Category The Apollo of aeronautics

Curing Sick Engines—Engine Component Improvement

It was Raymond Colladay’s responsibility to establish the three ACEE propulsion projects at Lewis Research Center. Having started his career at Lewis in 1969. he moved to NASA Headquarters in 1979 to become the Deputy Associate Administrator of the Office of Aeronautics and Space Technology, and then head of DARPA in 1985. Colladay recalled that, at the time he was helping to develop the ACEE program, it was an easy sell to Congress. “The general tenor of Congress and the country as a whole was focused on energy efficiency.” and “therefore the Congress was pretty receptive to NASA trying to do what it could in research for energy effi­ciency." The biggest hurdle was the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Ideologically, its concern was the proper role of Government in a research and development enterprise. The OMB did not want NASA developing applications for the aircraft industry. While this was not a problem for the majority of the ACEE programs, Colladay said, “the area that caused them the greatest concern was the ECI program because it was component improvements in existing engines, existing aircraft engines.”[193] [194]

Curing Sick Engines—Engine Component Improvement

Three of the engines studied in the Engine Component Improvement (ECI) project. The EC1 engineers’ mission was to improve various components on existing engines that were most likely to wear and decrease fuel efficiency. (NASA Glenn Research Center [NASA GRC].)

The Engine Component Improvement project was unique among all the ACEE programs in that it was expected to return quick results. While other projects looked to incorporate fuel savings advances over 10 to 15 years, ECI aimed to incorporate new technologies within 5 years. The project did not call for revolutionary advances or fundamental changes to existing airplanes. Instead, the mission of the ECI engineers was to improve the components on existing engines that were most likely to wear and decrease fuel efficiency. Pratt & Whitney Aircraft and General Electric manufactured most of the commercial aircraft engines in the United States in the 1970s, and both of these companies collaborated closely with Lewis Research Center on the ACEE project. According to the ECI statement of work, written in December 1976. the main objectives of the program were to “(1) develop performance improvement and retention concepts which will be incorporated into new production of the existing engines by the 1980-1982 time period and which would have a fuel savings goal of 5 percent over the life of these engines, and (2) to provide additional technology which can be used to minimize the performance degradation of current and future engines."25

In 1976, four jet engines that were responsible for powering all com­mercial aviation in the United States. These engines consumed 10-billion gallons of fuel per year.-4 The ECI project focused specifically on devel­oping fuel-saving techniques for the JT9D, JT8D, and CF6 engines. It ignored the JT3D. the fourth major engine, because most industry ana­lysts believed it would not be produced in the future. Introduced in 1964, the Pratt & Whitney JT8D engine was a “phenomenal success” and at its height of popularity flew 12.000 aircraft of different types.25 Two years later, Pratt & Whitney introduced the JT9D engine, often referred to as opening a “new era in commercial aviation ” because it was the first high-bypass engine to power a wide-body aircraft. It was first installed on the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet. and Pan American placed the first order for this new jet in April 1966.26 The CF6, a General Electric engine first introduced in 1971, was used on the DC-10 and became the cornerstone of its wide-body engine business for more than 30 years.

The organizations involved in the ECI program read like a who’s who of the airlines industry in America at the time. Beginning in February 1977, NASA awarded the two major contracts to General Electric and Pratt & Whitney.27 Because these companies stood to increase their sales significantly thanks to these NASA advances, a cost recoupment clause was included in their contracts. They were to pay to the U. S. Treasury a 10-percent return on every sale of one of these improved engine compo­nents. which was how the ACEE administrators persuaded the OMB to let [195] [196] [197] [198] [199]

Curing Sick Engines—Engine Component Improvement

Pan Am-Boeing 747 flying in 1975. It was one of the main types of aircraft used to test and incorporate ACEE fuel-saving technology. (NASA Glenn Research Center [NASA GRC).)

them go ahead with the ECI project. Every engine that went into active service and had a component traceable to ECI triggered this recoupment. Colladay recalled, ‘’It was a bigger headache than any money it derived, and NASA never saw the money anyway, it went into the Treasury."211

General Electric and Pratt & Whitney then established subcontracts with American Airlines. Trans World Airlines, United Airlines. Douglas Aircraft, and Boeing. In addition. Lew is Research Center also contracted with Pan American (for an international route analysis) and Eastern Airlines (for domestic analysis of the technology ) to review’ the program independently and provide ongoing assessments for 30 months.[200] [201] All of these contracts called for three specific tasks: feasibility analysis, development and evalu­ation in ground test facilities, and in-service and flight-testing. According to Colladay, the reason for the inclusion of essentially all the major airlines

in the United States was to “generate a broad base of support” and ensure the highest probability that the ECI technology would be rapidly retrolitted into existing engines or incorporated into new engine builds.10

Although getting this broad base of support was important, it did generate some problems—most notably in the relationship between General Electric and Pratt & Whitney. Though within the ECI program they worked together with NASA, in the real world. General Electric and Pratt & Whitney were fierce competitors. Theirs was a historic rivalry. After World War II. Pratt & Whitney dominated in the commercial air­craft engine market, while General Electric was more closely aligned with the military. However, their spheres of influence shifted over time, and by 1977, Pratt & Whitney began losing ground to General Electric in the commercial market. This set the stage, in the early 1980s, for what some have called the "great engine war” between the two companies.4

Because of this, the collaboration was sometimes difficult. Pratt & Whitney thought there were “major problem areas” with their relationship. Nored. head of the NASA Energy Conservative Engines Office, admitted that the office was having “extreme difficulty" with Pratt & Whitney and said. “I think they are suffering a corporate reaction to the increasing com­petition by GE (JT9D vs. CF6).” Both of these engines were scheduled to be improved within ECI. Nored thought the company was nervous about the Freedom of Information Act and as a result wanted to classify all of its research as proprietary. Pratt & Whitney also, in his opinion, sought more and more governmental support to “augment their technology in ways that can influence immediate sales.” In accepting this assistance, the company had to learn how to work in the much more open governmental research atmosphere, and sometimes this included being bedmates with chief rivals. For example, General Electric had expressed no concerns about sharing pro­prietary information, and Nored concluded that Pratt & Whitney needed to “bite the bullet.”’- The program continued despite its often-stated concerns. [202] [203] [204]

There were two main thrusts to EC1 —Performance Improvement and Engine Diagnostics. The Performance Improvement section began with a feasibility study to examine a variety of concepts and to prove which one might offer the highest fuel-savings results for the airlines industry. The study looked at the development of an analytical procedure to deter­mine possible concepts, the identification and categorization of concepts, preliminary concept screening, and detailed concept screening. Engineers evaluated 95 concepts for the Pratt & Whitney engines and another 58 concepts for the General Electric engine. The job of the airline industry was to "assess the desirability and practicality of each concept."3′ The con­cepts were evaluated on two main criteria—technical and economic fac­tors. Technical factors included performance, weight, maintenance, fuel – savings potential, material compatibility, development time, and technical risk, while economic factors included fuel prices, engine cost, production levels, operating costs, return on investment, and life expectancy. Using these criteria, the 153 initial concepts were quickly reduced to 18 and 29, respectively. They were then reviewed in greater detail by NASA and the airlines, which identified 16 concepts that could meet their goals.

The content of these projects can be broken into several important areas. The first was leak reduction. An aircraft engine is similar to an air pump in that it moves air from in front of it to the back. By adding energy to it, the speed of the air moving through the exhaust is faster than what originally came through the inlet. Any air leak in this system caused it to be inefficient, just like an air pump leak. ECI engineers looked for areas in which engine seals could be improved to reduce this leakage. A second major area for improvement was in aerodynamics: ECI engineers devel­oped improved designs of the compressor and turbines. A third area was ceramic coatings on components, which was important because it reduced the necessity of cooling holes and both increased efficiency and reduced manufacturing costs.

Specifically, the 16 projects, and their related engine types, were as follows. For the JT8D. they included an improved high-pressure turbine air seal, high-pressure turbine blade, and a trenched tip high-pressure compressor. JT9D improvements for the high-pressure turbine included a [205] ceramic outer seal, a thermal barrier coating, active clearance control, and new fan technology. CF6 improvements were a new fan, a front mount for the engine, a short core exhaust nozzle, improved aerodynamics for the high-pressure turbine, a roundness control for the turbine, and active clear­ance controls for the turbine. There were two other aircraft-related proj­ects: a nacelle drag reduction for the DC-9 and compressor bleed reduction for the DC-10. The ECI Performance Improvement program was signifi­cant thanks to its success after only a few’ years of research, testing, and development. According to Jeffrey Ethell,“By 1982 most of the improved components were flying and saving fuel, giving the companies involved a firm leg up in the commercial aircraft marketplace, w here they were being challenged by foreign competition."14

The Engine Diagnostics program focused on analyzing and testing the JT9D and CF6 engines.[206] [207] [208] Pan Am engineers considered this to be the “most significant work” of the ECI program. An often-used logo for the Engine Diagnostics program was an engine with a human face, frowning, tongue sticking out. and arms clasped over its midsection. A country doc­tor hunched over it, tools sticking out of his pockets, examining an x-ray machine, diagnosing a w ay to “cure the sick engine.” While just a carica­ture, it did simplistically convey the fundamental goals of this program. The engine “illnesses” were the performance losses they experienced as their flight hours increased. The “doctors” were the Lewis engineers, whose job was to determine the mechanical sources of these problems and recommend ways to “cure" the sick machines. Their recommendations could keep existing engines healthy and help to prevent the deterioration of future engines.3*

One known problem with these or any type of engines wfas that over time, various components begin to deteriorate because of operational stresses, which included combustors that w’arped because of continual fluctuation in temperatures from hot to cold, compressor blades whose tips w’ore down over time, seals that began to leak hot gases, and turbine blades eroding from high temperatures. Other types of damage could occur when foreign objects such as stones or dust entered the engines on the runway and caused dents, breaks, or scratches to the fan blades. The engines were durable and could typically tty for 10.000 hours before they needed major maintenance, but during that time, the engine slowly became less and less fuel efficient because of small degradations that did not compromise the safety of the aircraft. Furthermore, the major maintenance sessions never restored the engines to their original levels of fuel efficiency. Pan American engineers said that prior to the ECI Engine Diagnostics program, “engine deterioration had been largely a matter of educated guessing, speculation, and hand-waving.”” This deterioration became the focus of the Engine Diagnostics program, and engineers estimated that by preventing these wear-and-tear issues, aircraft would become more fuel efficient.

Engine Diagnostics engineers from NASA, General Electric, and Pratt & Whitney began their work by evaluating the existing data on perfor­mance deterioration from the airline industry and engine manufacturers. The data included in-flight recordings, ground-test data, and information on how frequently various parts were repaired and replaced. Additional data, needed on the JT9D and CF6. were obtained though special monitor­ing devices, as well as analysis gained from a complete teardown and eval­uation of the engines. Special ground tests were developed to experiment with short – and long-term performance deterioration. These ground tests helped engineers simulate operating conditions to determine the sources of component deterioration. From the data they collected, they identified certain components whose failure rates could be improved upon/1*

One concern, raised by Pratt & Whitney, was that the deterioration information on its engines was being used by its competitors. Its company slogan was “Dependable Engines," and extensive publications as to how they deteriorated over time was. in its opinion, damaging to its reputation; [209] [210] [211]

Specifically, the company had evidence that Rolls-Royce, a British engine competitor, used the ECI deterioration data from the JT9D and CF6 engines in its then-current marketing campaign, demonstrating the superiority of Rolls-Royce engines. A 1979 letter from Pratt & Whitney’s legal team to NASA expressed concerns that the ECI program would “adversely affect" its marketing and future sales potential. The team wanted NASA to change its dissemination policy for technical reports to protect the Pratt & Whitney “marketing position" for its engines.[212] NASA responded that this was an unintended consequence of the ECI program and the effort to improve engines for the United States airlines industry. Furthermore, according to NASA, Pratt & Whitney’s role in the program had been voluntary and had the “full backing and support of P&W management.” NASA officials had informed the companies at the outset that comparisons between the engines would be made, and both Pratt & Whitney and General Electric “realized the consequences of enter­ing into the program and accepted them.”[213]

The independent outside evaluations by Pan American and Eastern Airlines were an important part of the ECI project. The independent reports by Pan American World Airways are especially revealing. The reports were based upon 10 meetings held during the project in which NASA, General Electric, and Pratt & Whitney representatives summa­rized their work for the Pan America review committee. The first meet­ing, held at John F. Kennedy Airport in March 1977, was a get-acquainted session for the various participants to discuss early concepts, directions, and goals for the project.[214] By the sixth meeting, in September 1978, Pan American was expressing serious concerns, characterizing the program as “disappointing" and criticizing the ECI engineers for taking a “very con­servative approach," rather than a “considerably more aggressive" one. “We are also greatly concerned that the manufacturers appear to be losing sight of the basic objective of this program," Pan American concluded at the time.[215] By the end of the program. Pan American engineers saw significant areas of improvement and at one of the final reviews offered substantial praise to the program, saying, “In spite of what may have been interpreted as high critical comments during various review presentations”the pro­gram has resulted in “important knowledge” and was “quite successful.”[216] In fact, the ECI project was one of the more successful of the ACEE programs, for several reasons. The first reason was the speed with which improvements were incorporated onto commercial aircraft —many of the projects findings found their way into commercial aircraft engines before other ACEE programs even had their first test flights. John E. McAulay, the head of the ECI Performance Improvement project, presented the posi­tive results of the project’s work at the January 1980 Aerospace Sciences Meeting, just 3 years after the program began. While it “has already provided significant potential for reductions in the fuel consumed by the commercial air transport fleet,” he said he was optimistic that even greater savings were possible through their ongoing studies.[217] By March 1980. the ECI engineers had produced 20 technical papers, 21 contractor reports. 4 technical memo­randums, 6 conference publications, and 8 journal and magazine articles.[218]* Second, the organizations that benefited most from the project were very enthusiastic about the results when ECI ended. In 1980. Harry C. Stonecipher (General Electric vice president and general manger) wrote to John McCarthy (Director of Lewis Research Center) to highlight the program’s value to his company, writing that it generated a “wealth of knowledge” and that its main beneficiaries were the airline industry. He estimated the savings of this “invaluable” research at a reduction of 10 gallons of fuel for the CF6 engine for each hour of flight. Stonecipher concluded, “We at General Electric want you to be aware of the benefits this program has provided, and the tremendous potential for the years ahead.”[219]

Third, the ECI program helped to maintain the competitive advan­tage of the entire commercial aircraft industry. For example, in February 1980, Boeing executives approached NASA to ask if they could disclose results of the ECI program to foreign airlines, because in order to sell new American aircraft in the international marketplace, the company needed to show its more advanced understanding of engine deterioration and how to improve engine performance. NASA agreed with Boeing’s request and stated. “In order to meet the challenge presented by interna­tional competition, it is appropriate that the U. S. aircraft industry use the technology generated in the ECI program to maintain its dominant posi­tion in the marketplace.”4*As Roger Bilstein wrote, “Research results were so positive and so rapidly adaptable that new airliners in the early 1980s like the Boeing 767 and McDonnell Douglas MD-80 series used engines that incorporated many such innovations.”[220] [221] [222] Though the fuel-efficiency rewards were never intended to be as high as in other ACEE programs (including the Energy Efficient Engine), ECI was successful in achieving a significant fuel reduction of roughly 5 percent, exactly what its engineers projected at the onset of the program.

