Many Historic Firsts
In the early decades of the twentieth century, it took visionaries to imagine that airplanes might be useful in war and peace. Congress established the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in 1915 "to supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight with a view to their practical solution."
A site was needed for aeronautical research, experiments, and flight tests. Harry Holt, Hunter R. Booker, Nelson Groome and Frank Darling convinced the federal government to make its first land purchase for aviation purposes among the farms, forests, and swamps along Back River near their town of Hampton. The Army Air Service and NACA built an airfield there named for the pioneer of American military aviation, Samuel Pierpont Langley.
The nation's first civilian aeronautical laboratory at Langley was crucial for the development of safe and dependable air flight, performing the basic research that provided practical solutions for serious aeronautical problems. The first wind tunnel was built in 1920, followed by many more specialized tunnels with unprecedented capabilities. Airframe, wing, and propulsion engine design and performance, then rocket research, supersonic and hypersonic ﬂight, and eventually the development of space flight were all pioneered at Langley's NACA facilities.
became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958. While Langley managed the early developments for Project Mercury and the space program through the Space Task group, the group moved to Houston in the early 1960's. Since then, NASA Langley has conducted research in aeronautics from subsonic to hypersonic speeds, improved aircraft safety, contributed to more efficient aircraft operation and uncrewed missions to Mars, developed satellite instruments to study Earth, and worked on spacecraft development, including over 60,000 hours of wind tunnel time for the Space Shuttle.
Langley Research Center claims many historic firsts, some of which were revolutionary breakthroughs. These include the concept of research aircraft leading to supersonic flight, the world's first transonic wind tunnels, the Lunar Landing Facility simulating lunar gravity, and the Viking program for Mars exploration.
Mercury capsule in full scale tunnel
Original seven astronauts inspect Mercury model
Aircraft in front of hangar
Bell X-1 16ft high speed tunnel
Lunar landing research facility
All images courtesy of NASA