National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) was the precursor
to today's National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Both NACA and NASA have provided dream jobs for hobbyists for decades,
and continues to do so today. Many of the engineering and scientific
research staff with PhDs also engage in aeromodeling as a sport
during off hours. I knew a guy, Dick Weber, who as a NASA engineer
at College Park, Maryland, who set an FAI Closed Course Record of
225 miles in 5 hours and 38 minutes using a custom airplane and
engine (see 652
Miles Per Gallon).
As with all government agencies these days, NASA's primary goal
seems to be ensuring 'diversity' in the workforce rather than ensuring
excellence in results. If achieving the latter results in the former,
then good, but it seldom does. Another of NASA's stated goals in
the last few years is "At the President's request, NASA is also
reaching out to predominantly Muslim nations."
(see pages 3 & 13 of
NASA Advisory Council, February 18-19, 2010). That seems
to smack of religious preference and the oft-touted "separation
of church and state," but definitions are also flexible now. We
no longer even have the capacity to launch our astronauts into space;
instead we pay the Communist and historically adversarial countries
of Russia and China to do it for us - no doubt transferring huge
amounts of technical know-how in the process.
Modeling Pay at NACA
pays in information gained by tests which can be conducted more
quickly and economically with models than with full-scale planes.
It pays the builders who are hired by NACA to produce the models.
As in all aeronautical research, models of many sizes and configurations
are employed by this federal organization in its study of aviation
problems. These "models" are not all little planes with a span of
several feet overall or less; some may be as large as a fighter
What about the builders of these fascinating and exceedingly
accurate models - just what is NACA? Starting with that last query,
"NACA" stands for National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics -
a government-supported organization that engages in aeronautical
research valuable to both the federal aviation services and to private
industry as well.
Information gained at NACA centers is made available to most
anyone who can use it (provided
is not classified and these days a lot of NACA work is) by means
of Technical Reports, Memorandums, Notes, Research Memorandums,
etc. NACA does not design aircraft, but it does contribute to the
knowledge required by others to do so by means of research on all
parts of planes, on models of them, even on the complete, full-sized
NACA, which will tackle any problem pertaining to aviation, has
handled such widely-varying ones as research into problems of supersonic
speed, tests on helicopter rotor blades, problems associated with
ditching (alighting on water) of normal landplanes, studies of the
safest positions for passengers in aircraft cabins, and countless
more. One of its greatest duties is to coordinate aeronautical research
throughout the country.
The United States had hundreds of wind tunnels and allied research
facilities in government laboratories, in industry and in colleges
and universities. This is a vast reservoir of potential testing
facilities but the problems facing aviation are even more vast;
it just doesn't make sense to have two or more groups engaging in
research on the same angle of the same problem, when such facilities
could be utilized to much greater advantage if directed by a central
coordinating agency. This is just one function of NACA.
A brief history of how NACA started and got its name: though
the United States through the flights of the Wright Brothers supplied
the spark that really started successful aviation, development of
this new science in the U. S. followed a rather erratic course.
Generally progress was left to a few experimenters and small aviation
concerns. On the other hand, countries overseas embarked upon bold
development programs sponsored and underwritten by their governments.
Result was that when World War I broke out in 1914, most of these
countries had available sizable quantities of aircraft; for example,
France had about 1400 planes ready to fight, Germany had 1000. The
U.S. had a pitiful 23 "war planes."
The drive to form a National aviation research organization commenced
early - in 1911 - but it was 1915 before Congress put up money for
the project; then the "Advisory Committee for Aeronautics" was allowed
the princely sum of $5,000 a year as a starter! The original Committee
had 12 members, drawn from government, industry, the armed services
and institutions of learning. Its first aim was the coordination
of aeronautical research; NACA (the "National" was added to the
name soon after the group started functioning) had no facilities
of its own; Committee members served without compensation. The five
thousand bucks was to cover traveling expense and the like.
Plastic models (left) are used in gas dynamics lab at Langley
Field. One-fifth scale model of Albacore, world's fastest sub, in
NACA tunnel (below).
In late 1916, the War Department (Army) purchased a large tract
of land at Hampton, Va., and there NACA was established; the field
was used mainly for W. W. I. training purposes however. Langley
Field, as it was named, built its first wind tunnel in 1919, but
it couldn't be used for a year because there was no power to run
it! The real beginning of activities at Langley didn't come till
mid-1920 after the Committee had made an unsuccessful attempt to
move to Bolling Field just outside Washington. From that time on
progress was rapid; by 1935 its work was so valuable that European
aviation counterparts were frankly acknowledging the help they got
from this American source.
The original Committee of 12 hired its first employee in 1915.
NACA now includes 8000 workers. In contrast to that first authorized
budget of $5,000 a year, it now costs about $1,000,000 just for
electrical power alone, and that to run the equipment of only Langley
Field! Langley's yearly payroll runs to around $19 million; NACA
facilities throughout the country are valued at $300 million. Huge
expansion was forced by World War II, of course; as recent as 1939
NACA had only 523 employees (only 278 of these were "technical"
While the value of NACA to U. S. aviation is incalculable, we
can observe some of its outstanding developments. One of the first
was' the "NACA cowling" perfected in 1928; this cowl covered the
cylinders of the then almost-universal radial engine.. Previously
the cylinders stuck out in the slipstream. Advantages of the cowling
were immediately obvious; it increased the speed of the Army AT-5A
pursuit biplane from 118 to 137 mph. This was equivalent to an increase
of about 83 hp in an era when a 200 or 300 hp engine was considered
is significant that as early as 1923, NACA recognized the possibilities
of jet propulsion; that year Report No. 159, entitled "Jet Propulsion
for Airplanes" was issued. Conclusions were that at the speeds of
the day jet power would take about four times as much fuel as the
existing engine-propeller combinations, be heavier and more complicated.