The Frontiers of Engine Technology — The Energy Efficient Engine

In the early 1980s. the aircraft industry had endured numerous difficulties, including reduced profitability, increasing fuel costs, higher worker wages, political pressures with deregulation, and increasing worldwide competi­tion. Many once-dominant airlines were fighting for their survival, includ­ing Pan Am. Pratt & Whitney and General Electric, two of the leading U. S. engine manufacturers, were “cutting each others’ throats, and prices,” and experiencing increasing difficulties competing in the world market against the British government-owned Rolls-Royce.30 But according to one 1983 report, despite these problems, the “airline industry in the years ahead

The Frontiers of Engine Technology — The Energy Efficient Engine

Model of the E* technology improvements. These included improved component aerodynamics, improved compressor loading, active clearance control, low emissions combustor, and higher-temperature materials. (NASA Glenn Research Center |NASAGRC].)

looks a bit rosier.” One major reason cited for this optimism was a “less noticed effort” that involved the redesign of the aircraft engine itself.[223] [224] This was another ACEE project managed by Lewis Research Center, known as the Energy Efficient Engine. As Forbes magazine reported, EJ was a "NASA success story.. . thoroughly overshadowed by the glamor­ous space programs.”’2

Given their intense competition. Pratt & Whitney and General Electric were strange bedfellows, but they continued this relationship in the Ei project. Each organization had ideas about how to improve fuel efficiency for aircraft engines, but neither was willing to accept the risk, in both time and money, to develop these ideas on its own. NASA stepped in to assume the majority of the risk, providing $90 million to each company, with a promise that each would invest $10 million of its own. This program had

The Frontiers of Engine Technology — The Energy Efficient Engine

GE Energy Efficient Engine (June 16.1983). (NASA Glenn Research Center |NASAGRC|.)

several main goals: to reduce fuel consumption by 12 percent, decrease operating costs by 5 percent, meet FAA noise regulations, and conform to proposed EPA emission standards. Additional goals included guidelines for minimum takeoff thrust and a safe and rugged engine with a 10-percent weight reduction.5′ The engines used for benchmarking fuel efficiency were the same ones used for the ECI studies—the Pratt & Whitney JT9D and the General Electric CF6. Also as in the ECI program, these two prime contractors worked with the airlines to discuss engine design options. These included Boeing. Douglas, and Lockheed. Eastern Airlines and Pan American served as additional advisers and contributed opera­tional experience.

The program was managed by Carl Ciepluch at Lewis (as well as Raymond Colladay for a time), Ray Bucy at General Electric, and W. B. Gardner at Pratt & Whitney. Bucy was extremely enthusiastic about this program, saying that the E’ program was “guiding the future of aircraft engines.”[225] [226] Fuel-efficient aircraft were very complex technological sys­tems that required extensive and costly research, he believed, but the rewards would be well worth the investment. Bucy hoped the resulting engine would save 1-million gallons of fuel per year for each aircraft fly­ing commercially. Gardner even thought that the program would surpass its expectations “beyond the program goal.”[227] [228]

That goal was to have a new turbofan engine ready for commercial use by the late 1980s or early 1990s. A turbojet derived its power and thrust entirely from the combustion and exhaust of its burning fuel.5* A turbofan is also a turbojet, but it has an extra set of rotating, propeller-like blades, positioned ahead of the engine core. The air from the fan goes partly through the engine core, and the remainder flows around the out­side the engine. The “bypass ratio” is the ratio of air flowing around the engine to the air flow ing through it. When this ratio is either 4 or 5 to 1. the engine is referred to as a “high-bypass engine.” The high-bypass turbofans were more efficient than were either the turbojets or the earlier low-bypass engines developed in the 1950s and 1960s. However, by the 1970s. the high-bypass engines promised greater potential for application to wide – body commercial aircraft, although one of their main problems was their environmental impact, in terms of noise and emissions.” The potential of the high-bypass turbofan engine was the Ei program’s main goal.

The idea for incorporating high-bypass engines into the existing com­mercial airline fleet began in 1974. Two investigations—the “Study of Turbofan Engines Designed for Low Energy Consumption." led by General Electric, and the “Study of Unconventional Aircraft Engines Designed for Low Energy Consumption," led by Pratt & Whitney—demonstrated a great deal of promise. Both studies suggested to NASA the importance of new high-bypass engines. But, as was so often the case, “the cost of such pro­grams. . . [was] enormous,” and the time required to accomplish it was at least a decade.5*1 To make the development more feasible for industry’, the report suggested a continued joint effort led by NASA, with the results made available to all airlines and engine manufacturers. Without governmental support, such an open research atmosphere would have been impossible. “Results from these studies.” wrote Colladay and Neil Saunders, “indicated enough promise to initiate the EEE project.”[229] [230] [231]

In the E‘ program, both General Electric and Pratt & Whitney were given the task of building a new turbofan engine. But the idea was not for them to build a commercial-ready engine. The E; engine was to be used primarily for testing and proof of fuel-efficient concepts. The new technological components included a compressor, fan, turbine-gas-path improvements, structural advances, and improved blading and clearance control. Although the contractors had the same goal, they approached their work within Ел differently.[232] Pratt & Whitney engineers took a

The Frontiers of Engine Technology — The Energy Efficient Engine

Energy Efficient High Pressure Compressor Rig (April 10. 1984). (NASA Glenn Research Center [NASA GRC|.)

“component” strategy and concentrated on developing a high-pressure turbine that could be operated with a lower temperature of hot gas to improve efficiency. General Electric proceeded with a more compre­hensive approach, researching the best way to integrate a new fan. high – pressure compressor, and low-pressure turbine. According to Jeffrey Ethell. the freedom that the contractors had was important: “The ‘clean sheet’ opportunity. .. gave both companies the chance to leave their nor­mal line of evolutionary development and leap forward into high-risk. .. areas to research and aggressively push the frontiers of technology.”[233] Along with these two prime contractors, there were subcontracts with major commercial airframe manufacturers. Boeing, Douglas, and Lockheed provided expertise in areas related to airplane mission defini­tions and engine and airframe integration. Just as in the ECI program. Eastern Airlines and Pan American also provided ongoing evaluation of the results from the perspective of the airlines. NASA also planned to use its own in-house technological advances and other contractors to support specific program needs. NASA never intended to develop a new engine as a product. This was a project for the engine manufactur­ers to achieve after NASA assisted with the proof of concepts. Elements of the ECI program such as improved fans, seals, and mixers were incorporated into the E‘program, and the E‘engineers were also able to apply results from the ECI Engine Diagnostic program to improve engine performance.[234]

A first step in the E’ program was to identify risk factors that might potentially cause the new engine to fail. In an April 1976 letter from James Kramer. Director of the ACEE office, to Donald Nored. the chief of the Energy Conservative Engines Office at Lewis, Kramer asked that the Center perform a “risk assessment of the total E‘ program.”[235] With a list of potential failures in hand, the Center could better under­stand the implication on schedules, cost, and program success. A separate action plan could then be put in place to reduce these risks. Two months later, Nored and Lewis completed the risk assessment. “By nature," wrote Nored, “this is a high risk program, as is true of most advanced technology programs, and there is no way to make it a safe bet.”[236] The best way to minimize risk, according to Nored. was to use multiple con­tractors who were supplied with adequate funds. Both General Electric and Pratt & Whitney took on separate areas of risk that were unique challenges to their approaches and engines. With both companies involved. Nored believed “at least one-half or greater of the stated goal” would be achieved.

As the program got underway, one important advance was a com­puter control system known as a full authority digital electronics control (FADEC). It could monitor and control 10 engine parameters at the same time and communicate information to a pilot. Sensors were known to be one of the least reliable of all engine components. The FADEC system was able to compensate for this problem in case of failure by modeling what the engine should be doing at any given time during a flight. If the sensor failed, then the FADEC. based on its model, could tell the various engine components what they should be doing.[237]

In 1982, budget reductions caused “program redirection” for the EJ project. According to Cecil C. Rosen, the manager of the Lewis propulsion office, this meant changes for both General Electric and Pratt & Whitney in how they planned to complete the project. General Electric proceeded with its core engine test and suspended work on emissions testing and an update for a flight propulsion system. For Pratt & Whitney, the redirection meant a continued focus on component technology as opposed to an over­all engine system evaluation. The main concern with this plan was that it provided more funding for Pratt & Whitney than General Electric because it had “much farther to go in its component technology efforts.” Rosen hoped this “unequal funding,” which went against the original spirit of the E’ program, would be acceptable.[238] [239] [240] [241]

General Electric completed the program with a great deal of success and as early as 1983 was being called the “world’s most fuel-efficient and best-performing turbofan engine.”6′ Bucy, the Program Manager at General Electric, called it “one of the most successful programs on an all-new engine in yearsWhile the low-pressure turbine was a diffi­cult challenge from an aerodynamic perspective, it achieved the desired parameters laid out by NASA at the start of the program to define success. There is a 13-percent improvement in fuel efficiency over the CF6-style engine, which was 1 percent better than required. GE immediately began to incorporate the new technology into its latest engine designs, including the CF6-80E, the latest engine for the Airbus A330, and the GE90 engine for the Boeing 777.M The GE90 first made headlines in 1991 because it “pushed the edge of technology ” not only because it was more efficient, but also because it used another ACEE project. It became the only engine to use composite fan blades, making it 800 pounds lighter, with a 3.5-per­cent fuel savings. It also had a cleaner burn, producing 60 percent less nitrous oxide, and was quieter. Though it was a larger engine, its engineers believed that the wind whistling over the landing gear would produce more noise than the engine. As Christopher D. Clayton, the manager of the GE90 technical programs said,‘’It will give us a much more efficient engine. That’s the real purpose of it."[242] [243] The 777 now Hies with an engine based directly upon the one developed through the efforts of the E’ ACEE program.

Pratt & Whitney also had success with its energy efficient engine technology, though at a slower pace. In 1988, it reported that the “effi­ciency trends show a steady increase”’1 with the E3 technology. But the company still had research to perform to enable it to realize the gains for “tomorrow’s engine." These successes were finally realized in 2007, when it launched the new energy-efficient Geared Turbofan as the engine for the Mitsubishi Regional Jet. This was a 70- to 90-seat passenger aircraft, and Mitsubishi planned to purchase 5,000 of them over the coming 20 years. The technology for this engine could be directly traced back to Pratt & Whitney’s participation in the ACEE program.[244]*

These favorable results of the E* program, as well as the achievements of the EC1 program, resulted in enthusiasm for ACEE. In 1979, Colladay said, “This early success in the first of the ACEE Program elements to near completion is certain to continue as more of the advanced concepts are put into production.”[245] However, this “continued certainty” was seri­ously threatened in 1980 with a new presidency on the horizon. Unlike ECI, which returned such fast and positive results, the other ACEE pro­grams required a longer window to develop and prove their technologies, and their engineers required a commitment of time and money from the United States Government to ensure that their research continued. Just 3 years after the entire program began, there were serious concerns not only for the future of ACEE. but for the future of all aeronautics activi­ties at NASA. For the ACEE participants, the question was: Would the Government terminate such a vital fuel-efficiency program to the Nation early, when it had already had such success with its shorter-term projects like the Engine Component Improvement? For NASA, the question was even more dire: Would the Agency be allowed to continue its work in aeronautics?

The Frontiers of Engine Technology — The Energy Efficient Engine

Aeronautics Wars. at NASA

Aeronautics Wars. at NASAn September II, 1980, 2 months before the presidential elec­

tion. Ronald Reagan wrote a letter to Gen. Clifton von Kann, the senior vice president at the Air Transport Association of America. In it. he outlined the aeronautical objectives of his potential presidency, as well as his criticisms of the Carter era. While not questioning the importance of aviation to the economic and military strength of the Nation. Reagan was highly critical of ongoing programs. “1 am deeply concerned about the state of aeronautical research and development,” he wrote, using as an example the “alarming” slowdown in aircraft exports to other nations, an industry the United States had once dominated. He identified energy efficient aircraft as one critical aviation issue facing the Nation, and of these efforts, he wrote, “Our technological base is languishing.” Reagan promised von Kann, “The trends must be reversed. And I am committed to do just that.”1

Soon after Reagan assumed the presidency, a conservative think tank that played a major role in shaping the philosophy of his Administration made the shocking assertion that the NASA aeronautics program was actu­ally eroding the country’s leadership in aviation. The group, the Heritage Foundation, said. “The program should he abolished."[246] [247] The new Reagan Presidential Administration began to seriously consider taking aeronautics away from NASA and letting industry assume the primary role in research. Richard Wagner, the head of the Laminar Flow Control program at Langley, said, when “Reagan came into office… we didn’t know whether

Aeronautics Wars. at NASA

President Ronald Reagan gets a laugh from NASA officials in Mission Control when he jokingly asks astronauts Joe Engle and Richard Truly if they could stop by Washington en route to their California landing. To his right is NASA Administrator James Beggs (November 13.1981). (NASA Headquarters-Greatest Images of NASA (NASA HQ GRIN].)

we were going to stay alive or not. . . it was a struggle.”’ It was an even greater struggle for his colleagues at Lewis Research Center, as the entire base was threatened with closure. The conflict between NASA and other Government agencies had started slowly in 1979, with general disagree­ments over language in an ACEE report by the Government Accounting Office (GAO). Conflict escalated over budget reductions in 1980 and subsequent cuts for ACEE. But by 1981, the clash became a full-on fight for survival as the Reagan Administration pushed for the closure of Lewis Research Center, the elimination of aeronautics from all of NASA, and the termination of over 1.000 aeronautics jobs. These were the aeronautics wars.

ACEE Battles with the GAD

The roots of this struggle predated Reagan’s inauguration, originating with the controversial 1979 GAO report. For much of NASA’s history. [248] aeronautics programs had never required close oversight because of the low levels at which they were traditionally funded. The large budget and greater visibility of ACEE suddenly brought it unwanted attention. In June 1979, the heads of several key NASA programs were asked to com­ment on “where we’re going in aeronautics.” Donald Nored, Director of the Lewis ACEE program, responded by saying that this is the type of ques­tion that is “perhaps best explored in a leisurely retreat" but complied by answering in a four-page letter. In it. he said that NASA should be respon­sive to major national needs and should focus on “break-through, innova­tive. novel, high risk, and high payoff’ programs. Nored. who was far from an unthinking cheerleader, was critical of some aspects of the NASA aeronautical program. He said that there seemed to be a “hodge-podge” of activities, with NASA trying to do too many things and responding to industry in areas that were too evolutionary and incremental. NASA’s aeronautics should be. according to Nored, “more revolutionary.”

