as indicated by the many claims.

Civil War

Civil War Map
Southern Virginia was a primary area of conflict during the War Between the States. Big Bethel was again the scene of conflict as Union troops advanced on Southern forces. (See YouTube for a short documentary on the Battle of Big Bethel through the eyes of two of the plantation owners.)

During the Civil War, the main house at Chesterville was occupied and ransacked by Federal troops, leaving it badly damaged. Afterwards, Robert Hudgins, the owner of Lamington and Bloomfield married the daughter of the owner of Chesterville and received Chesterville as a wedding gift. He wrote in his diary:

"The farm and home were still lovely in a grove of elm, maple, and black walnut trees overlooking the beautiful northwest branch of the Back River. There were about four hundred acres in the tract, exceedingly fertile in both farming and pasture land. The house was famous in Colonial days and was said to have sheltered most of the dignitaries of that day. Many are the legends and ghost stories that were related until it succumbed to fire in 1911."

The area remained rural and agrarian into the nineteenth century. During this time, three plantations covered the current LaRC property: Chesterville (700 acres), Cloverdale (600 acres), and Moorefield (225 acres). An 1862 map shows five structures within the present LaRC boundaries (Vaughan house is 'Cloverdale' on current NASA property).

[top] NACA / NASA Langley History

At the beginning of WWI, the US had a mere 23 military aircraft, Great Britain 400, Germany 1000, and France 1400. This dismal situation led prominent scientists to aggressively push Congress for a remedy. In 1915, a rider to the Naval Appropriations Act created the aeronautical advisory committee to organize research and development, including an aeronautical research laboratory. At the first meeting, the group named itself the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA.

In 1916, the Army Appropriation Act authorized the purchase of land for an aviation research and experimentation facility. Out of the 15 tracts considered, the site now occupied by Langley Air Force Base and NASA Langley was chosen. A citizens' committee purchased 90 day options on lands contained in the Moorefield, Bloomfield, Poole, Lamington, and Sherwood plantations. In December 1916, the government purchased 1,659 acres from the citizens' committee, of which a small parcel was designated for use by NACA. By 1942, NACA needed additional room for expansion and started acquiring land to the west of the military property. Private land purchased at this time included the Cloverdale Plantation. The remaining 305 acres of Chesterville were condemned and purchased by NACA in 1950. A map and documentation of real estate acquired by NACA/NASA over the years is available.

Main Gate
Main Gate, 1930s (private collection)
1917 NACA Executive Committee with Aircraft Manufacturers Association
Langley Research Center was established in 1917 in association with a military airfield (now Langley Air Force Base) as an aeronautical research laboratory. The War Department purchased land in Elizabeth City County, Virginia for the joint use of the Army and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the forerunner for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (see more on the beginnings of NACA/NASA). The Army property was designated Langley Field after Professor Samuel Pierpont Langley, an early pioneer in flight. Professor Langley had flown stable, steam-powered model airplanes as early as 1896, and until 1907 he had served as Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.

Langley Field and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics began parallel growth as air power proved its utility during World War I. NACA was created "to supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight, with a view of their practical solution;" and Langley Field, authorized in June 1917, was built as a joint experimental air field and proving ground for aircraft. It was from Langley that Billy Mitchell took off for the historic test bombing of obsolete battleships off the Virginia Capes after World War I.

Agency Map from about 1951

However, it wasn't until June 11, 1920, when the NACA's first wind tunnel was dedicated, that the nation's first aeronautical research center had its real beginning at a permanent site staffed by its own employees, in its own facilities, and with its own program of aeronautical research. The facility was then officially designated "Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory." The research efforts were overseen by an advisory committee of noted scientists and aviation pioneers, including Orville Wright and Charles Lindbergh. Over the years, LaRC has grown to over 700 acres. The historical documentation and a map showing real estate acquisition are available.

Studies conducted at the facility contributed to the application of new technologies in military and civil aircraft. Virtually every aircraft in the U.S. civil and military inventory makes use of technology developed at Langley (Chambers 2010 presentation). Furthermore, many leaders in the aerodynamics field participated in the work conducted at the center. Seven of the original astronauts were trained here in the 1950s and 1960s.

[top] Initial Activities

Langley Research Center was originally established to explore the field of aerodynamic research involving airframe and propulsion engine design and performance. The results of these research efforts were made available to government, industry, and others. Early in 1943 the Center expanded to include rocket research, leading to the establishment of a flight station at Wallops Island, Virginia. A further expansion of the rocket research program effectively permitted Langley Research Center to orbit payloads. (See early video).

During the period of growth of the rocket research program, aeronautics research activities continued to expand at Langley and played an important part in the Center's activity when subsonic flight was advanced and supersonic and hypersonic flight were introduced. This led to extensive research on supersonic transports, X-15, F-111, and V/STOL configurations. Langley Research Center has supported all of the major NASA, Department of Defense, and Department of Energy programs assigned to the various NASA centers by providing scientific investigations, laboratory tests, and extensive research. (See more on the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate.)

As the oldest and most comprehensive research installation of NASA, Langley Research Center can claim many historic firsts, some of which have proven to be revolutionary scientific breakthroughs. These accomplishments include the conception and development of research aircraft leading to supersonic flight; the construction of the world's first transonic wind tunnels; the origination of the Area Rule, a design principle regarded as the key to practical supersonic flight; the invention of automatically erectable spacecraft, leading to development of Echo passive communications satellites; and the development of Scout, the first all solid-fueled launch vehicle to rocket a United States satellite into orbit.

