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National Aeronautics and Space Administration

NASA History OfficeSP4306

Engines and Innovation Lewis Laboratory* and American Propulsion Technology

Virginia P. Dawson The NASA History Series

National Aeronautics and Space Administration Office of Management Scientific and Technical Information Division Washington, D.C. 1991


sp4306Table of Contents *As of March 1, 1999 the Lewis Research Center was officially renamed to the NASA John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field. Because of the historical nature of some web pages, the references to NASA Lewis have not been changed to NASA Glenn. For further information about the name change, please visit this site.

Updated: October 2, 2002. Steve Garber, NASA History Web Curator For further information Email HTML work: Chris Gamble.


sp4306SP4306 Engines and Innovation: Lewis Laboratory and American Propulsion Technology



sp4306...It shall be the duty of the advisory committee for aeronautics to supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight with a view to their practical solution... Act of Congress Approved March 3, 1915

Preface Chapter 1. Aircraft Engines for War Chapter 2. TroubleShooting: the Wartime Mission Chapter 3. Jet Propulsion: Too Little, Too Late Chapter 4. Testing Their Mettle Chapter 5. New Educational Demands Chapter 6. Operations Research Chapter 7. Pushing Innovations and Industry Resistance Chapter 8. Seizing the Space Initiative Chapter 9. The Apollo Era: Opportunities and Dashed Hopes Chapter 10. DowntoEarth Problems

Essay on Sources

Appendices A. Land Acquisitions and Name Changes. B. Facilities (19421987). C. Management Structure. D. Budget (19421977). E. Lewis Research Center Personnel (19411983). Index. About the Author.


sp4306SP4306 Engines and Innovation: Lewis Laboratory and American Propulsion Technology


[vii] When Francis Bacon wrote the New Atlantis in the early 17th century, he envisioned a statesupported research institution in which knowledge could be applied to "enlarge the bounds of Human Empire, to the effecting of all things possible".1 Among the research facilities to increase the protection and material comforts of the inhabitants of his imaginary island, Bacon imagined an Engine House to study all types of motion, including flight. National aeronautical research laboratories in Europe and the United States in the early 20th century reflected Bacon' s vision of science applied to the practical problems of flight. Commitment to innovation accompanied Bacon' s belief in progress. His utopia honored inventors, not politicians or academics. In 1941 the same commitment to innovation and industrial progress won federal funding for a laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio. Local and national leaders expected the new laboratory to promote innovations in aircraft engine technology to help win the war against Germany. Contributions to the development of superior engines for military and passenger aircraft after World War II justified the large federal investment in research facilities and personnel. Today this laboratory is the NASA Lewis Research Center. In contrast to the isolation of the ideal research institution of Bacon' s vision, Lewis took shape in a fleshandblood world of personalities, national security concerns, and postwar capitalism. Two transitions, both precipitated by advances in propulsion technology, provide the structure for my history: the revolution in jet propulsion during World War II, and the launch of Sputnik in October 1957. Each had significant national political, military, and economic repercussions. Each forced the laboratory to restructure its research program and to redefine its relationships with its three constituencies the military, industry, and academia. Within this framework I have distinguished one theme that recurs throughout the laboratory' s history the tension between fundamental or basic research and development. In the process of writing my history I found that these terms could not be defined in any absolute sense. Their meaning is enmeshed in the history of Lewis, and the definitions of research and development changed as Lewis evolved. As an institution, Lewis engaged in a continuing reevaluation of its role within the American propulsion community and, after the formation of NASA in 1958, within a vastly expanded federal bureaucracy. My book is neither an administrative history of Lewis nor a chronicle of its technical achievements, This type of history would have been impossible to write, had I wished, because of the serious lack of raw material out of which to craft a history. Lewis does not have a laboratory archives. Few administrative records survived the periodic review and disposal by conscientious [viii] records managers. Of necessity, much of the documentation for the early chapters of my book came from the National Archives and Records Service in Suitland, Md., where the records of the NACA Main Committee and Power Plants Committee are stored. John Sloop's Liquid Hydrogen as a Propulsion fuel, 19451959 and Alex Roland' s Model Research: The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics 19151958 provided me with useful background for the NACA period.2 I also used technical papers produced by Lewis staff. For the period 1958 to 1977, 1 found brief references to Lewis in books about the space program. Inevitably, I have passed over much interesting and significant work at Lewis. Nevertheless, the paucity of documents may also have liberated me to ask broad questions and to dig for historical context. Thus, the chapter entitled jet Propulsion: Too Little, Too Late focuses on the national strategy to develop a gas turbine engine in the United States. By understanding decisions reached at a national level, I was better able to tackle the subsequent transition of the laboratory from research on piston engines to jet propulsion. James R. Hansen' s original research in Engineer in Charge contributed to my understanding of the NACA's early efforts in jet propulsion. Edward W Constant' s The Origins of the Turbojet Revolution was important in framing some of the questions I asked in this chapter. Moreover, his essay and others in The Nature of Technological Knowledge stimulated me to think about shifts in technological knowledge shared by a community of practitioners both within and outside Lewis.3 The chapter entitled Seizing the Space Initiative focuses on the crisis precipitated by Sputnik. I found the role of Abe Silverstein and his team from Lewis significant in shaping the early years of NASA. Moreover, I traced the roots of some of Lewis' s future problems to the organizational structure