Nored’s final suggestion addressed what he believed to be the most important issue facing aeronautics in 1979 and the future—fuel. “The prob­lem of fuel,” he said, “is an overriding problem to all other technical issues in the field of aeronautics.” Nothing was more important than solving the technological issues represented by rising fuel costs because it threatened the airline industry and the continuation of American prosperity. Nored believed that ACEE was a good beginning, but that even more needed to be done. He advocated for “continued vigorous support” of this and other related fuel efficiency activities, and he pleaded for what he called “agency urgency."*

Nored’s views were almost entirely discounted in a GAO report on ACEE. In August 1979, 2 months after Nored made his suggestions, the GAO released a draft review that was highly critical of the ACEE project. It was the first in a series of reviews the GAO planned for all of NASA’s aeronautical projects. Since ACEE had the greatest visibility and importanceamongallofthem. itreceivedthefirstofthegovemmental reviews. Under the direction of the House Committee on Science and Technology, the review’s goal was to “recommend potential program options for replacing ACEE,” and the GAO went on a 6-month fact-finding mission

4. Emphasis in original. Nored to the NASA director of aeronautics. June 4. 1979. Box 238. Division 8000. NASA Glenn archives.

in 1979 to Lewis and Langley Research Centers, 3 airframe companies, and 2 jet engine companies.[249] [250]

The first observation made by the report was that it was “unclear” if ACEE—which had, after all, only been operational for a few years — would achieve its objectives, although it found that NASA had some “limited technology successes to date.” All of this should have been a likely obser­vation. since the 10-year program was still, for the most part, in its begin­ning phases and was attempting some risky and revolutionary aeronautical research. The report did indicate one of the main reasons the results were unclear—funding. The programs with the highest fuel-savings potential — the Advanced Turboprop, Laminar Flow Control, and Composite Primary Aircraft Structures—were threatened because neither Congress nor the Carter Administration would commit to funding. The report concluded that “the cumulative affect [sic] of these uncertainties highlights why the meeting of ACEE objectives is currently very unclear.”*

The GAO’s analysis of specific ACEE programs was also critical. Of the Lewis projects, it had little positive to say. The report stated that the Engine Component Improvement project was “falling short” of its perfor­mance goal. The Energy Efficient Engine was too new to evaluate, and its chances of meeting goals were “unknown.” Likewise, the GAO admitted that it was “too early to say” if the Advanced Turboprop would be a suc­cess, but that it was 3 years behind schedule. The Langley ACEE programs did not fare much better. The Energy Efficient Transport was criticized because it appeared to the GAO that only Douglas Aircraft would be able to integrate the new fuel-saving technologies, and not Boeing or Lockheed. The GAO called the prospects for the Laminar Flow Control program “uncertain,” believed that NASA was further away than originally thought to achieving its goals, and claimed the program was 4 years behind sched­ule. Finally, the GAO criticized the Composite Primary Aircraft Structures program for failing to develop a composite wing or fuselage, underesti­mating costs, and not foreseeing the hazardous potential effects of car­bon fiber releases into the environment. The GAO concluded that the

ACEE Battles with the GAD

President Jimmy Carter presents the National Space Club’s Goddard Memorial Trophy to NASA Administrator Robert A. Frosch on behalf of the team that planned and executed the Voyager mission. (NASA Headquarters —Greatest Images of NASA [NASA HQ GRIN|.)

composites program would achieve “dramatically less” fuel savings than originally projected.

On January 24, 1980, NASA Administrator Robert Frosch responded vigorously to the draft. Frosch wrote to J.11. Stolarow. the GAO Procurement Director, that after reviewing the report with officials at Langley and Lewis, “We are very concerned about the negative tone of the report and its implica­tions regarding the value of the NASA Aircraft Energy Efficiency (ACEE) Program.” Frosch criticized the reviewers for basing evaluations of the program upon schedules set up in 1975. before the program began. More significantly, he said, the report trivialized the major advances that ACEE had already achieved. Frosch put the full weight of his support behind the program and described it as a “significant contributor” to the overall avia­tion research and technology program in the United States. He praised the Government and industry team for its cooperation and added that the results would have a “major influence on transport aircraft of the future.”[251] [252]

ACEE managers at Lewis, Langley, and Headquarters wrote a more detailed response to the GAO and fought to have its conclusions changed before the GAO released the final report. They argued that in general, the GAO presented a "distorted view" that, if left unchanged, would create the "false impression that the program has been less than successful," jeopardizing future funding for the program and leading essentially to a self-fulfilling prophecy.[253] NASA produced a several-page document that provided a thorough review on how large portions text of the report should be altered to better reflect the realities of the ACEE program.

Their efforts were successful in persuading the GAO to craft a much more positive document. In the final report, "A Look at NASA’s Aircraft Energy Efficiency Program” (July 1980). the GAO explained its rever­sal of language and opinion, saying that in light of NASA’s concerns, it “carefully reevaluated its presentation and made appropriate adjustments where it might be construed that the tone was unnecessarily negative or the data misleading."[254] [255] For example, the first sentences of the original draft chapter on the ACEE status read: "The prospects of ACEE achieving its objectives are unclear. Technical readiness dates are being slipped.”11 This tone was significantly changed in the final published report, which said: “The ACEE program, which is in its 5th funding year, has experienced some technological successes which will be applied on new and derivative airplanes built in the early 1980s. Examples are improved engine compo­nents, lighter airframe components, and improved wings.”[256]

Changes were also made to specific program reviews. John Klineberg, a member of the founding ACEE task force and eventual Lewis Center Director, said that in the original report, the GAO treated the turboprop project unfairly. He called the reviewers ignorant of the project’s “inherent uncertainties,” because from the start, it was considered one of the more risky ACEE programs.’3 Lewis project managers prevailed in persuading the GAO to cast a more favorable light on the turboprop. In the draft, the GAO argued: “The Task Force Report shows that in 1975 there was considerable disagreement on the ultimate likelihood of a turboprop engine being used on commercial airliners”[257] [258] In the final publication, the GAO amended the sentence to read: “The possible use of turboprop engines on 1995 commercial aircraft is still uncertain, but has gained support since 1975 ”[259] [260] These editorial adjustments demonstrated the effectiveness of project managers working to improve public and gov­ernmental understanding of the project. They also highlight the political skills often necessary to ensure technological success, or the perception of success, at NASA.

In August 1980, 1 month after reading the final report, Walter B. Olstad, the Acting Associate Administrator for Aeronautics and Space Technology, felt as if the battle had been won. He said that upon final review, the report “fairly stated” the ACEE progress. He was also pleased to report that in almost every area that NASA expressed objections, the GAO made appropriate changes. Olstad wrote, “while a great deal of our responses to the draft versions of the GAO ACEE report may have sounded negative… (we) appreciate the opportunities afforded during its prepara­tion to make substantive inputs.”1”

The battle exemplified by the NASA and GAO conflict was not unusual. Institutional conflict is more the norm than the exception. In an article about NASA during the Reagan years, political scientist Lyn Ragsdale wrote that conflict between Congress, the Presidency, and NASA occurred often because they operated within a system of separate institu­tions that all shared a power mitigated through checks and balances. "In order to circumvent such conflict,” according to Ragsdale, “officials in one or more institutions must be willing to invest political capital to raise public awareness.”[261] [262] The political fights for ACEE did not end with the GAO conflict. Instead, they intensified as ACEE managers and NASA leaders fought to raise awareness not only of the importance of fuel – efficiency aviation programs, but of NASA’s role in aeronautics itself.

Oil as a Weapon


n October 6, 1973, a terrorist’s bomb shattered the solemn spiritual calm of Yom Kippur. the most sacred of holy days on the Hebrew calendar. A grenade, thrown by someone whom American news­papers referred to as an “Arab guerilla," wounded a soldier and two police­men in Israeli-occupied Gaza City.[32] This was the opening salvo of a mas­sive. coordinated surprise attack on Israel by Egypt and Syria, whose forces crossed the Suez Canal in retaliation for the loss of their land in the Sinai and the Golan I leights during 1967’s Six Day War. Israel quickly mobilized for war. Prime Minister Golda Meir proclaimed the attack an “act of mad­ness.” Her Defense Minister. Moshe Dayan, spoke in starker terms, calling for "all out war" and with a promise that “We will annihilate them."2

Meanwhile, Israel observed this holiest of days as a nation; its citizens spent the day fasting and praying, not listening to the radio or reading newspapers. Many had no idea the attack had occurred until they gathered for Yom Kippur services later that evening. At synagogues throughout the country, rabbis read aloud the names of those being summoned immedi­ately to fight. In one crowded synagogue, a reservist soldier stood as his name was read, and as he turned to leave, his weeping father held him in a tight embrace, refusing to let him go. The rabbi intervened, saying, “His place is not here today.” The rabbi blessed the soldier as his father released him. The Yom Kippur War (or as some called it the October War) had begun.

Over the next 3 weeks, the world witnessed combat whose intensity rivaled that of World War II. With Americans helping to arm Israel and the Soviet Union stockpiling weapons in the Arab nations, some speculated that the next world war was imminent. This did not happen, but the events

of that day affected the lives of all Americans, because of a devastating economic—not military — weapon. The Arab nations retaliated against the West with an oil embargo, dramatically raising the price of oil and reduc­ing the supply. It revealed a significant weakness of the United States, one that demonstrated how closely its economy was aligned with the accessi­bility of oil. Many believe this 1973 confrontation to be the genesis of the 1970s energy crisis. Although it played a major role, the crisis was actually rooted in earlier events.

The New York Times first used of the term “energy crisis’” in relationship to the United States in 1971. In a three-part series titled “Nation’s Energy Crisis,” reporter John Noble Wilford recounted the effects of a Faustian bargain reaching back to the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Dr. Faust, of German legend, was an astrologer and alchemist who sought forbidden knowledge and ultimately sold his soul to the devil. Mephistopheles, to attain it. The story has been used as a symbol for Western civilization’s constant pursuit of power and knowledge.’ Wilford used it to describe America’s situation in 1971. Symbolically, the 19 century’s bucolic envi­ronment was sacrificed for “modern man to command. . . and to harness in the Saturn 5 moon rocket the power of 900,000 horses.”[33] [34] This energy – dependent society had struck the Faustian energy bargain, and. Wilford argued, it resulted in the energy crisis of the 1970s.

Aside from the environmental damage wrought by industrial society, there was also the problem of how to sustain its momentum. The power to drive modern American society is derived in large part from natural resources not within its control. At the time of Wilford’s article, petroleum represented 43 percent of all domestic energy usage. With more than 90 percent of all the oil consumed in the eastern half of the United States com­ing from sources abroad. Wilford argued. “This gives a number of foreign governments a major voice in the price and How of American fuel.”[35] And more than prices were under their control. As one geologist wrote in 1976, “Whoever controls the energy systems can dominate the society.”[36] As the United States became a superpower in the 20th century, the American engine became increasingly powered by a fuel not of its own making. The effects of external control became evident with the onset of the Arab oil embargo.

In 1973. 2 years after the suggestion that the United States was suf­fering from or had an energy crisis, the Arab world began using “oil as a weapon.”[37] [38] [39] The statistical results of the Yom Kippur War included the loss of more than 3,000 lives, as well as billions of dollars expended in military equipment. But for the first time, a new weapon emerged that had the power to destabilize all industrial nations —oil. Because of American support of Israel, Saudi Arabia announced a 10-percent reduction in the flow of oil to the United States and its allies, with the threat of an additional 5-per­cent reduction each month unless the West stopped sending arms to Israel. Saudi Arabia was at the time producing 8!^ million barrels of oil a day. and it represented the third largest oil exporter to America, roughly 400.000 barrels per day.* Similar threats came from other members of the oil cartel, known as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Oil was the lifeblood of the United States, and a shortage or a threat to its access quickly revealed it to be the Nation’s Achilles’ heel.

Although a cease-fire was negotiated by October 22, just weeks after lighting began, the conflict caused an economic ripple effect that spread throughout the world. Neither Israel nor the Arab nations officially won. but the conflict became an important symbol of national identity and strength in the Muslim world. It marked the first time Egyptian soldiers inflicted losses against Israel and won substantial territorial gains. “Crossing the Suez Canal" became a slogan that contributed to a new Arab unity and pride. M The conflict was significant outside the Middle East as well. Superpower patrons had come to the support of both sides, threatening to engulf the world in conflict, and it all but destroyed the detente negotiated by President Richard M. Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev. For the first time, both superpowers had a direct confrontation in the Middle East, and it served to heighten the Cold War’s intensity, renewing the United States’ perceived urgency to match and surpass all Soviet military capabilities.[40] [41]

While the United States was confident it could maintain its pace in the arms race, its leaders recognized a more significant threat in its vulnerability to the “oil weapon." In response, just 1 month after the Yom Kippur War, President Nixon signed the Alaska pipeline bill, allocating S4.5 billion to open the most significant oil reserves in the United States.11 Soon, the Nation’s speed limit would be reduced to 55 miles per hour. But oil from Alaska and slower driving would not solve the immedi­ate crisis. A reporter from the Washington Post called the oil embargo the “biggest, most painful single problem ever met by the U. S. in peacetime.” And many speculated that the stakes could not be higher: “The political and strategic independence of the United States” was being threatened by “oil blackmail.”[42] [43]

By March 1974, OPEC had decreased oil exports by 15 percent (a reduction of 1.5 million barrels a day to the United States) and dramati­cally increased prices. On March 17. the embargo essentially ended, but the impact continued to be felt. One reporter noted that the “oil weapon (which looks more like a shotgun than a rifle) has hit its target.” America suffered worsening inflation, decreasing growth, and continued high oil prices. Many predicted that the “United States economy—and indeed the world econ­omy-will never again be the same as in the pre-embargo days."11

The embargo itself was not responsible for the energy crisis, and its end did not make the country less vulnerable. Thomas Rees, a Democratic Congressman from California, stated that the end of the embargo would mean little security for the United States. “I laving the right to buy Arab oil is having the right to go bankrupt.” Me continued his warning, saying,“It’s not the lack of oil that will ruin the world—it’s the price of oil.”[44]

The price of a barrel of oil in the past year alone had increased 450 percent, from $2.59 to $11.65. The price of a gallon of gasoline increased from 38.5 cents in May 1973 to 55.1 cents in June 1974. There seemed to be only one immediate answer to the problem—conservation.

Many oil industry experts thought that the United States could “get by without the Arab oil imports primarily by reducing American consumption.”[45] As early as 1973, vocal proponents called for “strong conversation measures,” including new technologies, which would reduce America’s energy dependence and lessen the effectiveness of the Arabnations’ oil weapon in ’“political and economic warfare”[46] [47] A conser­vation strategy became the primary means to counter the effects of the energy crisis. Despite the urgency, it would be nearly 2 years after the oil embargo before American politicians began to pursue actively a solution to the problem.

To bring attention to this negligence, on January 29. 1975, a group of American scientists that included 11 Nobel Prize winners published a dire warning: the U. S. was facing “the most serious situation since World War II.” The threat was the “energy crisis," and the group believed that the country was “courting energy disaster” through its lethargy, ignorance, and confusion.1 Nobel laureate Hans A. Bethe, a Cornell University phys­icist, drafted the report. He and his colleagues warned that “our whole mode of life may come to an end unless we find a solution.”[48] [49] In agreement with Bethe’s analysis, some reporters chastised the U. S. Government for “fiddling while the energy runs out.”14

While President Gerald R. Ford had recently devised an energy pro­gram that included a $l-per-barrel excise tax on foreign oil, most believed his modest research initiatives would be ineffective. Even Ford was criti­cal of the U. S. Congress and its lack of action on this increasingly impor­tant issue. He thought his excise tax proposal would in a sense, be “putting a gun to Congress’s head,” to try to motivate it to propose a plan to solve

Oil as a Weapon

President Gerald R. Ford meets with Soviet and American space leaders to examine the Soviet Soyuz spacecraft model from a model set depicting the 1975 Apollo Soyuz Test Project, an Earth orbital docking and rendezvous mission with crewmen from the U. S. and U. S.S. R. (September 7.1974). (NASA Johnson Space Center [NASA JSC].)

the crisis. On January 31,1975. a New York Times reporter wrote that “the country may well be hastened into action.”[50] That same day, most likely unknown to the press, to Bethe, or even to President Ford, two promi­nent U. S. Senators—Frank E. Moss, a Democratic Senator from Utah, and Barry Goldwater, a Republican Senator from Arizona—sent a letter to the NASA’s Administrator, James C. Fletcher. They thought the Government Agency that had most recently held the Nation’s attention with its suc­cesses on the surface of the Moon might have the technological capability to coordinate a major conservation initiative on Earth. This letter, dated January 31, 1975. was the genesis of what became one of the largest coor­dinated environmental programs ever attempted in the United States. NASA refocused its sights from the heavens to Earth.

