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Expanding the Envelope

Expanding the Envelope: Flight Research at NACA and NASA

Michael H. Gorn
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 488
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  • Book Info
    Expanding the Envelope
    Book Description:

    Expanding the Envelopeis the first book to explore the full panorama of flight research history, from the earliest attempts by such nineteenth century practitioners as England's Sir George Cayley, who tested his kites and gliders by subjecting them to experimental flight, to the cutting-edge aeronautical research conducted by the NACA and NASA.

    Michael H. Gorn explores the vital human aspect of the history of flight research, including such well-known figures as James H. Doolittle, Chuck Yeager, and A. Scott Crossfield, as well as the less heralded engineers, pilots, and scientists who also had the "Right Stuff." While the individuals in the cockpit often receive the lion's share of the public's attention,Expanding the Envelopeshows flight research to be a collaborative engineering activity, one in which the pilot participates as just one of many team members.

    Here is more than a century of flight research, from well before the creation of NACA to its rapid transformation under NASA. Gorn gives a behind the scenes look at the development of groundbreaking vehicles such as the X-1, the D-558, and the X-15, which demonstrated manned flight at speeds up to Mach 6.7 and as high as the edge of space.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5894-5
    Subjects: Technology, Transportation Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Expanding the Enveloperelates the history of flight research practiced by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), during the twentieth century. The title suggests a pivotal (but certainly not the sole) objective of flight research: identifying the limits of aircraft performance. More often than not, envelope expansion has been associated in the public mind with speed. But altitude, maneuverability, stability and control, and endurance (among others) are equally important. Indeed, expanding the envelope involved far more than placing a courageous individual in the cockpit to push the operational boundaries....

  5. Chapter 1 Early Flight Research The First Century
    (pp. 9-40)

    Among the technical achievements unique to the twentieth century, human flight holds a privileged place. Before 1900, no person had ever flown successfully in a powered, heavier-than-air machine. Toward the end of 1903, an American broke the thrall of gravity when he shook his brother’s hand, tripped the release of their slender biplane, and in twelve seconds flew over 120 feet before his machine shuddered to a halt in the sand.¹ Less than one hundred years later, engineers and scientists conceived the reusable launch vehicle, designed to take off vertically, to race through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds, and to...

  6. Chapter 2 Flight Research Takes Off Modest Beginnings
    (pp. 41-96)

    After three years of hard toil, the day finally arrived to dedicate the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. In contrast to the pessimism felt over the past year and a half, the dignitaries attending the event on June 11, 1920, saw an inspiring show. Brigadier General William “Billy” Mitchell put a twenty-five-plane formation through its paces, and other aerial exhibitions flew overhead. Rear Admiral David Taylor, Chief Constructor of the Navy, called the laboratory no less than “a shrine to which all visiting aeronautical engineers and scientists will be drawn.” Other civilian and military speakers followed, heaping expectations on the lab...

  7. Chapter 3 Necessary Refinements Flying-Qualities Research
    (pp. 97-144)

    Once flight research won its fame during the pressure distribution investigation, the NACA lost no time in applying its techniques to many different programs. Some of the new undertakings, like loads measurement, could be realized only by instrumenting and flying the aircraft. Other projects, in contrast, involved multiple research approaches, flight testing being but one of several avenues. In part, the diversification of the NACA’s techniques reflected a deepening experience with flight research. The sometimes perilous conditions under which pilots had collected pressure distribution and other data suggested the limitations of full-scale flying and implied the need for more sophisticated...

  8. Chapter 4 First Among Equals Supersonic Flight
    (pp. 145-199)

    For the most part, George Lewis and his superiors on the NACA Main and Executive Committees concerned themselves with the technical advancement of aeronautics. But such experienced and worldly men as Chief of the Army Air Corps General Oscar Westover, Joseph Ames, Orville Wright, and Edward P. Warner also paid close attention to the international role of aviation and took due note of air-power research conducted by other powers. During the mid-1930s, John Jay Ide, the NACA’s intelligence officer in Paris, sent urgent cables to the NACA leadership describing massive European building programs: a full-scale wind tunnel in Chalais-Meudon, France,...

  9. Chapter 5 A Leap Out of Water The Research Airplane Program
    (pp. 200-252)

    Despite his extraordinary tenacity, Walt Williams finally conceded defeat. Try as he might to adhere strictly to the NACA traditions of flight research during the early phases of the XS-1 program, he saw a portion of these time-honored practices transfigured in the wake of Chuck Yeager’s success. Typically, Langley flight test programs received little or no public notice and focused on a set of conservative experimental objectives. The Research Airplane Program swept away these conventions. Concealment of the XS-1 became impossible after attempts by the U.S. Air Force to disguise or deny the conquest of Mach 1 only intensified press...

  10. Chapter 6 Slower and Cheaper Lifting Bodies Flight Research
    (pp. 253-296)

    Even during its halcyon days, the X-15 worried many at the Flight Research Center. At first, the worry stemmed from technical uncertainties. But once its place in the annals of aeronautics became obvious, another set of anxieties arose, this time involving the aircraft’s full impact on the FRC. In time, the program’s achievements and notoriety almost overwhelmed the center, engulfing the staff and diverting it from other projects. Its employees found themselves taxed as never before to account for the unprecedented flow of money, hire new staff, handle the crush of public inquiries, monitor the contractors and their subcontractors, maintain...

  11. Chapter 7 A Tighter Focus The Pursuit of Practical Projects
    (pp. 297-342)

    The lifting body projects left a deep imprint on NASA flight research. Informed by their lessons of local initiative and scrupulous cost-control, managers at the Flight Research Center subsequently applied these techniques to a number of practical programs related to civil and military aeronautics. But the new patterns of NASA flight research did not merely borrow from recent experiences with the wingless aircraft; powerful forces external to the space agency also governed the choices. When President Kennedy announced to Congress in 1961 the initiation of a lunar flight program, those involved in NASA aeronautics realized their investigations faced inevitable curtailment....

  12. Chapter 8 New Directions
    (pp. 343-393)

    Despite declining agency budgets and lower profile projects during the 1970s, NASA flight researchers nonetheless undertook several investigations that yielded beneficial results. Ames Research Center demonstrated the practicality and efficiency of the tilt-rotor concept. Langley fostered the invention and orchestrated testing of the supercritical wing. Finally, the Flight Research Center pioneered parameter identification and disseminated its techniques internationally, developed the world’s first completely nonmechanical flight control system in digital fly-by-wire, and began a series of crucial contributions to the fledgling Space Transportation System (STS). Yet, entering the 1980s, there remained an uneasy feeling that the best days of flight research...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 394-402)

    For the better part of a century, the United States government has sponsored aeronautical research at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and its successor, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. From the earliest days at Langley, engineers availed themselves of the techniques of flight research, and succeeding generations of NACA and NASA researchers continued to rely on it. If anything, its value has increased over the years. Flight research has demonstrated an expanding capacity to collect accurate and complete flight data; to infuse itself with new tools like parameter estimation to analyze and extrapolate such data; and to marshal...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 403-446)
  15. Glossary
    (pp. 447-456)
  16. Index
    (pp. 457-474)