There have been many more Langley contributions. It was here that "Project Mercury" was born, sending the first American astronaut into space. It was here that the huge Lunar Landing Research Facility was located, providing for the simulation of lunar gravity in order to develop exploratory spacecraft and to perfect lunar landing techniques. Also, it was at Langley Research Center that the highly successful Viking program for the scientific exploration of Mars was managed.

Langley was established for identifying and finding solutions to the many challenges of aviation, and the people pioneered many new technologies and concepts that have helped transform our aeronautical world. An excellent resource which examines the center's most significant achievements between 1917 and 2002 is From Research to Relevance.

As the first center, it is also important to note that as additional research centers were added, they were often staffed by core groups coming from Langley. Many of the first directors of new centers transferred from Langley to build capabilities in new locations. This was particularly important in the early 60s as NASA led the nation's accelerated space program. Organizational changes became common (see typical special bulletin.)


1970 Alan Shepard at Lunar Landing Facility


Seven Original Astronauts in Training at Langley in 1961

[top] Growth

1930 Staff Photo
The growth of Langley has been periodic. World War I was over before NACA's "field station" at Langley Field commenced useful operations. During the 1920s and early 30s, many significant NACA research projects added immeasurably to man's knowledge of flight, and the work of the agency became internationally known and respected; but until the beginning of World War II, the growth of Langley was relatively slow. Then, suddenly faced with war in Europe and the threat of expansion of aeronautical research facilities by other nations, the Committee realized that further intensification of research was desperately needed if America was to continue its leadership in the technical development of aircraft. The resulting rapid expansion of research facilities at Langley brought forth startling developments such that by the end of World War II, new turbojet and
1931 Hangar
rocket engines made possible unmanned flight in the upper atmosphere at supersonic speeds. The power available in these newly developed turbojet and rocket engines opened vast new areas of research concerned with the many problems encountered in supersonic, and later, hypersonic flight. Successful research launched the United States into the Space Age and contributed greatly to the growth of Langley.

Congress passed the "National Aeronautics and Space Act" in 1958, terminating the NACA and marking the beginning of the "National Aeronautics and Space Administration." (See letter to employees announcing change.) The excellent NACA laboratories at Langley and three other installations formed the nucleus of the new civilian agency to be known as NASA. NACA's "Langley Laboratory" became officially designated "the Langley Research Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration." (see NACA Reunions for the 12th reunion held May 2008.)

During the years that followed, Langley Research Center grew rapidly (See Acquisition Documentation). Paralleling and continuing acceleration in space exploration programs and growth of civil and military aviation, there has been rapid growth in the nucleus of top level research personnel and an increase in the facilities at the Center. With changing directions, comes reorganizations of personnel (see 1973 announcement.)

The Office of Public Affairs maintains a detailed history of the center. The Langley Alumni Association is another resource for our center's history. The Alumni’s purpose was to develop, maintain, and enhance the relationship among former employees of the Langley Research Center and provide a mechanism for the Center to maintain contact with its former employees. It also provided an organized way for members to support special events at the Center and other activities of mutual interest.

[top] NACA/NASA Anniversaries

As the first NACA center and the birthplace of what is now NASA, Langley Research Center takes great pride in its anniversary celebrations. Details on each celebration event are available are available HERE.

[top] Oral Histories

NASA, and in particular NASA Langley, has had several pushes throughout the years to collect oral histories. These have varies in format from transcribed interviews to video tapes. This collection is a comprehensive list of those available. Current employees and alumni are encouraged to contact the LaRC Historic Preservation Officer to contribute to this project.

[top] Historic District

As a result of NASA Langley's significant history and major contributions to aeronautics and space research and testing, the NASA Langley Research Center Historic District was listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register in December 2011 and the National Register of Historic Places in June 2012. The Historic District includes our current Center boundary as well as several of the original NACA buildings now owned by Joint Base Langley Eustis. A full write-up and link to our book, From Biplanes to Apollo: The NASA Langley Historic District, is available on the Media Page.

[top] Demolition and Salvage Activities

The landscape at Langley has seen some significant changes since the fall of 2010.

One can't miss the new modern Headquarters Building (2101) that's just past the main gate. Constructed in less than two years, this efficient, environmentally friendly building is home to about 260 people from six organizations. It is also just the first phase of revitalization activities at the Center.

Just around the corner from Headquarters can be seen one of the most visible changes to the Center, both from inside as well as outside the gates, and that's the demolition of the 16-Foot Transonic Tunnel which has been an integral part of our Center for 70 years. Out of sight for most people on center, but in the hearts of many current and former employees, is the 80-year-old 30 X 60 Full Scale Tunnel on the east side. Demolition of this wind tunnel, as well as the two adjacent 8-foot tunnels, the 8-Foot High Speed Tunnel, and the 8-Foot Transonic Pressure Tunnel was completed in 2011. Also on LaRC's east side, the Low Turbulence Pressure Tunnel was demolished in 2014. Enough can't be said about these wind tunnels, some of the most historically significant in our nation, or to the impacts made by the people who worked there during their combined 200+ years of service.

Demolition of three additional buildings began in 2011 to make way for the second new building, the Integrated Engineering Support Building (IESB). Demolition of Building 1149, Building 1152 and Building 1153 was completed in February 2012 and IESB opened at the end of the summer in 2014. To make way for the next new building, the Measurement Sciences Laboratory (MSL) several other buildings were recently demolished to include the Building 1192 Complex and Building 1213. Other recent demolitions include the Jet Exit Facility, the Helicopter Test Tower, the Hypersonic CF4 Tunnel and the Old Reid Conference Center.

As part of the demolition process, historic artifacts and other items are identified both for retention at NASA Langley and for public outreach and display purposes.

View the LIST OF SALVAGED ARTIFACTS to see the new homes for these items.

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