NACA Tunnel One

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Facility 580
1926 Exterior

Center: Langley Research Center
Location: Hampton, Virginia
Year Built: 1920
Historic Eligibility: National Register Eligible
Important Tests: First tool for NACA scientists, Home of Space Task Group members including Astronauts

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[top] History

[top] Wind Tunnel One

The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) came into being in March 1915 as a civil agency to promote aeronautical research for the United States. The NACA began operations at its Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory (LMAL) at Langley Field, Virginia in 1917. Although a limited amount of aircraft flight research was conducted by the LMAL in 1919 and early 1920, the research lab did not begin routine operations until the summer of 1920, when its first wind tunnel was completed in NACA Building 60 (which would later be renamed to its current designation Building 580).

When the LMAL was formed, the United States was far behind Europe and aeronautical technology, and Langley’s first wind tunnel housed in Building 60 was essentially a replica of a 10-year-old British wind tunnel. The Langley tunnel, known as the 5-Foot Atmospheric Wind Tunnel (AWT) was virtually obsolete even before it began operations and was considered a relatively unproductive wind tunnel. After a decade of initial operations, the AWT was dismantled in 1930 and was replaced in Building 60 by two new wind tunnels, the 5-Foot Vertical Tunnel and the 7 x 10-Foot Atmospheric Wind Tunnel.

Wt 016a.jpg1926 Exterior1926-12-17 Atmospheric Wind Tunnel No.1Wt 016b.jpgWT 004a.jpgWt 019a.jpgWt 019b.jpgWT 004.jpgWT 011a.jpgEntrance Cone1921 Prior to OperationWT 31d.jpg1920 Test Section and BalanceWt 017.jpgWt 013.jpgWt 014.jpgWT 30a.jpgWT 30b.jpgWT 43.jpgWT 44a.jpgWT 44b.jpgWT 49B.jpgWT 51a.jpgWT 51b.jpg1922 Model in Tunnel1923 Inverted Airfoil1924 Oscillating Airfoils1924-03-06 AWT Pilot Tube and Probe1925-10-29 Navy NB-1 Boeing1967 Tunnel Model

[top] 5-Foot Vertical Wind Tunnel

The 5-Foot Vertical Wind Tunnel, also known simply as the Vertical Wind Tunnel, was a specialized facility to study the aerodynamics of airplanes in forced spinning motions. It was vertically oriented to minimize the problem of weight and load variations during forced spinning motions. The tunnel was the first vertical tunnel at Langley and began operations in December 1929 and its test section was later changed to a 4 x 6-foot configuration. It was subsequently deactivated and dismantled when Langley began operations of a new 15-Foot Spin Tunnel (646) adjacent to the Langley Full Scale Tunnel[1] (current NASA Building 643).

1930 Model of Tunnel19301929 Exit Vane1931-12-311931-12-311932-07-121929 Propeller Assembly1932-10-08 NY-1 airplaneAircraft Model in Test Section4- x 6-Foot ConfigurationTail Controls TestTail Controls Test

[top] 7 X 10-Foot Atmospheric Wind Tunnel

The third wind tunnel to occupy Building 60 was the 7 x 10-Foot Tunnel,more commonly referred to simply as the Atmospheric Wind Tunnel, and it proved to be one of the most productive and important wind tunnels in the Langley inventory during the 1930s and World War II. Research conducted in the 7 x 10-foot tunnel focused on stability, control, and high-lift devices for aircraft of that era. It was so successful that two additional wind tunnels having the same dimensions were constructed in the West Area of Langley (Buildings 1212A and 1212B) in the 1940s, and at the NACA Ames Laboratory in Mountain View, California. The original 7 x 10 tunnel in Building 60 was deactivated in 1946.

Although this tunnel had a horizontal design, it was very similar to the vertical tunnel, also designed by Carl Wenzinger and Thomas Harris, working with researcher Charles H. Zimmerman. This tunnel was 20 feet in diameter and, due to the narrow building and sharing space with the vertical tunnel, was configured with the return leg above the test leg. The tunnel's original open test section was enclosed in 1938 and office were added, relocating the front door to the east side of the building. The 6-blade fan delivered top speeds of 80 miles per hour.

This tunnel was historically significant in two respects. The pitch of the blades could be adjusted, but it appears they never were after the initial calibrations. The second innovation was a dynamic pressure control device that adjusted motor speeds to maintain pressure against the model in the test section.

Major Contributions from AWT during WWIIAWT Modified for Open Jet Tests1930-02-27 7 X 10-Ft Atmospheric Wind Tunnel (AWT)1931-04-16 Drawing of AWTAirplane Model Wing InstallationAirplane Model Wing InstallationAirplane Model Wing InstallationAirplane Model Wing InstallationAirplane Model Wing Installation1931-06-20 7 X 10 AWT TestAirplane Model Wing InstallationAirplane Model Wing InstallationAirplane Model Wing Installation1931 7 X 10 AWT1942-12-31 V-Tail Mounted for Test1939 Floor Plan1947 Floor PlanAddition and Relocated Front Door

[top] 6-Inch Refrigerated Tunnel

In 1928, the NACA built its first icing tunnel. The small tunnel was constructed for investigating the problems of ice formations on airplanes wings and propellers. The research conducted in this tunnel contributed to successful flights through storms of WWII combat aircraft. The metal tunnel was insulated with layers of wood and cork. Observation was through the double glass doors and windows. The temperature was controlled by the flow of cold brine through metal vanes. Air flowing around the vanes was circulated by fan. Cold water injected into the air stream through spray nozzles simulated clouds or rain. One of the models used in this research was a Clark Y mahogany airfoil (see report below in documents section).

