Today NASA marked the 90th anniversary of its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA).

From March 3, 1915, until its incorporation into NASA on Oct. 1, 1958, NACA provided technical advice to the U.S. aviation industry and conducted cutting-edge research in aeronautics. NACA was created by President Woodrow Wilson to, “direct and conduct research and experimentation in aeronautics, with a view to their practical solution.” NASA has continued this tradition.

In the 1920s NACA engineers developed a low-drag streamlined cowling for aircraft engines, which all aircraft manufacturers adopted. This innovation resulted in significant operating cost savings, and it won the prestigious 1929 Collier Trophy. NACA engineers also demonstrated the advantages of mounting engines into the leading edge of wings of multiengine aircraft rather than suspending them, which became an industry standard.

During the 1930s, NACA engineers developed several families of airfoils. Many of these were successful as wing and tail sections, propellers and helicopter rotors in general aviation and military aircraft.

During the 1940s, NACA researchers developed the laminar-flow airfoil, which solved the problem of turbulence at the wing trailing edge that limited aircraft performance. The research helped pioneer advances in transonic and supersonic flight. NACA’s John Stack led the development of a supersonic wind tunnel, speeding the advent of operational supersonic aircraft. He shared the 1947 Collier Trophy with Chuck Yeager and Lawrence Bell for research to determine the physical laws affecting supersonic flight.

In 1945, Robert Jones, one of the premier aeronautical engineers of the 20th century, formulated the swept-back wing concept to reduce shockwave effects at critical supersonic speeds. Also in the mid-1940s Lewis Rodert received the Collier Trophy for his pioneering research in a thermal ice prevention system for aircraft.

In 1952, NACA’s H. Julian Allen conceived the blunt body concept. It suggested a blunt shape would absorb only a very small fraction of the heat generated during reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. The principle was significant for missile nose cones, the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle craft and unmanned probes.

In 1952, NACA began studying problems likely to be encountered in space. In May 1954, NACA proposed development of a piloted research vehicle to study the problems of flight in the upper atmosphere and at hypersonic speeds. This led to the development of the rocket-propelled X-15 research airplane.

With NACA’s transformation into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1958, research for space travel became a high profile endeavor. NASA and Bell Aerosystems Company developed a Lunar Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV) simulator for the Apollo program. It allowed a pilot to make a vertical landing in a simulated moon environment. Donald “Deke” Slayton, then NASA’s astronaut chief, said there was no other way to simulate a moon landing except by flying the LLTV.

In 2004 four decades of supersonic-combustion ramjet (scramjet) propulsion research culminated in two successful flights of the X-43A hypersonic technology demonstrator. The X-43A attained a maximum speed of Mach 9.6 flying freely under its own power. It set world airspeed records for an aircraft powered by an air-breathing engine. The flights proved scramjet propulsion may be a viable technology for powering future space-access vehicles and hypersonic aircraft.

NASA will continue to develop and validate high-value technologies that enable exploration and discovery. The agency continues its legacy work in aeronautics with breakthrough developments in quieter supersonic and subsonic flight; zero-emission aircraft; and autonomous, high-altitude, long-endurance robotic aircraft.

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