Engineer in Charge: A History of the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, 1917-1958 (Annotated and Illustrated)by James R. Hansen
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Langley has had a remarkable history, not only during three decades as NASA Langley Research Center, but in an earlier period as well: during Langley's four decades as the flagship research facility of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). Long before spaceflight, Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory began its work incubating the ideas and hatching the technology that made American aviation take off and fly. This book offers you that story.
More than just an outlining of historical facts is to be found here, for Hansen has captured the very culture of Langley. He has done so by illustrating what I see as the four major aspects of the laboratory: people, facilities, program, and customer relations.
People, of course, have always been the most important aspect of this unique place, so it is good to see the people themselves studied so carefully in its first complete history: people like Eastman N. Jacobs, who energetically engineered many of the early programs, and Theodore Theodorsen, whose powers as an applied mathematician and theorist made him sometimes the rival but always the complement of men like Jacobs; or like Max M. Munk, the brilliant and difficult prodigy of Langley's early years. Hansen is seriously concerned with the motivations, the training, the personalities, the hopes of people who caused aeronautical science and technology to evolve.
‘Engineer in Charge’ conveys a wealth of Langley's institutional experience in dealing with the kinds of questions about facilities and program. Hansen tells how Langley's first wind tunnel came to have an open circuit-a safe and proven design, but much less useful than the closed-circuit tunnels then coming into their own. The rapid subsequent evolution of wind tunnels, much of which took place at Langley, involved further choices that required commitment of funds and time and effort without certainty of getting the hoped-for results. And always the facilities needed to be stretched to maximize the benefits of the research program. Readers of Hansen's book will all but hear the Langley engineers of a half-century ago saying, if only we can build this or that new tunnel, or try this or that new piece of gear, or get permission to work on such-and-such new technology, we might really get somewhere .... Readers will find themselves watching the evolution of the facilities and program at NACA Langley, from the early quantum improvements in aircraft design to the pre-NASA work that foreran the various space programs.
Hansen also traces Langley's fourth important aspect, its relations with the industrial, scientific, and technical community it was built to serve. While the laboratory has a strong tradition of independent research, it also has a tradition of solving the problem of the moment-of "fighting fires." The most striking example of this ability was the work of over 300 Langley engineers and technicians on the space shuttle thermal protection system, the tiles that protect the shuttle from the intense heat of reentry into the atmosphere from space.
Readers will also find here the background of these customer relations-not only the "what" of Langley's work with the larger aeronautical community of which it has been a part, but the "how" and the "why" as well. While Hansen has defined for himself the primary task of telling Langley's story in terms of Langley itself, he has nonetheless devoted extensive effort to showing how Langley worked with Washington, with aircraft manufacturers, and with the armed services and others. The importance of a history such as this book is to better understand the character of an organization and what it will mean to the future. There is a living memory at Langley, an awareness of the triumphs, and for that matter the failures, of the laboratory's past. But a living memory is in most respects an incomplete and anecdotal memory, a mixture of hearsay and hand-me-down impressions, a collection of stories embellished by time and imagination, an awareness of some of the facts, a misunderstanding of others. What is needed is a systematic arrangement of what is known, a synthesis of what is recorded on paper and film with what is remembered by surviving participants-in short, what is needed is a sort of accurate rejuvenation of the living memory.
Langley has only just begun to be called upon by the aerospace community for the things only Langley can provide. NASA has called upon James Hansen for an accurate rejuvenation of Langley's living memory. Here it is.
693 pages, over 300 photos and illustrations. Contents hyperlinked for easy navigation.
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