From the Moon to Earth

In December 1972, the last two astronauts to walk the surface of the Moon left their desolate surroundings and returned to Earth. Apollo 17 brought to an end a dramatic era at NASA that began with Kennedy’s famous proc­lamation promising to send a man to the Moon. During the Apollo years. NASA enjoyed the world’s praise as the pinnacle of humanity’s technologi­cal excellence. But Apollo 17’s return marked a new era. Its return signi­fied the beginnings of a fundamental transformation in the Agency’s vision, away from space and lunar exploration and toward Earth and low-Earth orbit. Astronauts would venture no further than the low’-Earth destinations of the Space Shuttle, and more pressing national concerns took the focus and initiative away from long-term dreams in space. Furthermore, space initiatives had become the prime focus of NASA during the Apollo era. to the detriment of its work in aeronautics. Basic research in aeronautics was an area that many believed had been neglected for too long. A 1976 Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences report stated “We are concerned that the nation’s aeronautical research and technology base in aeronautics has in fact eroded significantly over the last several years.’’[51]

One of the practical earthly problems that entered NASA’s new aero­nautical consciousness was the energy crisis. The crisis threatened to shake the foundations of commercial flight. Prior to 1972, fuel represented one – quarter of the operating costs of a typical airline organization.[52] [53] After 1972, foreign petroleum dependency increased, and fuel doubled its revenue drain, resulting in the reduction of flights, grounding of aircraft, and layoffs of thousands employees.2-‘ The situation appeared to grow1 worse by the day.

Because of NASA’s expertise in aeronautics, the United States Congress looked to it to lead a new conservation initiative. It began with the letter that Senators Moss and Goldwater wrote January 31, 1975, to James C. Fletcher, the NASA Administrator. Although the letter came from the Senators, its origins were actually in NASA

Oil as a Weapon

John Klineberg spent 25 years working at NASA. He was the Director of both the Goddard Space Flight Center and Lewis (now Glenn) Research Center. 1 le served as Deputy Associate Administrator for Aeronautics and Space Technology at Headquarters and was a research scientist at the Ames Research Center. (NASA Glenn Research Center (NASA GRC).) itself. John Klineberg, who served NASA in a variety of leadership positions, such as head of Lewis Research Center, recently recalled “Moss, of course, wrote us a letter that justified it… [but] 1 wrote that letter.”[54]

Oil as a Weapon

Richard T. Whitcomb examines a model incorporating his famous transonic area rule in the 8-foot High-Speed Tunnel in April 1954. (NASA Langley Research Center [NASA LaRCJ.)

In the letter. Moss and Goldwater said it was their desire, as leaders of the Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, that NASA devise a plan to develop new technologies to lessen the effects of the energy crisis.

The plan was needed for the “preservation of the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical science and technology” They envi­sioned a program led by NASA that would result in significant tech­nology transfers to industry. NASA was to research a new generation of fuel-efficient aircraft that would cost roughly the same as current aircraft, have the same performance capabilities, meet the same safety and environmental requirements, offer significant fuel savings, and be able to take to the skies in the 1980s. Moss and Goldwater ended their letter by stating, “It is our hope that the goal you establish will be one that is both feasible and challenging.”25 Risk and the acceptance of challenge were approved and encouraged components of the daring project from the start.

NASA responded quickly to the request, in part because the Agency had already been investigating some fuel-efficient technologies as part of its base R&D activities. One of the first was the “supercritical wing,” a project led by Langley’s Richard Whitcomb in the mid-1960s, which delayed the formation of a shock wave until the aircraft attained a faster speed.2*’

The result was a significant cruise performance improvement and an increase in fuel efficiency. In mid-1970. NASA established the Advanced Transport Technology office to take advantage of the aerodynamic poten­tial of the supercritical wing for flight efficiency. Other fuel-efficient tech­nology programs were soon added. This included an Active Controls pro­gram. which used computers to control airplane surfaces to reduce drag and increase efficiency. Composite materials were also studied because of the light weight and strength of polymers compared with existing alumi­num and metal airplane components.

With the oil embargo in 1973 and the resulting energy crisis, NASA intensified its explorations into this area. It established the Energy Trends and Alternative Fuels (ETAF) program in April 1973 to search for more efficient uses of petroleum and also for alternative energy sources such as hydrogen and electric power. By the end of the year, a NASA manager wrote, “The relevance and urgency of this study has grown dramatically since spring.”2 In 1973, NASA also collaborated with Hamilton Standard in a program called Reducing the Energy Consumption of Commercial Air Transportation (RECAT). Over the next 2 years, NASA, in collabo­ration with General Electric, Pratt & Whitney, Hamilton Standard, and [55] [56] [57]

Oil as a Weapon

Dr. James Fletcher appearing before the U. S. Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences to discuss Skylab (May 23. 1973). As NASA Administrator. Fletcher gained the approval of the Nixon Administration to develop the Space Shuttle as a follow-on human space llight effort. (NASA Headquarters —Greatest Images of NASA (NASA HQ GRIN|.)

American Airlines, would explore several opportunities for achieving more energy-efficient aircraft. When the two Senators challenged NASA’s leaders in January 1975 to come up with a solution for the crisis threaten­ing American aviation, they drew their inspiration from these programs.2*

NASA’s Administrator, James Fletcher, assigned overall responsibil­ity for a new airline fuel efficiency program to Alan M. Lovelace, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Aeronautics and Space Technology.

With a goal of conservation before him, in a month’s time, Lovelace had established the Aircraft Fuel Conservation Technology Task Force. James J. Kramer, from the Office of Aeronautics and Space Technology [58]

(OAST), directed the 15-member task force, which came to be called the Kramer Committee.-‘4 For the next 2 months, the Committee members worked together to develop a technology plan to satisfy the Government’s request. To evaluate their results, NASA on April 17 established an advi­sory board chaired by Raymond L. Bisplinghoff from the University of Missouri.[59] [60] [61] The Kramer Committee included a remarkably diverse and knowledgeable group of members representing universities (MIT), industry (American Airlines, Pan American, Douglas Aircraft. Boeing), Government (NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration fFAAJ, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Defense), and engine manufacturers (Pratt & Whitney, Lockheed, General Electric). They named the new conservation effort the Aircraft Energy Efficiency (ACEE) program.

John Klineberg. one of the key members of the task force, recalled how closely it listened to the needs of industry. As part of the process, task force members went directly to industry leaders. They then reported areas of concern and need back to the task force. They discussedissues with the various NASA Centers in the same way. The information was then turned into briefings, and the task force communicated the results back to indus­try and NASA. This was the process by which ACEE took shape.3′

In May and June 1975. the advisory board met to review and revise the initial recommendations of the Kramer Committee. The group members initially started with a long list of initiatives that would potentially lessen the effects of the energy crisis. They then worked to reduce the options to a manageable number and divided them into specific technology sections. Although some projects might be ready for short-term implementation, most required a projected 10 years of research and development before aircraft fuel consumption would be reduced. The ultimate goal, according to Kramer, was “achieving a technology readiness by 1985 for a 50 per­cent reduction in fuel consumption for new civil transports.”1- There were two unbreakable ground rules for attaining these goals. The first wras that fuel would not be saved at the expense of the environment. The second wfas that fuel savings techniques would not compromise aircraft safety in any way. Ultimately, the Kramer Committee identified six technology plans it believed would achieve the stated fuel reduction goal, without violating safety or environmental criteria.

The Kramer Committee’s six conservation technologies addressed the three ways to improve fuel efficiency in an airplane, as expressed in the Breguet range equation: decreasing the fuel consumption by an engine, decreasing the aircraft drag by improving its aerodynamics, and decreas­ing the weight of the airplane. The Committee’s six conservation technolo­gies addressed all of these areas. The Engine Component Improvement project would identify minor ways to improve existing engines to make them more fuel efficient. At an estimated cost of S40 million, the cumula­tive effects could have a 5-percent increase in fuel savings. The Energy Efficient Engine (or “E3,’’ as it came to be known) project would go beyond modifications to existing engines by creating an entirely new’ model to be ready for airplanes built in 1990. This was a planned 7-year, $175- million project, with a potential 10-percent fuel savings. The final propul­sion project was considered the most radical of the all, a return to propel­lers, or “turboprops.” Though the riskiest proposal in terms of success, it also provided one of the greatest rewards, a potential 15- to 30-percent fuel savings compared with existing jet aircraft. The turboprops w’ere a 9-year, $ 125-million program.

In addition to the three propulsion projects, the Kramer Committee also identified two main airframe aerodynamics performance initiatives. [62]

Oil as a Weapon

Janies Kramer. Associate Administrator for Aeronautics, visiting Langley in 1978. Joseph Chambers, at right, briefs him on stall/spin research for general aviation airplanes. Kramer is holding a spin tunnel model of the American Yankee airplane shown in tlie background. Courtesy of Joseph Chambers.

Oil as a Weapon

Dr. Hans Mark (1929- ) speaks Moffett Field Officer s Club (November 9. 1976). Mark became NASA Deputy Administrator in July 1981. He had served as Secretary of the Air Force and as Undersecretary of the Air Force. Mark has also served as Director of NASA’s Ames Research Center. Mountain View. CA. (NASA Ames Research Center (NASA ARC|.)

The first, the Energy Efficient Transport program, called for evolu­tionary improvements to optimize aircraft designs. Wind tunnel studies would help verify new designs that decreased drag and improved fuel effi­ciency. This was a 7-year, S50-million program, with estimated fuel sav­ings of 10 to 15 percent. A second aerodynamics initiative. Laminar Flow Control, had an even greater potential drag reduction potential through a smooth (or laminar) flow over the wings and tail. Virtually all civil trans­ports cruise with a turbulent flow that increases drag. With anywhere from 20 to 40 percent fuel savings, the 10-year, $ 100-million program was esti­mated to be flight-ready by 1990.

The final area the Kramer Committee identified involved using advanced materials to reduce the weight of aircraft. The Composite Pri­mary Aircraft Structures program investigated composites containing boron or graphite filaments in polyimide, epoxy, or aluminum matrices that could potentially reduce aircraft weight by 25 percent. This was a $180-million, 8-year program with 10- to 15-percent fuel savings poten­tial, with the new composite designs in service by 1985.

There were some concerns about the selection of these ACEE proj­ects. Hans Mark, the Director of NASA’s Ames Research Center, wrote to Alan Lovelace in June 1975 saying that “Certainly there are many other aeronautical needs which must not be neglected.”3-‘ He understood that fuel conservation was in the national interest, but he cautioned against committing too much aeronautical funding to the development of civil aviation at the expense of military aircraft technology. He added that aero­nautical priorities change quickly. The main issue in 1968 was airport con­gestion. In 1970. aircraft noise was the central problem. By 1974, it was fuel conservation. Mark wanted to ensure that NASA did not overreact to something that might turn out to be a short-term problem. Furthermore, he suggested that fuel efficiency could be improved by working with the airlines to develop more fuel-efficient flight trajectories.

Lovelace appreciated Mark’s concerns, but the ACEE plan went for­ward without any changes. In total, six recommendations made by the Kramer Committee cost a projected $670 million, with a 10-year timeframe for implementation. The percentage fuel savings for each project could not be added together because they did not all apply to the same type of aircraft. [63]

However, when combined, they did reach the stated goal of 50 percent in total fuel reduction. Raymond Bisplinghoff, the head of the advisory board for the Kramer Committee, officially presented these con­clusions and an outline of the technology plan to Alan M. Lovelace on July 30, 1975*

The role of NASA itself was the one of the final areas of debate by the Kramer Committee. Since the Committee was made up of a cross sec­tion of individuals from different academic, industrial, and governmental organizations, there was a broad and vigorous discussion about NASA and the importance of Government-funded research. The Committee members realized that ACEE was unusual because it “in some instances goes fur­ther in the demonstration of civil technology improvements than has been NASA’s traditional role.” But the consensus was that this was necessary because of the “inability of industry to support these activities on their own.” Specifically, the Kramer Committee stated, individual technolo­gies such as the turboprop or laminar How control would likely never be developed by industry because of their “high technical risks.”* The Committee published its final report. “Aircraft Fuel Conservation Technology,” in September 1975.

Concurrently with the publication of the report, a separate and inde­pendent study examined the costs and benefits of implementing these projects. NASA contracted with Ultrasystems, a California company that specialized in generating computerized economic models. Looking at a 10-year period. Ultrasystems used the Kramer Committee’s $670-million cost estimate and compared it with a forecast of commercial aircraft Heet fuel consumption. While Ultrasystems conceded that the airline industry was in a state of flux and was often unpredictable, it tried to use some baseline assumptions to predict the near-term future. To lessen errors. Ultrasystems used proprietary data given to NASA’s Ames Research Center from various aircraft manufacturers and the airline industry itself. It concluded that implementing the six ACEE programs advocated by the Kramer Committee would save the equivalent of 677.500 barrels of [64] [65] oil each day. The future price of a barrel of oil determined the ultimate potential return on this investment. Again. Ultrasystems made some edu­cated assumptions but concluded that for each dollar spent on the program, there would be anywhere from a return of $7.50 to $26 on the investment. The final assessment examined whether funding for these programs should come from private industry or the Government, and it concluded. “It is extremely unlikely that private industry could meet the expected capital requirements of the NASA program and, consequently. Federal support is necessary.”56

The engineers had finished defining and laying out the program. The only other question to be answered was: Would Government approve the program and provide the funding for one of the largest coordinated fuel conservation projects ever attempted in the United States? To answer that question, the Senate held three hearings in fall 1975 and used the testimony to decide the program’s future.

Advanced Turbdprdps. and Laminar Fldw

Advanced Turbdprdps. and Laminar Fldw1987 Washington Post headline read, “The Aircraft of the Future

1 las Propellers on It."’ To many, this sounded like heralding “the reincarnation of silent movies.”2 Why would an “old technology” ever be chosen over a modern, new, advanced alternative? How could propeller technology ever supplant the turbojet revolution? Mow could the “jet set mind-set” of corporate executives who demanded the prestige of speed and “image and status with a jet” ever be satisfied with a slow, noisy, propeller-driven aircraft?’ A Washington Times correspondent predicted that the turbojet would not be the propulsion system of the future. Instead, future airline passengers would see more propellers than jets, and if “Star Wars hero Luke Skywalker ever became chairman of a Fortune 500 com­pany. he would replace the corporate jet with a … turboprop.”1 It appeared that a turboprop revolution was underway.

The Advanced Turboprop Project was one of the more radical and risky projects in the ACEE program, but it offered some of the highest fuel-efficiency rewards. NASA planners believed that an advanced tur­boprop could reduce fuel consumption by 20 to 30 percent over existing turbofan engines while maintaining comparable performance and passenger comfort at speeds up to Mach 0.8 and altitudes up to 30.000 feet. These ambitious goals made the turboprop project controversial and challenging. Clifton von Kann succinctly summed up these concerns to [299] [300] [301] [302]

Barry Goldwater during his Senate testimony, when he said that of all the proposed projects, “the propeller is the real controversial one.”1′

The Advanced Turboprop was not the only revolutionary, long-range technology in the ACEE program. Some speculated as early as the 1960s that Laminar Flow Control would be a “harbinger of potential revolution in the plane-making business.”[303] [304] The Laminar Flow project was based upon an airplane wing that seemed to “breathe” air. When engineers began achieving significant successes with this technology in the early 1960s, they knew they were on the cusp of a major advance. Many wondered if the resulting aircraft with breathable wings would be able to fly for days— and not just hours—without refueling. Or, more realistically, a nonstop flight from New York to Tokyo might be offered to commercial travelers. First flight-tested in 1963, the “air-inhalation system" was considered “the most promising innovation since the jet engine.”[305] Because of the Vietnam war. the military suspended further work on this technology, but it was resurrected in the 1970s and became the most promising ACEE project in terms of fuel efficiency.

