NASA


Home

Staff and leadership

Space flight programs

Manned programs

X-15 rocket plane

Project Mercury

Project Gemini

Apollo program

Skylab

Apollo–Soyuz Test Project

Space Shuttle program

International Space Station

Commercial programs

Beyond Low Earth Orbit program

National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics

The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) was a U.S. federal agency founded on March 3, 1915, to undertake, promote, and institutionalize aeronautical research. On October 1, 1958, the agency was dissolved, and its assets and personnel transferred to the newly created National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NACA was an initialism, i.e. it was pronounced as discrete letters, rather than as a whole word (as was NASA during the early years after being established).
On January 29, 1920, President Wilson appointed pioneering flier and aviation engineer Orville Wright to NACA's board. By the early 1920s, it had adopted a new and more ambitious mission: to promote military and civilian aviation through applied research that looked beyond current needs. NACA researchers pursued this mission through the agency's impressive collection of in-house wind tunnels, engine test stands, and flight test facilities. Commercial and military clients were also permitted to use NACA facilities on a contract basis.
In 1922, NACA had 100 employees. By 1938, it had 426. In addition to formal assignments, staff were encouraged to pursue unauthorized "bootleg" research, provided that it was not too exotic. The result was a long string of fundamental breakthroughs, including "thin airfoil theory" (1920s), "NACA engine cowl" (1930s), the "NACA airfoil" series (1940s), and the "area rule" for supersonic aircraft (1950s). On the other hand, NACA's 1941 refusal to increase airspeed in their wind tunnels set Lockheed back a year in their quest to solve the problem of compressibility encountered in high speed dives made by the Lockheed P-38 Lightning.
In the years immediately preceding World War II, NACA was involved in the development of several designs that served key roles in the war effort. When engineers at a major engine manufacturer were having issues producing superchargers that would allow the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress to maintain power at high altitude, a team of engineers from NACA solved the problems and created the standards and testing methods used to produce effective superchargers in the future. This enabled the B-17 to be used as a key aircraft in the war effort. The designs and information gained from NACA research on the B-17 were used in nearly every major U.S. military powerplant of the Second World War. Nearly every aircraft used some form of forced induction that relied on information developed by NACA. Because of this, U.S.-produced aircraft had a significant power advantage above 15,000 feet, which was never fully countered by Axis forces.
The X-1 program was first envisioned in 1944 when a former NACA engineer working for Bell Aircraft approached the Army for funding of a supersonic test aircraft. Neither the Army nor Bell had any experience in this area, so the majority of research came from the NACA Compressibility Research Division, which had been operating for more than a year by the time Bell began conceptual designs. The Compressibility Research Division also had years of additional research and data to pull from, as its head engineer was previously head of the high speed wind tunnel division, which itself had nearly a decade of high speed test data by that time. Due to the importance of NACA involvement, Stack was personally awarded the Collier Trophy along with the owner of Bell Aircraft and test pilot Chuck Yeager.