RefridgeTunnel.jpgNACA 4039.jpg1928-06-12 Airfoil Tested1929 Clark-Y Airfoil Test L3431

[top] Other Tunnel Descriptions

Though not included in the history section, the following information was provided by Ken Pierpont in a writing he put together in May 1977. This reflects additional tunnels housed at one time in building 580.

  • 6-Inch Tunnel - open throat, single return
2205-2233.jpg6 Inch Tunnel.jpg

  • 4 x 18-Inch High Speed Tunnel - August 1943, a conversion of the 11-Inch High Speed Tunnel moved from building 582 in August 1940

  • 4 x 19-Inch Semi-Open High Speed Tunnel - replaced the 4 X 18-Inch HST in 1949

  • Airfoil Test Apparatus (ATA) - replaced 4 x 19-Inch in 1954 but was dismantled a short time after calibration.

[top] Space Task Group Office

When the NACA was incorporated into the new NASA agency in 1958, Building 60 (along with several other buildings in the East Area) was used to house personnel of the newly formed NASA Space Task Group (STG). The Director of the STG, Robert R. Gilruth and his immediate staff had offices in Building 58 (currently Building 587), which was the original headquarters building for the NACA at Langley Field. Meanwhile, STG members were dispersed in several other NASA buildings.

Alan Shepard with Boy Scouts
Alan Shepard with Boy Scouts from Franklin, Virginia on June 19, 1961
Offices for the original seven Mercury astronauts were located in Building 60 during their early careers at Langley from 1959 to 1961. Within the building, the excitement and planning for Project Mercury and future manned missions to space intensified. In September 1961, NASA announced its decision to relocate the STG to Houston, Texas, and most of the 700 STG engineers and their families moved there during late 1961 in early 1962. By June 1962, the entire STG had moved to Houston. After the departure of the STG, the building was inhabited by a group of high-speed aerodynamicists. NASA vacated the building shortly afterwards and it was transferred to Langley Air Force Base on 16 August 1963.[2]

In early 1962 a new numbering system for buildings located in the East Area of Langley went into effect, and Building 60 was given its current designation of Building 580. In view of its historic past, which ranged from the earliest beginnings of NASA and its first wind tunnel to occupancy by the most famous NASA astronauts of all time, one can easily be justified in proclaiming Building 580 to be one of the most significant buildings in the history of NASA.

Of all the NACA buildings in the East Area, this is the only one with ornate brick work. Although Albert Kahn did not design this building, the brickwork is more in keeping with those of the Air Force Base (See more on LAFB and Albert Kahn).


  1. The Vertical Wind Tunnel of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. Carl J. Wenzinger and Thomas A. Harris. 1931. TR-387.
  2. DD 1354 Building 580. 633D CES/CEAOR, Installation Support/Real Property, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, VA. 4/30/2014.

See also the minutes from the initial meeting of the Langley Lunar Mission Study Group.

[top] Remodel Photos

In April 2009, the Air Force gutted the interior of the building to remodel. These photos give a glimpse of the original building.

4-5-09 002.jpg4-5-09 006.jpg4-5-09 007.jpg4-5-09 009.jpg4-5-09 010.jpg4-5-09 012.jpg2009 Rear Entrance2009 Brickwork and Eaves2009 Brickwork and Eaves

[top] Documents

The Design of Wind Tunnels and Wind Tunnel Propellers. Edward P. Warner, F. H. Norton, and C. M. Herbert. 1919. TR-73

Design of Recording Wind Tunnel Balances. F. H. Norton. 1920. TN-30

Langley Field Wind Tunnel Apparatus. D. L. Barton. 1922. TN-81

The Design of Wind Tunnels and Wind Tunnel Propellers, II. F. H. Norton and Edwards P. Warner. TR-98

Standardization Tests of NACA No. 1 Wind Tunnel. 1925. TR-195

Refrigerated wind tunnel tests on surface coatings for preventing ice formation. Montgomery Knight and William Clay. 1930. TN-314.

The Vertical Wind Tunnel of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. Carl J. Wenzinger and Thomas A. Harris. 1931. TR-387.

The 7 X 10 Foot Wind Tunnel of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. 1933. TR-412.

1942 Investigation in the 7 X 10 Foot Wind Tunnel of Ducts for Cooling Radiators within an Airplane Wing. 1942. TR-743.

1944 LMAL Map

1961 Langley STG Directory Listing with Astronauts

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