Lewis Research Center managed the Advanced Turboprop Project, and Langley Research Center headed the Laminar Flow Control program. Although the two NASA ACEE projects had little interaction with each other, they shared some important similarities. First, they represented revolutionary potential in fuel efficiency, with the turboprop promising up to 30 percent and laminar flow up to 40 percent. Second, achieving these gains required commitment from the very conservative American airlines industry to a fundamental and radical new aircraft design and pro­pulsion system. Finally, both programs required a long-term commitment to research, and both had risky and uncertain futures. For these reasons, industry alone would never risk the funds to research their potential, but the Government support through NASA offered an appropriate venue for exploring technology that could have a revolutionary impact on the airlines industry. The questions at the start of the program were: Could NASA engi­neers achieve success and develop these new fuel-efficient technologies? And. if they could, would the airlines industry accept the challenge and open its arms to incorporate the technology in its new fleet of aircraft?

Woods Hole Versus the Heritage Foundation

In summer 1980 (just as the GAO report was coming out), NASA’s aero­nautical leaders organized an independent review of its entire aeronau­tics program by the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB). ASEB’s members included some of the most influential people in United States aviation and aerospace history. Chaired by Neil Armstrong, the 24-member board included representatives from NASA (the former Johnson Space Center director), industry (vice presidents or technol­ogy directors at Douglas, Pan American, Sikorsky, United Technologies, Grumman Aerospace, Boeing, General Electric, and Lockheed), and academia (noted aeronautics professors from Stanford. MIT, and the California Institute of Technology). To discuss the state of aeronautics at NASA, the board held a workshop that ran from July 27 to August 2, 1980. at the National Academy of Sciences Study Center in Woods Hole, MA. Sixty experts were divided into five panel sessions. The chairman of the workshop, H. Guyford Stever. called it an “arduous and exhilarating week-long effort” to examine every facet of NASA and its role in aeronau­tics. I!t Its conclusions became known as the “Woods Hole Plan."

The Woods Hole Plan was unveiled to the public in a document titled NASA’s Role in Aeronautics: A Workshop. ASEB agreed that there had been a long and important relationship between the aviation industry and the Government, which started with the NACA and continued through NASA. This had been a positive relationship that had strengthened the American industry, helping it position itself better for competition in the world market. However, this historical strength had faced significant threats in recent years. The ASEB members at Woods Mole emphasized that there was an “urgent need" to counter these economic, social, political, and technological challenges facing the United States in aviation. The United States had lost 20 percent of the world’s aircraft market to European competition during the previous several years, in part because European governments collectively endorsed a plan to displace the United States as the world’s aviation leader. As a result of this government support, these European nations were able to cut into the dominance of the American transport market. To counter the ongoing European threat, ASEB called for greater U. S. governmental intervention and assistance, not less, in order to equip the aviation industry to compete.

Above all. the ASEB aviation experts said it was the worldwide con­cern about the cost and availability of fuel that would potentially have the most important influence over the future of aviation. It pointed to “dra­matic improvements’’ already attained in fuel efficiency through improved aerodynamics, materials, and propulsion, most importantly through the ACEE program. They concluded, "Wrorld leadership in aeronautics will be achieved, in all probability, by the nation or nations that seize the ini­tiative and move such technologies from their present research status. . . [to build] more efficient aircraft.” The only way to achieve this and reverse the “erosion of momentum” of the American aeronautical technol­ogy was to “clarify and strengthen NASA’s role in aeronautics.”14 NASA was extremely pleased with ASEB’s findings and believed that they would be most valuable should any criticism of its aeronautics program emerge. NASA would not have to wait long to confront the critics.

While the Woods Hole group was writing its findings, Republican campaign strategists began defining the shape of a future Reagan presi­dency. Although the election was still 2 months away, Edwin Meese. the Chief of Reagan’s campaign staff, said he wanted a low-visibility effort as far as planning making plans for a Reagan presidency that would not detract from the campaign. One of the key groups assisting in this planning was the Heritage Foundation, the nonprofit conservative think tank estab­lished in 1973.[263] [264] In October 1980. a spokesman for the organization said it would establish a “comprehensive game plan for implementing conserva­tive policy goals under vigorous White House leadership.’”1 This included, in part, reducing the budget, balancing it. and restoring “moral values.” It became what was called a “blueprint for the construction of a conservative government.” Meese told reporters that he would be relying heavily on it.

Fall 1980 was a time of great uncertainty for NASA. John Noble Wilford, a New York Times reporter, wrote in September 1980 about NASA’s launch of a Delta rocket at Cape Canaveral to place a weather satellite into orbit. Wilford said this launch might represent the “death of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as we know it.”[265] [266] [267] It was a difficult time for the Agency. There were numerous difficulties with the still unlaunched Space Shuttle. Of its first 17 scheduled missions, only 2 were defined by NASA, with the Pentagon taking significant con­trol of the others. The Department of Defense was investing in rocketry and satellites, and NASA was becoming more of a service agency that launched spacecraft for other nations. Budgets were being cut. and NASA was getting little support from either of the United States presidential can­didates. NASA’s Administrator. Robert Frosch, announced his retirement in October 1980, to be effective on Inauguration Day. January 20, 1981.2J NASA employees eagerly awaited the results of the presidential election and wondered how it would shape their future. They would soon find out.

Twelve days after Reagan won. the Heritage Foundation published a report, the Mandate for Leadership, which became the blueprint for the new presidency. Called by the Los Angeles Times a “quick strike a week after Reagan’s election,” the report began the process of dismantling 48 years of New Deal liberal policies.[268] It included such suggestions as abol­ishing the Department of Energy, reassigning most of the functions of the Environmental Protection Agency to the states or other Federal agencies, and increasing the defense budget by $20 billion. While some called it the most complete report on government ever written, one observer said,‘The political fall-out. . . will be great. Opposition will be savage.”[269] Meese’s strong endorsement of it was in part responsible for it appearing on the Washington Post’s bestseller list for 3 weeks in 1981. It became the bible of the Reagan Administration.[270] [271] [272]

The report argued that the Government should no longer play a role in the commercialization of technology. It contended that Government’s commercialization endeavors had been expanding in recent years, and while there were certain areas where this was necessary—such as weap­ons labs, uranium enrichment, and other areas of nuclear research—on the whole, these activities should stop. Aviation was not on the list of appro­priate areas for commercialization. The report concluded, “Generally it should not be the function of the Federal government to involve itself with the commercialization of technology.”2’ While ACEE was not explicitly a commercialization project, it did push the lines of development farther than most NASA aeronautics programs had in the past, and so it became vulnerable to cancellation by the Reagan Administration. Reagan’s sci­ence adviser from 1981 to 1985, George A. Key worth, explained that it was a “new era” for American industry, and specifically for industrial R&D, an area that it would offer new opportunities for industry to exercise its inven­tiveness and ingenuity, while at the same time challenging it to accept new roles and to fund research previously supported by Government on its own.24

A philosophy explicitly opposed to governmental support of aero­nautics research was more completely articulated in another Heritage Foundation report, the Agenda for Progress. It said that NASA was spending $500 million each year for research related to civil and military aeronautical technology and that it could find “no good justification for the federal government to spend money on this program." The founda­tion also criticized NASA for diverting skilled engineers away from profitable aeronautical ventures in industry and toward careers that supported a particular political agenda. The Heritage Foundation claimed that the continuation of the existing aeronautical policy would eventually “erode our leadership, not strengthen it." The report concluded by saying that taxpayers should not bear the burden for this program. The solution was for the aircraft companies to “finance their own research," and for the NASA aeronautics program to be “abolished

Although aeronautics engineers at NASA and in industry were extremely disappointed—some were enraged —they were not entirely taken off-guard. NASA countered the Heritage Foundation assertions with the Woods Hole report. One NASA official wrote to Donald Nored that the “Woods Hole Plan is a strong endorsement of NASA’s program, at an opportune time."[273] [274] NASA’s administrators used the report to raise public awareness and secure aeronautical support from Congress. In February 1981, NASA’s Acting Administrator, Alan Lovelace, wrote letters and provided copies of the Woods Hole report to members of all the con­gressional committees and subcommittees associated with aeronautics. Olstad, the Acting Associate Administrator for Aeronautics and Space Technology, initiated his own related campaign as well. He w rote, “We have been concerned for some time that the practices and guidelines used by NASA to carry out its aeronautical programs are not generally well understood."[275] He hoped the report would clarify that aeronautical mission with a concise public statement about this NASA responsibility and its importance to the Nation. Olstad then sent the report to NASA’s center directors, including Donald P. Hearth at Langley and John F. McCarthy at Lewis, and provided them with copies of the ASEB report.[276]

Despite these advocacy efforts, on February 5, 1980, the Reagan Administration announced plans to slash the NASA budget by 9 percent.

The Washington Post reported that these cuts “took NASA’s top man­agement by surprise.”’3 While the official hit list naming which programs would be targeted for reduction had not been established, the aeronautics engineers knew they were in jeopardy. With NASA as a whole fighting for survival, the aeronautics budget threatened, and the ACEE managers deeply concerned about the continuation of their program, Nored decided NASA needed to focus on marketing. In January 1981, Nored produced a document establishing advocacy guidelines for the aeronautics programs in NASA, writing that the “effective advocacy or ‘selling’ of new pro­grams is essential to the health of [NASA],” His document was used by the aeronautics directorate personnel within NASA to conduct an “effec­tive ‘marketing’ campaign which will eventually lead to approval of their proposed new programs by Congress.”’4 Walter Stewart, the NASA Lewis Director of Aeronautics, called this emphasis on advocacy and marketing “vital to our well being.”[277] [278] [279]

It was also very timely. In March 1981. NASA’s Deputy Administrator, Alan Lovelace, gave an impassioned plea on Capitol Hill at the NASA budget hearings. The No. 1 problem America faced was the national econ­omy, he said, and aviation’s role was to serve as a model for reestablishing worldwide economic leadership. He outlined some of his major concerns: for the first time, a major U. S. airline purchased a fleet of foreign-made aircraft, the French-made Airbus had begun outselling the most advanced U. S. transport by a 3 to 1 ratio throughout the world, and enrollment in aeronautics courses at colleges and universities was at an all-time low. In the midst of these threats, Lovelace said NASA faced curtailment of its aviation programs with a new governmental philosophy regarding the aviation industry: “let them go it alone."

Lovelace explained that the situation was dire and said, “Because I am not happy enough to sing," he w ould paraphrase the lines of a vintage Bob Dylan song. The pertinent lyrics were,“My friends the message is blowing in the wind; the message is blowing in the wind.” Lovelace testified that he believed the Woods Hole report stated well the reasons for support of NASA’s aeronautics program. He reiterated that American leadership in aviation has been sustained and cultivated by the work of the NACA and NASA, in collaboration with industry. NASA, in his opinion, and in the opinion of experts from Government, industry, and academia, needed to be able to continue its aeronautical research to help stimulate the air­lines industry and strengthen the American economy. The model had been successful for decades, and there appeared no reason to change it fun­damentally during a period of intense international threat to American leadership. Lovelace spoke directly to Ronald Reagan when he said, “My message, then, Mr. President, can be summarized by saying simply: Let us keep that beacon brightly lit and let us supply the fuel to do it.”S6

Lovelace’s plea had little effect. The resulting budget, presented after the hearings, was disappointing. Congress cut NASA’s funding by $219 million. While support for programs such as the Space Shuttle remained unchanged, aeronautics programs lost $33 million in funding as compared with the previous year. Of these, ACEE saw program reduc­tions of $7 million, including a $5.5-million reduction for the Energy Efficient Engine. Though funding was maintained for Laminar Flow Control, the budget postponed important ground evaluations for 2 years. Lovelace concluded that the effect of these reductions “will be signifi­cant.” but that they are not “crippling.”[280] [281] The most crippling threats were still to come.

Fighting to Save Lewis and Aeronautics at NASA

Significant problems remained on the horizon for NASA’s aeronautics efforts even after the budget reduction debate in March 1981. The OMB, under direction from the Reagan White House, continued pressing a plan that would fundamentally change NASA. In response, a variety of influential individuals from the Department of Defense and Congress fought alongside NASA to prevent the OMB from dissecting the Agency and amputating its aeronautics arm.

In November 1981, Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger became aware of the plan to eliminate aeronautical research at NASA. The specifics of the plan, according to Weinberger, would “result in the closing of Lewis Research Center,” as well as the loss of over 1 .(XX) aeronautics jobs at NASA. While NASA would be removed from civil aeronautics work, it would con­tinue to support the development of military aircraft. This was at a time when the Government had the green light to expand significantly the Nation’s defense, and Weinberger became concerned that the closure of Lewis and the changes to NASA at this critical moment would weaken the development efforts of the B-1B Bomber (and other military programs). So Weinberger wrote a letter to OMB Director David Stockman saying, “I am deeply con­cerned that the proposed reductions will adversely impact (these) programs, and are not consistent with DOD needs.”18 Before any action to close Lewis or to eliminate the aeronautics program was taken. Weinberger said, the Defense Department should review the consequences of these actions.

Weinberger was known as such a staunch cost-cutter in Washington that he was often called “Cap the Knife.’49 But this was one instance when he fought to keep a program intact. Weinberger had his Undersecretary of Defense, Richard D. DeLauer, immediately contact NASA Administrator James Beggs. In a letter dated November 30, 1981, DeLauer told Beggs that the OMB was “proposing major reductions” in the 1983 budget for the “aeronautics technology program." These reductions would change the landscape of NASA itself, including the “closing of Lewis Research Center" and also the “substantial reductions in aeronautics activities” at Ames and Langley Research Centers.[282] [283] [284] Thirteen hundred other aeronau­tics personnel would also be eliminated throughout NASA. DeLauer said many of the advanced Department of Defense programs were “critically dependent on a vital and productive NASA aeronautics program.”

Woods Hole Versus the Heritage Foundation

James M. Beggs was sworn in as NASA’s sixth Administrator at a White House ceremony July 10,1981. Officiating was Vice President George Bush. At center is Beggs’s wife. Mary. Beggs was previously an executive vice president and director of General Dynamic Corp. (July 10.1981). (NASA Headquarters—Greatest Images of NASA [NASA HQ GRIN].)

I le then made the essential argument for keeping NASA involved in civil aircraft work: "We should not lose sight of the fact that manufacture of civil aircraft contributes not only to the economy, but also the maintenance of the industrial base which is so important to DOD under surge conditions.” (It is interesting to note that NASA’s Administrator. Daniel Goldin, from 1992 to 2(X) 1 removed NASA from the DOD connections that represented such important support for the aeronautical program during the lean years. According to Joseph Chambers, "After NASA cut the cords, the DOD labs established their own specialists and forgot who NASA was. That situation exists today —in spades.”)[285]

NASA also garnered the support of the Army. On December 1, 1981, Beggs received a letter from Jay R. Sculley, the Assistant Secretary of the

Army. Sculley again confirmed the closure rumors and told Beggs that, in his view, the relationship with NASA was “essential to the Army to in furthering its R&D programs"4* The expertise that was resident at the various NASA Centers was as unique and vital as the aeronautical facilities under their control. If these were to disappear, the result would be a dramatic increase in funding requests by the Army to offset those NASA reductions. The net effect would be the expenditure of more money. From the Army’s perspec­tive. this was a counterintuitive and damaging step for the OMB to make.

This view was also supported by Dan Glickman, a Congressman from Kansas and the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation, Aviation, and Materials. In November 1981, he invited aviation indus­try leaders to a hearing to discuss “The First ‘A’” in NASA, which of course was “Aeronautics.” The hearing was held December 8, 1981, and its goal was to document the historic role of Federal support of aeronautics to determine if funding should continue. He told his invitees that “some in the Reagan Administration have suggested that the NASA Aeronautics program be drastically curtailed.”4′ This was. according to Glickman, a “radical departure," and all the consequences and ramifications needed to be understood. He sent letters to all the major commercial airframe and engine manufactures in the United States, including General Electric.

