Pursuit of Power NASA’s Propulsion Systems Laboratory No. 1 and 2 By Robert S. Arrighi National Aeronautics and Space Administration NASA History Program Office Public Outreach Division NASA Headquarters Washington, DC 20546 SP–2012–4548 2012.
Table of Contents • • Introduction .vii Condensed History of the PSL .ix Preserving the PSL Legacy .ix Endnotes for Introduction .xi Acknowledgments .xiii Chapter 1: Legacy of Aircraft Engine Research .3 Flying High with Feet on the Ground .3 A Call for Nationalization .4 Low-Pressure System .5 Producing Results .6 Barometer of the Future .6 Engine Studies in Cleveland .7 Pulling Ahead.9 Endnotes for Chapter 1 .11 Chapter 2: The Next Big Thing .13 NACA’s Panel of Experts .14 Congressional Authorization .15 The Designers .16 Eugene Wasielewski .17 Propulsion Systems Laboratory Rising .19 Executing the Plans .28 Assembling the Crew .28 Endnotes for Chapter 2 .30 Chapter 3: Harnessing PSL’s Muscle .33 Making Research a Reality .34 Conducting a Test at the Propulsion Systems Laboratory .37 Endnotes for Chapter 3 .51 Chapter 4: Cold War Weapons .53 The Nuclear Navaho .54 Navaho’s 48-Inch-Diameter Powerplants .54 Bob Walker .56 Getting the Damn Engine to Ignite .57 Taking Advantage of the Opportunity .61 Self-Immolation .63 Coda .63 Defense Missiles .64 Howard Wine .66 Testing the Turbojets .67 iii.
Pursuit of Power General Electric 1950s Successes .67 Ill-Fated Avro Project .68 Endnotes for Chapter 4 .70 Chapter 5: The Rocket Era .75 Cleveland Rockets .75 Transformation .76 Hypersonic Heating .77 John Kobak .80 Neal Wingenfeld .81 Homemade Rockets .82 Star of the Rocket Engine Era .85 The RL-10 Gets Worked Over .87 Sitting on Top of All That Hydrogen .88 Rocket Division Arrives .91 Primitive Propulsion .91 End of an Era .94 Endnotes for Chapter 5 .95 Chapter 6: Jet Engines Roar Back .99 Airbreathing Research Personnel .100 Supersonic Calibration .103 Artificial Distortion .105 Treatments .106 Slower, Better, Cheaper .107 The Compass Cope .108 Hazards Exposed .110 Endnotes for Chapter 6 .112 Chapter 7: The Third Step .117 Another Giant Emerges .117 Flutter .124 Full-Scale Engine Programs .125 Pratt & Whitney F100.125 J85-21.126 Highly Maneuverable Aircraft Technology .127 Fly by Wire .128 Remote Control .129 Multivariable Control .130 Complete Control .131 Glory Days .132 Endnotes for Chapter 7 .133 Chapter 8: No Tomorrow .137 The Long Winter .137 Demolition Decision .138 iv.
NASA’s Propulsion Systems Laboratory No. 1 and 2 Pulling PSL Down .140 Historical Mitigation .145 PSL Legacy .147 Endnotes for Chapter 8 .148 Bibliographic Essay .149 Interview List .151 Website .153 NASA History Series .155 Reference Works, NASA SP–4000 Series .155 Management Histories, NASA SP–4100 Series .156 Project Histories, NASA SP–4200 Series .157 Center Histories, NASA SP–4300 Series .158 General Histories, NASA SP–4400 Series .159 Monographs in Aerospace History, SP–4500 Series .160 Electronic Media, SP–4600 Series .162 Conference Proceedings, SP–4700 Series .163 Societal Impact, SP–4800 Series .163 List of Images .165 Index .169 v.
Introduction • • A s the Sun set on a pleasant late September evening In just weeks, United Nations forces would launch the in 1952, the exterior lights of the new Propulsion Sys- ill-fated Battle of Triangle Hill—the last major offen- tems Laboratory (PSL) were illuminated. A photogra- sive of the Korean War; General Dwight Eisenhower pher and his assistant set up their tripod and camera would be elected President, and the first hydrogen at several locations around the facility, attempting to bomb would be detonated in the Marshall Islands.
Pursuit of Power There were several ways to test engines, but test stands PSL’s two chambers, referred to as “PSL No. 1 provided the most efficient and useful method. A sin- and 2,” could simulate the internal airflow conditions gle stand could be used to study many types of engines experienced by the nation’s most powerful engines over in an environment that was safer and more efficient a full range of power and altitude levels. This allowed than that on research aircraft. Efficiency improved researchers to analyze the engine’s thrust, fuel con- because installing instrumentation and measuring sumption, airflow limits, combustion blowout levels, thrust is more difficult in flight research.3 acceleration, starting characteristics, and an array of other parameters. The range of PSL’s studies was later Pilots found early on that engines behave differently expanded to include noise reduction, flutter, inlet dis- in altitude conditions than at sea level, and engineers tortions, and engine controls.
NASA’s Propulsion Systems Laboratory No. 1 and 2 Condensed History of the PSL NACA management initiated its plans for the PSL in Building, since renamed the Central Air and November 1947, and construction started two years Equipment Building, continue to operate today. later. When the facility began operating in October The PSL remains the National Aeronautics and 1952, PSL No. 1 was used for turbojet studies while Space Administration’s (NASA’s) sole facility for PSL No. 2 concentrated on ramjets. testing full-scale aircraft engines in simulated flight conditions. By the late 1950s, Pratt & Whitney, Wright Aero- nautical, and the U.S. Air Force began building their The PSL proved to be a robust test facility that could own propulsion labs and altitude facilities. The PSL keep pace with the relentless advance of aerospace remained a vital resource by continually upgrading technology over the decades. The original chambers its two chambers, control room, and air-handling sys- were versatile enough to study emerging propulsion tem. The installation of a pebble bed heater in the late systems such as the turbojet, ramjet, chemical roc- 1950s permitted hypersonic studies, and the installa- ket, and turbofan engines. Work in the PSL on the tion of a flamespreader in the mid-1960s allowed more RL-10 rocket engine was essential to the success of powerful engines to be tested without damaging the the Centaur Program. The PSL served as a key cooling equipment. component in the center’s 65-year history of testing engines at altitude conditions.