sp4306conceived during T. Keith Glennan' s years as NASA's first administrator. I hope that my book is a contribution to the current effort among historians of technology to understand technological innovation as a social activity or process.4 I was interested in the strategies developed by the engineering community at Lewis in response to the new theoretical demands of the gas turbine engine and how the laboratory acquired new, engineering knowledge. When I looked at the relationship of Lewis with Case Institute of Technology, I was surprised to find that in the early postwar era, Case was on the receiving end of Lewis' s expertise in gas turbine and rocket technology. Later, as Case Institute of Technology developed graduate programs, this scenario was reversed. Bruno Latour's article, "Give Me a Laboratory and I will Raise the World," stimulated me to consider the question of the laboratory' s leverage or destabilizing influence on constituencies outside its gates. 5 Latour's analysis seemed particularly cogent with respect to the laboratory' s relationship with the intensely competitive engine companies. Instead of focusing on specific innovations, I considered innovation in the context of the laboratory' s role within the American propulsion community. What were the mechanisms of technology transfer from the government to the private sector in the NACA era? How did this relationship change under NASA? Some former Lewis staff may wonder why I included an entire chapter on Lewis' s operations research. No doubt this work occupied one of the lower rungs in the research hierarchy, but I thought general readers might find icing and crash fires of greater interest than more recondite areas of engineering. I used the chapter to demonstrate why the government undertakes certain types of research, the leverage of federal safety regulations, and the response of industry. I am indebted to the late William Olsen for some of the documents and insights in this chapter. I wrote two thirds of the book between 1984 and 1987 under a contract funded through the NASA History Office. It took me two more years to complete and revise the manuscript. My contract [ix] stipulated that my work was to be guided and judged by the standards of a professional historian. I was free to interpret Lewis history as long as my statements were supported by evidence and my speculations clearly indicated. Beyond the requirement to submit forty reports, I was left alone. In general, there was no restriction on my access to documents. However, I did not see a portion of the NACA collection on nuclear propulsion in the National Archives because it has not been declassified. Two professional historians, Clayton Koppes and James Hansen, and two former NACANASA Lewis staff, John Sloop and Seymour Himmel, reviewed the manuscript. Their critical reading helped to improve the technical details of the book and to sharpen my arguments. At no time did I feel pressure to change my interpretations. Despite their careful review, I am sure that my work is both imperfect and incomplete, for which I bear full res

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