Though in the “First ‘A’” hearings NASA fought to retain a central piece of its heritage, the story did not merit enough attention to be covered by the Nation’s major newspapers. The only NASA news reports during this period discussed the status of the Space Shuttle and the hopes of some enthusiasts to send a probe to Halley’s Comet. But the hearings did draw the attention of the aeronautics industry and politicians in Cleveland, OH, the home of the endangered Lewis Research Center. Mary Rose Oakar, who represented Lewis’s congressional district, fought Capitol Hill for the preservation of 2,700 jobs at Lewis and the millions of dollars of tax rev­enue the Center generated for Ohio. She invited President Reagan to come to Lewis to see for himself how vital a laboratory it was. describing it as a “beacon of the highest form of technology research.”[286] [287] [288]

Thomas Donohue, the general manager from the General Electric air­craft engines group, provided a historical overview of the important aero­nautical work NASA and the NACA performed for the Nation and called for the Government to keep this tradition alive.4′ Other aircraft and engine manufacturers provided similar supporting comments, and after the ’“The First ‘A’” hearings. Glickman sent letters to the CEOs of each of these com­panies. In his communication with Jack Welch, at General Electric, he praised Donohue’s testimony and urged Welch to write to President Reagan and lend his endorsement that aeronautics deserved to remain within NAS A.4(1

One of the Heritage Foundation’s main arguments was that aero­nautics was a “mature” technology and therefore did not need active Government-supported research. ACEE program proponents refuted this stance. Brian Rowe, a General Electric senior vice president, wrote a response to this question by Victor II. Reis, Assistant Director, Office of Science & Technology Policy: “Is aeronautics a stagnant technology?” He said, quite simply, “No!” Rowe firmly believed that with continued research, the aeronautics industry would see a rate of progress over the next 20 years similar to that of the previous 40. He used as a specific example the important gains still to be realized in fuel efficiency, and he projected that the “the fuel consumed per passenger on an inaugural flight of an airliner in the year 2002 will be 40% to 50% less than that of the first revenue service of the new Boeing 767 later this year.”[289] [290] [291] [292] Aeronautics, in his view, was not a mature technology, and ACEE was spearheading many of the developments that would enable the United States to maintain its worldwide aeronautical leadership.

The results of these “First ‘A’” hearings were discussed at the critical February 1982 budget hearings for NASA’s fiscal 1983 fund­ing. Glickman said the hearings results demonstrated unanimous sup­port in rejecting the Reagan Administration’s plan to shift the burden of aeronautical research to industry and eliminate NASA from this work.4*

Despite the groundswell of support, the OMB pushed forward with the plan to slash aeronautics. A headline in Defense Daily stated that budget cuts were “Forcing NASA to Close Lewis Research Center” and many in Washington saw its closing as fait accompli.[293] [294] [295] Likewise, the headlines of an Aerospace Daily article read, “NASA Aircraft Energy Efficiency Program Marked for Elimination.”*’ Though the program had been achieving impressive gains at both the Langley and Lewis Centers, the funding cuts proposed by the OMB threatened ACEE because it was a pro­gram that directly benefited industry, and this went against the grain of the Reagan philosophy. But the announcements of the demise of Lewis and ACEE were premature. Though funding cuts were a significant loss for aeronautics in 1983, it was not an across-the-board termination of the program. The insistence of the Department of Defense, industry leaders, politicians, and NASA managed to counter the Heritage Foundation’s recommendation. The Reagan Administration allowed NASA’s aeronau­tics program and ACEE to limp forward.

NASA responded with an attempt to develop a strategic plan for the future of aeronautics. Hans Mark, the head of Ames Research Center, led the initiative. Jack L. Kerrebrock, the Associate Administrator for Aeronautics and Space Technology, said in February 1982 that the plan would provide long-term goals as well as short-term suggestions for the 1984 fiscal budget/’ The resulting document, the “Strategic Plan for Aeronautics,” included mission statements related to the importance of aeronautics to national policy and an emphasis on maintaining all the existing NASA Research Centers and their areas of expertise.[296] Nowhere was this goal more important than in Cleveland, OH.

In July 1982, Lewis Research Center organized a “Save the Center Committee” with support from the Ohio delegation to Congress and Ohio’s Senators, John Glenn and Howard Metzenbaum. It was at this time

Woods Hole Versus the Heritage Foundation

President Ronald Reagan shaking hands with Andrew Stofan, who served as Director of the Lewis Center (April 23.1986). (NASA Glenn Research Center (NASA GRC].)

that Lewis Center Director John McCarthy stepped down and Andrew Stofan from Headquarters replaced him. Although some were concerned about the timing of this decision. Stofan injected Lewis with a revital­ized spirit. Stofan had strong Lewis ties, having served as the director of its very successful launch vehicles program. Upon taking control, he initiated an extensive review of Lewis and started planning not only how to save it, but also how to make it more viable in the future.1′ Through his charisma, confidence, and powers of persuasion, Stofan kept Lewis alive. The strategic plan committee, headed by William “Red” Robbins [297] and Joseph Sivo, gave Stofan the task of winning five major new programs for the Center. When he returned from Washington having secured four of them, as well as an indefinite stay of execution for the Center, it was, Robbins said, “a damn miracle.”[298] One of the programs Stofan fought to retain funding for was the ACEE Advanced Turboprop Project. Aeronautics across NASA was much weaker than it had been from a budgetary standpoint, but it survived extinction. The two long-range and risky ACEE projects. the Advanced Turboprop (at Lewis) and Laminar Flow Control (at Langley) had opportunities to achieve success and program resolution.

The Aerodynamicist’s Pot of Gold—Laminar Flow Control

Laminar flow control has been an elusive and alluring quest that has tempted aeronautics engineers for nearly 80 years. According to histo­rian James Hansen. “Nothing that aerodynamicists could to do to improve the aerodynamic efficiency of the airplane in the late twentieth century matched the promise of laminar flow control.”[306] Richard Wagner, the head of Langley’s Laminar Flow Control program, said that of all the ACEE programs, it offered "by far. the biggest payoff.”[307] Engineers knew that, if it could be perfected, laminar flow control could improve fuel efficiency by 30 percent or more and decrease drag by 25 percent. Using 2004 esti­mates, if the United States airlines could reduce drag by just 10 percent and fuel economy by 12 percent, it would result in a savings of SI billion per year. Albert L. Braslow, who spent his career working in the laminar control field, argued that it was the “only aeronautical technology” that would enable a transport airplane to fly nonstop to any point in the world and to stay aloft for 24 straight hours. 1 le concluded that the incredible fuel savings was the ‘“pot of gold at the end of the rainbow” for aeronautical researchers."[308] This allusion was perhaps more appropriate than Braslow realized, or would have liked. Though the lure of the rainbow’s gold and laminar flow control are undeniable, to this day, neither exists, though the commercial potential for laminar flow remains in sight.

The fundamentals of laminar flow’ are as follows. When a solid (such as an aircraft wing) moves through air. it encounters friction. The thin layer of air that interacts with the solid’s surface is called the boundary layer. Within this layer, two conditions can occur: a laminar condition, where the airflow is uniform in nonintersecting layers, and a turbulent, where the airflow within the boundary layer is characterized by turbulent eddies that cause additional drag. At lower speeds, conditions are relatively favorable for an aircraft to enjoy the smooth laminar flow over its wing surfaces, tail, and fuselage. But as the speed increases, it becomes more difficult to maintain laminar flow, and a more turbulent boundary layer takes over.11 For example, a transport plane flying at subsonic speeds spends half of its fuel to maintain normal cruise speeds while attempting to counter the friction and turbulence found in this boundary layer.

Attaining ideal laminar flow is possible in two main wrays. Natural laminar flow (also known as “passive”) can occur over the leading edge of an airplane’s wing by contouring the airfoil to a particular shape. To achieve laminar flow’ rearward from the leading edge of the wing requires an “active" approach, known as laminar flow’ control. One of the best approaches is a suction method in which holes or slots in the w’ing draw some of the boundary layer air through it. Pumps suck the air down through the surface, w here ducts vent it back out into the atmosphere. In this way, the w ing or airfoil appears to “breathe."

The earliest laminar flow investigations began in the 1930s, when German engineers first developed stability analysis methods. In 1939, Langley engineers began performing wind tunnel tests to study turbulence and laminar flow. The NACA became increasingly interested in studying this phenomenon, and 2 years later. Langley was able to flight-test a B-19 with 17 suction slots in a special test section mounted on one wing panel. During World War II. active laminar flow’ control work was suspended in order for research to take place on natural laminar flow for aircraft such as the P-51 Mustang, while Germany and Switzerland continued their active approaches. After the war. Langley (aided by the release of confi­dential German research after World War II to the aeronautics community) returned to suction studies in wind tunnels and provided theoretical sup­port that this approach wras indeed possible.[309] [310] The Air Force also became interested in laminar flow and contracted w ith Northrop Corporation to

The Aerodynamicist’s Pot of Gold—Laminar Flow Control

Early laminar flow tesLs on a blunted 15-degree cone cylinder in free flight at high Reynolds number (July 23. 1956). (NASA Glenn Research Center [NASA GRC|.)

investigate suction through slots and holes. The NACA concluded that the main impediment to achieving laminar How control was the difficulty in creating smooth surfaces on the airplane. Even factors such as bugs or ice crystals could cause the loss of a laminar flow.

Research continued and tremendous optimism surged in the early 1960s over the Air Force’s work with laminar flow. In 1963, the New York Times announced an “aviation landmark” and a “new aeronautical milestone” with the flight of an X-21. a reconnaissance-bomber research aircraft, and a “revolutionary air-inhalation system."1′ Under the direction of Wener Pfenninger at Northrop, a slot-based laminar flow control system was suc­cessfully flight-tested, and some observers called it the most promising development in flight since the jet engine. Even though the Air Force viewed laminar flow as the most “prominent” and “promising” of its leading aerodynamic projects, further research was delayed for another decade.[311] [312]

The Aerodynamicist’s Pot of Gold—Laminar Flow Control

The center section of each wing of this business jet was modified for tests of laminar flow control (October 15.1984). (NASA Langley Research Center {NASA LaRC].)

From the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, laminar flow studies were sus­pended. in large part because of the commitment of military resources to the war in Vietnam. Also, the low cost of jet fuel completely offset the savings when compared with manufacturing and maintenance costs for aircraft with active laminar flow control.

This economic situation changed with the rise in fuel prices and the end of the war. When NASA began looking at technologies to include in the ACEE program, laminar flow was an early favorite. Langley research­ers had resumed studies on it, and in 1973. Albert Braslow wrote a white paper arguing that it had “by far the largest potential for fuel conservation of any discipline.”1′ While many were enthusiastic about it. Braslow noted that some managers at NASA Headquarters and Langley were “luke­warm” to the idea. Detractors thought the technological barriers were so [313] steep that it would be throwing away limited aeronautics funding to pursue the research.

As fuel costs continued to rise, the promise of laminar flow became more and more attractive. In March 1974, the AIAA held a conference with 91 of its members to discuss aircraft fuel-conservation methods, and they concluded that laminar flow deserved attention. Their ideas were sup­ported by the ACEE task force, and in September 1975, Edgar Cortright, the Langley Director, initiated the Laminar-Flow-Control Working Group. Cortright announced that Langley had accepted the responsibility of imple­menting a research and technology program focused on the “development and demonstration of economically feasible, reliable, and maintainable laminar flow control.”[314] One of the primary new focuses was a change from military to commercial applications.

There seemed to be as many staunch proponents of laminar flow’ as there were detractors. The optimists believed that a laminar flow wing could be developed using existing manufacturing techniques and known materials and implemented in a reasonable timeframe: by the 1990s. The laminar flow pessimists argued that even if all these achievements were possible (and many believed they were not), the costs and efforts required to keep the airfoil surfaces smooth, clean, and in flight-ready condition would make the entire system prohibitive. The airline industry sum­marized its concerns in four main areas: manufacturability, operational sensitivity, maintainability, and methodology.[315] Hans Mark, the Director of Ames Research Center, was one detractor. He said that the laminar flow program under ACEE should be “given low priority due to the low probability of success, and because benefits are not likely to be realized for many years, if ever”[316]

The laminar flow’ group w ithin ACEE had a difficult mission in front of it: to provide data to support or refute assumptions by both the optimis­tic and pessimistic camps so that industry could make “objective decisions on the feasibility of laminar flow control for application to commercial transports of the 1990s time period.”141 Despite the uncertainties, laminar flow was included in ACEE for two main reasons: first, it offered the prom­ise of dramatic fuel-efficiency improvement, and second, the work in com­posites might directly contribute to developing materials more operationally and economically suited for achieving laminar flow control.

The program, “involved a major change in Agency philosophy regard­ing aeronautical research," according to Albert Braslow. It included an extension of the traditional NACA role in research to include a “demon­stration of technological maturity in order to stimulate the application of technology by industry.”’0 This was also a risky proposition, made even more so during the political environment of the Reagan years. Project man­agers accepted the high level of risk in taking on this program because it was such a revolutionary idea with such great potential. Because NASA had to produce flight research results in several areas, it decided that a phased approach—by breaking down the problems into smaller units—would offer the best chances of success. Phase one involved developing methods for ana­lyzing boundary layers with new computer codes. Also included were studies of surface materials and how to best maintain them. Phase two would move to basic fabrication of test pieces and subject them to wind tunnel testing. This would include subsystems such as pumps for suctioning. Phase three included actual flight-testing, with laminar flow control over a wing or a tail. Braslow was extremely enthusiastic about the potential for the program but was also aware of the risk. He said, “Everybody agrees that you have a hell of a payoff, but the question is, ‘Can you do it on a day-to-day basis?””1

As phases one and two progressed, several key problems were over­come. Insect contamination was thought by many to be a critical issue in preventing program success. Although the insect remains on the wings were small, they were nonetheless large enough to disrupt laminar flow’. That an insect represented the margin of success or failure suggests how difficult the project was. Engineers tested washing systems and nonstick surface materials and concluded that it was best to keep the wings wet [317] [318] [319] so the insects they encountered wouldn’t stick." The potential impact of engine-generated noise waves disrupting laminar How on wings was another area of concern, and a NASA contract with Boeing investigated the laminar flow acoustic environment on a 757. Engine noise, it was found, did not cause the laminar flow to become turbulent. Research went beyond suction laminar flow control. Natural laminar flow investigations were carried out on F-l 11 and F-14 jets at Dryden Flight Research Center.

With success in these first two phases building confidence, phase three began by selecting a vehicle for flight-testing. The airlines wanted an aircraft similar in size to their commercial transports, while NASA pushed for a smaller plane to reduce costs. A compromise was eventually made using a larger plane but restricting experiments to the leading edge of a laminar flow wing, the most technically difficult area to overcome. The leading edges had to be smoother than other areas and had to withstand rain, insects, corro­sion. icing, etc. Langley eventually used a JetStar plane, similar in size to a DC-9. NASA contracted with three industry leaders—Douglas. Lockheed, and Boeing—with NASA assuming 90 percent of the cost.

The Lockheed studies used a composite (graphite epoxy) wing covered by a very thin titanium sheet. The ducting was achieved through slots, and compressors induced the suction. However, it forced the wing to maintain the entire weight of the system, which became problematic. Douglas engi­neers used a different approach, opting for perforated holes instead of slots for the ducting, and explored using a glass fiber material for the suctioning. Boeing came to the laminar flow studies later than the other two companies, preferring to focus all its early attention on near-term fuel efficiency endeav­ors, as opposed to the uncertain future of laminar flow control.2J

After 4 years of flight tests (1983 to 1987), all results were extremely positive.[320] [321] [322] Laminar flow control had been achieved for this leading edge area of the wing in a variety of test conditions, including cold. heat, rain.

