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
It 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 plane!
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 it 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 planes themselves.
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" help).
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 pretty potent.
It 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 250 mph.
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 information.
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,