This was figured on a basis of 250 mph speed.
Further studies were undertaken on jet propulsion every few years.
Always it appeared that jets would be useful only for very high
speeds at very short ranges; during this time U. S. technology was
concentrated mainly in long-range performance where fuel economy
was paramount. In 1941 when work of German and English jet engine
developments reached the U. S. it became evident that we would have
to get into this field. A special group was formed for the purpose
and one of the first successful English Whittle engines were brought
over for study. Even so, jet work lagged here; we had just entered
the war and the decision was that we should fight with the weapons
we had at hand, with top priority given to producing them in huge
quantities. When it became possible to do so, NACA entered the jet
field in a big way, and much of its work is now centered on jet
and rocket development.
In 1943 a program of development in the transonic range of speeds
was started; from this has come such early planes as the Bell-X-1
and X-1A, the Douglas D-558 and many more recent types. Information
gained from these craft proved invaluable in the design of transonic
and supersonic military types, and many features of the experimental
series of planes have been and will be copied in the design of future
high speed military and commercial air craft.
While we have concentrated our view on Langley Field, NACA maintains
extensive establishments in several parts of the country, with central
headquarters at Washington, D. C. Langley, concentrating on aerodynamics,
structures, loads and hydrodynamics, has 20 wind tunnels. Ames Aeronautical
Laboratory at Moffett Field, Calif., was founded in 1940 to concentrate
on problems of high-speed aerodynamics. Some of the largest and
fastest tunnels in the world are at Ames; in the former class is
one capable of testing a plane with 70' wingspan at speeds up to
Problems of propulsion are handled at the Lewis Flight Propulsion
Laboratory established in 1942 at the Cleveland Ohio Municipal Airport.
There is the NACA High-Speed Flight Station at Edwards, Calif.,
where full-sized planes are put through their paces, while the NACA
Pilotless Research Station at Wallops Island off the Virginia coast
works with rockets and research models of all sorts. Latest facility
to be started, intended solely for study of nuclear power for aircraft,.
is as Sandusky, Ohio.
Now, what about those lucky chaps who build and test the NACA
models? On NACA's employee roster, approximately 1/3 are scientists
and engineers, another third are skilled trades and craft workers.
All are under the U. S. Civil Service employment system. Many young
workmen without previous experience are hired by NACA and subsequently
trained under an "apprentice system;" this normally runs for 4 years,
during which time apprentices become skilled in such trades as Aircraft
Mechanics, Electrical Work, Electronic Instrument Making, Sheet
Metal Work, Wood Model Making. Those who show high aptitude for
their work may selected at the end of 3 years for a further 2 year
course, upon completion of which they are qualified as Metal Model
Makers, Engineering Draftsmen, etc.
Apprentice salaries start at $2912 f the first year, and by the
fourth year the apprentice is receiving $4160 - very good money
when it is remembered that all this time the apprentice is receiving
invaluable training in one of many skilled trades.
A prime qualification for apprentice applicants is that they
meet one or more of the following requirements: 1) Construction
of at least one model airplane which has made a successful flight
in formal competition; 2) Winning of an honorable mention or better
in formal competition held under the supervision of a national organization
in one of the following fields - a) construction of exact scale
models of mechanical apparatus, b) construction of working models
of mechanical apparatus, c) design of mechanical apparatus; 3) Possession
of an amateur radio operator's license; 4) Satisfactory completion
of 1 year of training in drafting, or in one of the metalworking
or woodworking trades, or in radio or in the electrical trade in
a secondary or trade school of secondary level, or comparable training
in an armed forces technical school.
Applicants must have a physical exam, but various physical handicaps
are not necessarily a bar to employment; in fact physically-handicapped
persons are invited to apply. Minimum age limit is 16 years - there
is no maximum. Applicants who must be U. S. citizens receive credits
for service in the Armed Forces, also for disabilities suffered
in the Forces.
There is a written test which takes about 2 1/2 hours to complete
(you are sent sample questions so you will know what you face in
this examination). Application for employment can be made at any
NACA center mentioned; such application should be on Form 5000-AB
only. This form may be obtained by writing National Advisory Committee
for Aeronautics, 1512 H Street NW, Washington, D. C.
About 80% of NACA professional research workers and scientists
join the staff shortly after they have left college with a bachelor's
degree. College majors vary widely but most degrees are in engineering.
Recent college grads are hired as "aeronautical research interns";
after six months experience and training they are promoted to "aeronautical
research scientist" positions. Those who come to NACA with graduate
degrees or with professional experience are hired as scientists
at higher salaries.
NACA strongly encourages students to work toward advanced degrees,
frequently allows its scientists to use their own NACA research
as the basis for a master's or doctor's thesis.
From the brief exposition of NACA, its work and its help, you
can see that there is room for talented young technical hobbyists.
If you are interested in the wide variety of work offered by NACA,
drop them a line at the Washington address. They will send you complete
Posted June 1, 2014
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Even during the busiest times of my life I have endeavored to maintain some form of model
building activity. This site has been created to help me chronicle my journey through
a lifelong involvement in model aviation, which
all began in Mayo, MD