The Aerodynamicist’s Pot of Gold—Laminar Flow Control

Laminar flow test aircraft in flight (November 15. 1984). (NASA Langley Research Center (NASA LaRCJ.)

freezing rain, ice, moderate turbulence, and insects. Pilots had no diffi­culty adjusting to the new system. The titanium surface did not corrode over time. Enthusiasm soared higher after a series of test flights with the C-140 JetStar at Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility, which simulated a commercial airline service operating in a variety of weather condi­tions and achieved 22-percent fuel efficiency at cruise speed. Roy Lange, the Laminar Flow Control program manager at Lockheed-Georgia. was pleased with the initial results, though more work still awaited completion. “The only question we have now,” he said in 1985,“is whether the systems can handle a day-by-day flight schedule. … I think we could get there for a 1995 aircraft.”’1 In addition, Langley engineers also investigated hybrid laminar flow control, a combination of the suction and natural laminar flow techniques. Boeing began research on a 757.[323] [324] Braslow recalled that “results were very encouraging. … All necessary systems required for practical [hybrid laminar flow control] were successfully installed into a commercial transport wing."[325] Calculated benefits for a 300-person trans­port predicted a 15-percent savings in fuel.

Despite the successful outcomes, laminar flow control is not currently used in any commercial transport. While the concept was proved in theory and flight-tested, it was never put into service nor put through the rigors of a day-to-day operational environment. It fell victim to the drop in fuel prices in the late 1980s, as there was no economic incentive for pushing through the remaining technological obstacles and actually incorporating laminar flow control into a commercial airlines’ service.

There has been some continued laminar flow research that has yielded positive results since the end of ACEE. including the NASA-Boeing-Air Force B-757 Hybrid Laminar Flow Control (HLFC) flight experiments. As one Langley press release noted in August 1990. the “aerodynamic effi­ciency of future aircraft may improve sharply due to better-than-expected findings from a joint-government-industry flight test program.” Laminar flow was achieved over 65 percent of the modified 757 wing, and engi­neers speculated that if the entire span of both of the wings were modified, the airplane drag would decrease by 10 percent. This would save roughly $100 million annually for the U. S. airline industry.[326] Despite the progress, the technology was not perfected. In 2004, aeronautical engineers William S. Saric and Helen L. Reed presented a paper on the remaining challenges in achieving practical laminar flow. They concluded that “crossflow insta­bility” remained the most significant challenge.[327] [328] [329]

Richard Wagner, the head of the program, lamented the fact that the lam­inar technology is still unused. He said,“I really was disappointed that we didn’t see, or haven’t seen an application of… laminar flow control because… the stuff was ready. I guess it’s just going to take some time to where the fuel price makes it so attractive that they can’t turn their back on it.”4′ Despite its lack of industry acceptance, the ACEE program made major advances in understanding the potential of laminar flow. As James Hansen argued, “all of the promising research indicated that its time might yet come.’’51



n fall 1975. 10 distinguished United States Senators from the Aeronautical and Space Sciences Committee summoned a group of elite aviation experts to Washington, DC. The Senators were hold­ing hearings regarding the state of the American airline industry, which was struggling in the wake of the 1973 Arab oil embargo and the dra­matically increasing cost of fuel. Providing testimony were presidents or vice presidents of United Airlines, Boeing, Pratt & Whitney, and General Electric. Other witnesses included high-ranking officials from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the U. S. Air Force, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Their Capitol Hill testimony painted a bleak economic picture, described in phrases that included “immediate crisis condition," “long-range trouble,” “serious danger," and “economic dislocation "‘ Fuel costs had recently risen from S2.59 to $11.65 for a barrel of oil and from 38.5 cents to 55.1 cents for a gallon of gasoline. While everyone knew about the increasing costs of fill­ing up his or her own automobile, the effect on commercial aviation was tak­ing a greater toll. The airlines industry furloughed over 25,000 employees in January 1974. Pan American, at the time the United States’ largest commer­cial airline, suspended service to 12 cities.- The president of United Airlines concluded, “The economic vitality of the industry is draining away."1

Oil was fueling America’s industrial and military might, while the majority of the world’s reserves were not under United States soil. The fuel crisis of the 1970s threatened not only the airline industry but also [1] [2] [3] the future of American prosperity itself, a situation that created a sense of panic and urgency among all Americans, from politicians on Capitol Hill to average citizens waiting in ever-longer gas lines for more expensive fuel. But the crisis also served as the genesis of technological ingenuity and innovation from a group of scientists and engineers at NASA, who initiated planning exercises to explore new fuel-saving technologies. What emerged was a series of technologically daring aeronautical programs with the potential to reduce by an astonishing 50 percent the amount of fuel used by the Nation’s commercial and military aircraft. Though the endeavor was a costly 10-year, $500-million research and development (R&D) program, the United States Senators involved proclaimed that they could not “allow this technology to lie fallow.”[4] [5] The Aircraft Energy Efficiency (ACEE) project was born.

This energy crisis of the 1970s marked a turning point for the United States in a number of ways, one of which was that it changed fundamen­tally the focus of NASA’s aeronautical research. Since its establishment in 1915 (as the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) and through its transformation into NASA in 1958. the organization’s aeronautical empha­sis had been on how to research and build aircraft that would fly higher, go faster, and travel farther.’ “Higher, faster, and farther” were all visible avia­tion goals well suited for the setting of records and pushing the boundaries of engineering and piloting skill.[6] [7] According to one aviation engineer, “The dream to fly higher, faster, and farther has driven our finest engineering and science talents to achieve what many thought was impossible.”


The end of the lirst SST era (July I. 1973). A model of the Supersonic Transport (SST) variable sweep version, with wings in the low-speed position, mounted prior to tests in the Full Scale Wind Tunnel. (NASA Langley Research Center [NASA LaRC|.)

These were goals that, once achieved, could be celebrated by the pub­lic, developed by industry, and incorporated into military and commercial aviation endeavors. Sacrificing some of these capabilities in favor of fuel economy was simply unthinkable and unnecessary for roughly the first 75 years of aviation history. Fuel economy inspired no young engineers to dream impossible dreams, because fuel was simply too abundant and inexpensive to be a factor in aircraft design.

One example of what Langley engineer Joseph Chambers called the “need for speed" was the effort to create a viable supersonic civil air­craft. Business and pleasure travelers wanted to get to their destinations quickly and in comfort. The fuel efficiency of the plane they rode in rarely entered their minds. As a result, when supersonic jet technology emerged for military applications in the 1950s, managers of the commercial air trans­portation system dreamed of a similar model for commercial travelers: the Supersonic Transport (SST). However, these early and rushed attempts resulted in failed programs. Chambers said that was an “ill-fated

national effort within the United States for an SST.” which was terminated in 1971.[8]

The oil embargo in 1973 suddenly added a new focus to the aeronau­tical agenda and caused the United States to rethink its aviation priori­ties. The mantra of “higher, faster, farther” began to take a back seat to new less glamorous but more essential goals, such as conservation and efficiency. By 1976. ACEE was fully funded. Research began immedi­ately, and it became the primary response to the Nation’s crisis in the skies. ACEE consisted of six aeronautical projects divided between two NASA Centers. Three of the projects concentrated on propulsion sys­tems, and NASA assigned its management to Lewis Research Center (now Glenn Research Center) in Cleveland, OH. These included the Engine Component Improvement project to incorporate incremental and short-term changes into existing engines to make them more efficient. The Energy Efficient Engine (E:) project was much more daring; Lewis engineers worked toward developing an entirely new engine that prom­ised significant fuel economies over existing turbine-powered jet engines. Most radical of all the Lewis projects was the groundbreaking Advanced Turboprop Project (ATP), an attempt at replacing the turbojet with a much more efficient propeller. Though the Advanced Turboprop did not fly as far or as fast as its jet counterpart, it could do so at vastly improved fuel efficiencies. It was Lewis’s riskiest program and also most important in terms of fuel efficiency. It represented an odd confluence of old-fashioned and cutting-edge technology.

NASA assigned three other ACEE projects to Langley Research Center in I lampton, VA. The first was Energy Efficient Transport, an aero­dynamics and active controls project that included a variety of initiatives to reduce drag and make flight operations more efficient. A second project was the Composite Primary Aircraft Structures, which used new materi­als (such as fiberglass-reinforced plastics and graphite) to replace metal and aluminum components. This significantly decreased aircraft weight

and increased fuel efficiency. A third project. Laminar Flow Control, also promised to reduce drag, and it was Langley’s most challenging project of the three. NASA accepted the risk, much like the Advanced Turboprop, because Laminar Flow Control, if achieved, represented the most signifi­cant potential fuel savings of any of the ACEE programs.

NASA conducted two different types of R&D programs. The first was for “fundamental” or "base” research, where engineers conceptual­ized. developed, and tested initial ideas that could later lead to a success­ful commercial or military technology. Once these base programs reached a certain level of maturity and technological success, they were ready for the next R&D stage. This second, or “focused.” R&D program typi­cally required the allocation of large amounts of funding in order to create a full-scale demo. ACEE was an example of a “focused" program that utilized the success of existing “base” programs (such as Laminar Flow Control, winglets. and supercritical wings). The ACEE focused program and funding offered the best way to mature the fundamental technological successes already being developed.*

But there was a problem. The civil aircraft industry was notoriously conservative and did not often welcome change or pursue it aggressively. The ACEE program represented a dramatically different vision of future commercial flight. Although several of the programs explored slower evo­lutionary developments, the energy crisis inspired enough fear that the industry w’as willing to support the more revolutionary projects. Donald Nored, who served as director of Lewis’s three ACEE projects, remarked, “The climate made people do things that normally they’d be too conserva­tive to do."[9] [10] The Lewis Advanced Turboprop demonstrated how a radical innovation could emerge from a dense, conservative web of bureaucracy. Its proponents thought it would revolutionize the world’s aircraft propulsion systems. Likew ise. Langley’s programs also pushed revolutionary new tech­nologies such as Laminar Flow Control, which many believed was impos­sible to achieve and foolhardy to attempt. The economics of the energy crisis shaped a climate whereby the Government, with industry encouragement and support, gave NASA the go-ahead and appropriate funding to embark upon programs that typically would have never been attempted.

ACEE was vitally important, and while many technical reports have been written about its programs, it has received little historical analysis. While the program appears as a footnote or sidelight in several important historical works, it is rarely placed at the forefront and given exclusive attention." One exception was in 1998, when Virginia P. Dawson and Mark D. Bowles’s article on the Advanced Turboprop Project in Pamela Mack’s edited collection. From Engineering Science to Big ScienceУ The collab­oration and research for that article, "Radical Innovation in a Conservative Environment,” laid the groundwork for this current monograph.

Some of the best monographs and technical reports for the Lewis ACEE projects include Roy Hager and Deborah Vrabel’s Advanced Turboprop Project and Carl C. Ciepluch’s published results of the Energy Efficient Engine project." Langley’s ACEE projects have been the subjects of Marvin B. Dow’s review of composites research. David B. Middleton’s program summary of the Energy Efficient Transport project, and Albert L. Braslow’s history of laminar flow control.[11] [12] [13] [14] Jeffrey L. Ethell’s Fuel

Economy in Aviation is an excellent technical overview of the entire ACEE program.[15] A vast number of technical reports were written dur­ing the course of these projects themselves. For example, a bibliography of the Composite Primary Aircraft Structures program alone, compiled in 1987, contains over 600 entries for technical reports just for this one ACEE program. These studies, however, focus primarily on technological evolution and achievements, and most were written while ACEE was still an active program or just shortly after its conclusion. This monograph. The "Apollo" of Aeronautics, examines the ACEE program more than 20 years after its termination and places it within a political, cultural, and economic context, which is absent from most of the previous work.

Taken together, the ACEE programs at Langley and Lewis represented an important moment in our technological history, which deserves further analysis for several reasons. First, it was tremendously successful on a number of technological levels. Many of the six ACEE projects led to significant improvements in fuel efficiency. One measure of this success is how much more fuel-efficient commercial airplanes are today, compared with the mid-1970s, when the ACEE program began. An estimate in 1999 suggested that aircraft energy efficiency improved on an average of 3 to 4 percent each year, and that the “world’s airlines now use only about half as much fuel to carry a passenger a set distance as they did in the mid – 1970s.”[16] This important statistic testifies to the improved fuel efficiency stimulated by the ACEE program. While it alone was not responsible for this achievement, it served as a key industry enabler and catalyst to incor­porate new fuel-savings technology into its operating fleets.

Second, ACEE represents an important case study in technology transfer to the civil industry. The goal of ACEE, from its inception, was for NASA to partner with industry to achieve a specific goal —a fuel – efficient aircraft to counteract the energy crisis. NASA, as an Agency, was important because it was able to assume the risk for technically radi­cal projects thought to be too difficult and costly for industry alone to sponsor. “Aeronautics” was the “first A" in NASA, and this technology transfer program to the aviation industry was a way for it to reconnect with its historical roots as the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). This also offered a way for NASA to prove it still could make vital contributions to aeronautics research and. at the same time, demon­strated the successful “focused” R&D approach to maturing technology versus the attempt to advance technology with low-level “base” programs. The ACEE program also exemplified one way in which NASA turned its sights Earthward after the golden age of Moon landings and focused on energy conservation—an issue that continues to be of increasing impor­tance in the 21st century.

Third, the history of this program represents an important case study in technological creativity and risk, a theme highlighted in the Dawson and Bowles article on the Advanced Turboprop Project. Thomas Hughes, a prominent historian of technology, has argued that the research and devel­opment organizations of the 20th century, regardless of whether they are run by a Government, industry, or members of a university community, stifle technical creativity. “Organizations did not support the radical inven­tions of the detached independent inventor.” Hughes wrote, “because, like radical ideas in general, they upset the old. or introduced a new status quo.”’7 In contrast, the late 19th century for Hughes was the “golden era” of invention —a time w’hen the independent inventor flourished with­out institutional constraints. Historian David Hounshell has challenged Hughes’s contention that industrial research laboratories “exploit creative, inventive geniuses; they neither produce nor nurture them.**1* Not only can the industrial research laboratory nurture a creative individual, but col­lectively. people engaged in research and development can inspire revolu­tionary new technological opportunities.[17] [18] [19]

The ACEE program represents a case in w hich organizational capa­bilities, not individual genius alone, created an opportunity for significant innovation. The organizational structure of the ACEE program (focused R&D funding) encompassed not just the various NASA Centers but also

included a web of industrial contracts that made it far more complex than the research laboratory of a single industrial firm. Yet the bureau­cratically complex ACEE program responded to the energy crisis in an efficient way to advance some very revolutionary ideas. However, although NASA provided the environment and support for radically inno­vative technologies, in the end. the more conservative the ACEE technol­ogy, the more likely it was to become a commercial reality. The Lewis Advanced Turboprop Project and the Langley Laminar Flow Control pro­gram each represented the most significant fuel savings and were con­sidered the most revolutionary of all the technologies explored. Although both were demonstrated to be technically feasible under the ACEE pro­gram. neither achieved commercial success. They were the programs most susceptible to industry neglect when the energy crisis of the 1970s subsided and fuel prices decreased.

Fourth. ACEE represents an interesting historical moment that marked a transition point between American domination of the world’s civil avia­tion industry’ and rising challenges from foreign competitors, such as Airbus. From its inception, the aviation industry was different from the auto industry because the U. S. Government provided it with massive sup­port in the name of national defense. For example, during World War II, the Government purchased planes from private manufacturers. After the war. it committed billions to finance the development of new aeronautics technology for both military and commercial aircraft. As a result of these efforts, the United States captured 90 percent of the world market and held this commanding position through the 1970s. Boeing, as the larg­est exporter, played a significant role in the American economy. Robert Leonard. Langley’s ACEE project manager said that each jumbo jet manu­factured in the United States and sold abroad offset the importation of roughly 9.000 automobiles.[20] This trade balance was vital for the United States to maintain —but it did not.

Challengers such as Airbus waited in the wings, backed with govern­mental commitments that far exceeded American support to the industry. Founded in 1965 as a consortium of European countries, Airbus used mas­sive government subsidies and private investors to develop its first plane.

The wings were made in Britain, the cockpit in France, the tail in Spain, the fuselage in West Germany, and the edge flaps in Belgium. The engines came from America. The Airbus had important innovations: it flew on two engines with two pilots, instead of three engines and three pilots. This reduced fuel consumption and lowered per flight operating costs. In 1988, Airbus captured 23 percent of the world market, and in 1999, for the first time, it received more orders for airplanes than Boeing did.-1 The story of ACEE fits within this global context and challenge, and it demonstrates the significance of the decisions made in the development and support of the next-generation aeronautical innovations. Some have argued that the same conservatism and risk aversion that defined the American civil avia­tion industry and enabled a challenger to take over the leading position in world market share now threatens Airbus. Today. Airbus and Boeing both face new sources of competition in Japan and China.[21] [22]

Finally, ACEE is important because it took center stage in NASA’s civil aeronautical research agenda. This led some to argue that ACEE was “the most important program in aeronautical technology in NASA” in the 1970s and 1980s.[23]’ Others called it the "best program NASA has had in the last ten years from the aeronautics standpoint.”[24] Individual awards also attested to its importance. As a measure of the high regard of the aeronautical commu­nity. the Advanced Turboprop eventually earned a Collier Trophy, considered the most prestigious award for aerospace achievement in the United States. NASA’s heritage and tradition were in aeronautics, and for ACEE to be con­sidered the most important of all the programs put it into elite company.

Raymond Colladay, a former president of Lockheed Martin, Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and NASA Associate Administrator said, “By most any metric you would use. I’d have to say yes, that it was the most important.” It was important because it brought together a broad range of research and technology development programs that directly addressed a national need. According to Colladay:

“It had enough resources to make a difference, to really move things forward, whereas most of the time in the NASA aeronautics program, there isn’t enough critical mass and resolve and focus to really make sig­nificant results in a timely fashion. The ACEE program did that."2′ The accompanying list highlights NASA’s aeronautical programs as of 1983, which was the midpoint of the ACEE program and the 25th anniversary of NASA. While these 12 main aeronautics programs were important, ACEE contributed another 6 separate programs on its ow n and was generally considered the most vital for NASA in terms of technological potential and national need.) According to Joseph Chambers, it represented a per­fect mixture of “funding, world economics, and technology readiness ” in contrast to other programs, like the Supersonic Transport, that “spent much more money without significant impact on commercial aviation.”[25] [26]

A snapshot of NASA’s aeronautical programs in 1983 is as follows:

• Supersonic Cruise Aircraft Research (SCAR) developed supersonic technologies.

• for increased range, more passengers. lighter weight, and more efficient engines.

• The Terminal-Configured Vehicle (TCV) studied prob­lems such as landing aircraft in inclement weather, high – density traffic, aircraft noise, and takeoff and landing in highly populated areas.

• Lifting bodies were experimental wingless aircraft.

• Oblique wings were aircraft wings that could pivot 60 degrees to improve fuel efficiency.

• The Highly Maneuverable Aircraft Technology (HiMAT) was a joint program with the Air Force to test advanced fighter aircraft technologies.

• The forward-swept wing (FSW) was a joint program with DARPA to test an unusual configuration with the wings swept forward 30 degrees from the fuselage for greater transonic maneuverability and better low-speed performance.

• The Quiet, Clean Short Haul Experimental Engine (QCSEE) promised lower noise and reduced emissions.

• The Quiet, Clean, General Aviation Turbofan Engine (QCGAT) looked at ways to reduce noise and emission levels for business jets.

• The Quiet Short-haul Research Aircraft (QSRA) was an experimental vehicle to investigate commercial short take­off and landing to assist in reducing airport congestion.

• The Vertical/Short Take-Off and Landing research pro­gram (V/STOL) was one of NASA’s helicopter projects.

• The Rotor Systems Research Aircraft (RSRA) was another experimental helicopter that had wings.

• The Tilt Rotor Research Aircraft (TRRA) flew twice as fast as conventional helicopters and had potential military and commercial opportunities.

It became the “Apollo of Aeronautics,” which represents, on the one hand, its importance, with the comparison to the visible technologi­cal icon. On the other hand, it demonstrates the longstanding belief that NASA’s aeronautics mission had become a handmaiden to its space activi­ties, existing in Apollo’s shadow. The terminology refers to President Richard M. Nixon’s 1973 speech in which he established a “Project Independence," with a goal of attaining energy independence for the United States by 1980. Abe Silverstein. a former Lewis Director, had writ­ten a letter to NASA Administrator George Low, discussing the President’s “need for ‘Apollo’ type programs” for energy, efficiency, and conserva­tion projects.2 Silverstein had a unique connection with the name, as he was the one who suggested that NASA’s missions to the Moon be called “Apollo.”[27] [28]


The name-association between this space program and aeronautics continued with the Advanced Transport Technology program, an ACEE pre­decessor of the early 1970s, which Jeffrey Ethell called the “Apollo pro­gram of aeronautics."[29] Just like ACEE. it incorporated several advanced aeronautical concepts under one initiative.

But, if the best way to describe the Nation’s most significant aero­nautics project was through comparison to an aerospace program and the glory years of Apollo, then this cornerstone of NASA was in trouble. This was both perception and reality. Not only was ACEE threatened with can­cellation just a few years after it began, but in the early 1980s, NASA had to fight to ensure that it would be allowed to keep all of its aeronautics programs under its research umbrella. Key advisers in the new Reagan administration called for the end of aeronautics for NASA. To keep it alive. NASA had to become active advocates and sellers of its aeronautical expertise to convince the Government and the Office of Management and

Budget that it was in the best interest of the Nation to continue these activ­ities. Although a stay of execution was granted, the aeronautics advocates were not entirely successful. In 1980, NASA’s entire budget was S3.6 bil­lion, with aeronautics representing just $300 million.[30] These problems for the aeronautics program continue today.

While ACEE could be considered the Apollo of fuel-conserva­tion projects, it was also fundamentally different. Although ACEE and Apollo both responded to a national need, ACEE was unlike Apollo in that the space program had a significant development component coupled with its mission of building a spacecraft to send men to the Moon. Apollo responded to a national security and military threat. ACEE’s mission was never to build an aircraft but to establish enabling technology that airline manufacturers could commercialize at their own expense. ACEE responded to an economic threat. Apollo was a single program, funded in the billions of dollars. ACEE was a series of six programs, which combined received less than a half billion dollars of funding. Despite these differences, Apollo was the pinnacle of NASA’s aerospace program and became not only a symbol of the Agency’s ability and excellence but also of American tech­nical ingenuity and ability. Although the analogy is not exactly correct, ACEE was NASA’s most important aeronautics program, and so it became the ‘"Apollo of Aeronautics,” fighting to emerge from Apollo’s shadow.

Apollo has become the symbol of American achievement, as demon­strated through that familiar phrase that begins, “If we can put a man on the Moon ” Though it is equally impressive that humans have been Hy­

ing in the sky for just over a century, this feat no longer is as wondrous as it once was. In an era when aeronautics research is continually threatened by funding cuts and disinterest, this monograph’s intentionally ironic title serves as a reminder that aeronautics research it needs to overcome its sec­ondary status and reclaim some of its former prestige. The story told here will demonstrate the significance aeronautics has played and continues to play in the history of the United States.

Finally, this story of the ACEE program takes on special resonance when we reflect from a 21st century perspective, as hybrid technol­ogy and fuel efficiency once again become cherished commodities. In summer 2008, when gasoline prices were measured by increasing dollars, as opposed to increasing cents as in the early 1970s, the United States began awaking from the collective amnesia over fuel dependence suffered throughout the 1990s and the age of the SUV. In the absence of any cur­rent coordinated national effort uniting Government, industry, and aca­demia. the successes and lessons of the ACEE program become ever more important. This $500-million program, funded by the Government, has achieved many of its goals, making the aircraft flying today significantly more fuel efficient. But the structure of the ACEE program, coupled with the willingness of the United States Government to invest in researching risky technological ideas, is what serves as a lesson today. It also serves as a warning for the consequences of failing to utilize aggressively the most revolutionary fuel-efficient technology. Government and industry left some of the most advanced ACEE fuel conservation concepts on the design table and the test stand, never integrating them into commercial flight because of decreasing oil prices (a temporary phenomenon). Today, NASA is scrambling to resurrect some of these concepts—it is, for exam­ple, now attempting to breathe new life into the Advanced Turboprop, a program long thought dead. While ACEE can be examined as a model for how to respond to the energy crisis, which continues to threaten American prosperity, it also demonstrates the consequences of technological innova­tion left to subsequent neglect.

The Wave of the Future—Advanced Turboprop Project

Like many of the ACEE projects, the turboprop’s history started before ACEE was born.12 The project began in the early 1970s with the collab­oration of two engineers: Daniel Mikkelson. of NASA Lewis, and Carl Rohrbach of Hamilton Standard, the Nation’s last propeller manufacturer. Mikkelson. then a young aeronautical research engineer, went back to the old NACA wind tunnel reports, where he found a “glimmer of hope” that propellers could be redesigned to make propeller-powered aircraft fly faster and higher than did those of the mid – to late 1950s.13 Mikkelson and Rohrbach came up with the concept of sweeping the propeller blades to reduce noise and increase efficiency. At Lewis, Mikkelson sparked the interest of a small cadre of engineers, who solved key technological prob­lems essential for the creation of the turboprop, while at the same time attracting support for the project. The engineers also became political advocates, using their technical gains and increasing social acceptance to fight for continued funding. This involved winning Government, industry, and public acceptance for the new propeller technology. While initially the project involved only Hamilton Standard, the aircraft engine manufactur­ers—Pratt & Whitney. Allison, and General Electric —and the giants of the airframe industry— Boeing. Lockheed, and McDonnell-Douglas—jumped on the bandwagon as the turboprop appeared to become more and more technically and socially feasible. The turboprop project became a large, well-funded, “heterogeneous collection of human and material resources” that contemporary historians refer to as “big science.”14

At its height, it involved over 40 industrial contracts, 15 university grants, and contracts with all 4 NASA Research Centers: Lewis. Langley, Dryden, and Ames. The project nonetheless remained controversial through its life, because of technical and social challenges. Technically, studies by Boeing, McDonnell-Douglas, and Lockheed pointed to four [330] [331] [332]

The Wave of the Future—Advanced Turboprop Project

John Klineberg, right. and Andy Stofan in 1983 with an Advanced Turboprop model. (NASA Glenn Research Center (NASA GRC].)

areas of concern: propeller efficiency at cruise speeds, both internal and external noise problems, installation aerodynamics, and maintenance costs.’5 Socially, the turboprop also presented daunting problems. Because of the “perception of turboprops as an old-fashioned, troublesome device with no passenger appeal ” the consensus was that, “the airlines and the manufacturers have little motivation to work on this engine type.”’6

The project had four technical stages: “concept development" from 1976 to 1978. “enabling technology” (1978 to 1980), “large scale integra – tion" (1981 to 1987), and finally “flight research” in 1987.” During each of [333] [334] [335]

The Wave of the Future—Advanced Turboprop Project


Advanced Turboprop elements, including the propeller, nacelle, aerodynamics, and noise control. (NASA Glenn Research Center [NASA GRCJ.)

these stages, NASA’s engineers confronted and solved specific technical problems that were necessary if the Advanced Turboprop project were to meet the defined Government objectives concerning safety, efficiency, and environmental protection. Industry resistance and NASA Headquarters’ sensitivity to public opposition were among the key reasons that of the six projects within the ACEE program, only the Advanced Turboprop failed to receive funding in 1976. John Klineberg. Director of Lewis Research Center, recalled that it was delayed “because it was considered too high risk and too revolutionary to be accepted by the airlines."*4 Everyone, it seemed, associated the advanced turboprop technology with the possi­bility of inciting an aeronautical “revolution ” a paradigm shift, or. as a Forbes magazine headlined it in 1981, “The Next Step.” As surely as “jets drove propellers from the skies," the new “radical designs" could bring a new propeller age to the world.*9 Donald Nored proclaimed that they were the “wave of the future."[336] [337] [338]

Unfortunately, the airline industry was reluctant to return to the propel­ler. According to Nored, executives in the industry were “very conservative, and they had to be.” They were “against propellers” because they had “com­pletely switched over to jets.” Because of their commitment to the turbojet, they raised numerous objections to a new propeller, including noise, main­tenance, and the fear that the “blades would come apart.” Nored recalled each problem had to be “taken up one at a time and dealt with."[339] The revo­lutionary propeller-driven vision of the future frightened the aircraft indus­try with its large investment in turbofan technology. Aircraft structures and engines are improved in slow, conservative, incremental steps. To change the propulsion system of the Nation’s entire commercial fleet represented an investment of tremendous proportions. Even if the Government put sev­eral hundred million dollars into developing an advanced turboprop, the air­frame and aircraft engine industries would still need to invest several billion dollars more to commercialize it. Revolutionary change did not come easily to an established industry so vital to the Nation’s economy.

While fuel savings between 20 to 30 percent were one reason to take this risk, another important political factor favored its development. The Soviet Union had a “turboprop which could fly from Moscow to Havana.”[340] [341] The continuing Cold War prompted the United States to view any Soviet technical breakthrough as a potential threat to American security. During the energy crisis, the knowledge that Soviet turboprop transports had already achieved high propeller fuel efficiency at speeds approaching those of jet-powered planes seemed grave indeed and gave impetus to the NASA program. During the Government hearings, NASA representatives displayed several photos of Russian turboprop planes to win congressio­nal backing for the project:0 The Cold War helped to define the turbo­prop debate. No extensive speculation on the implications of Russian air

The Wave of the Future—Advanced Turboprop Project

Single – and counter-rotation turboprops. (NASA Glenn Research Center [NASA GRC].)

superiority for American national security seemed necessary. The Soviet Union could not be allowed to maintain technical superiority in an area as vital as aircraft fuel efficiency.

The first step in developing a turboprop was to create a small-scale model. Technically, the entire future of the Advanced Turboprop project initially depended on proving whether a model propfan could achieve the predicted fuel-efficiency rates. If this model yielded success, then project advocates would be able to lobby for increased funding for a large research and development program. Thus, even during its earliest phase, the technical and social aspects of the project worked in tandem. Lewis project manag­ers awarded a small group of researchers at Lewis and Hamilton Standard a contract for the development of a 2-foot-diameter model propfan. called the SR-1. or single-rotating propfan. Single-rotating meant that the propfan had only one row of blades, as opposed to a counter-rotating design with two rows of blades, each moving in opposite directions. This model achieved high efficiency rates and provided technical data that the small group of engineers could use as ammunition in the fight to continue the program.

This success led to the formal establishment of the program in 1978 and the enabling technology phase. Technically, this phase dealt with four critical problems: modification of propeller aerodynamics, cabin and com­munity noise, installation aerodynamics, and drive systems. Propeller aerodynamic work included extensive investigations of blade sweep, twist, and thickness. In the late 1970s, for the first time, engineers used comput­ers to analyze the design of a propeller. The advantage of propellers in sav­ing fuel had to be balanced against a potential increase in noise pollution.[342] New computer-generated design codes not only contributed to improved propeller efficiency, but also to solving many of the problems associated with noise. The final two technical problems of the enabling phase dealt with installation aerodynamics and the drive system. Numerous installa­tion arrangements were possible for mounting the turboprop on the wing. Should the propeller operate by “pushing” or “pulling” the aircraft? How should the propeller, nacelle, and the wing be most effectively integrated to reduce drag and increase fuel efficiency? Wind tunnel tests reduced drag significantly by determining the most advantageous wing placement for the propeller. Engineers also examined various drive train problems, including the gearboxes.

After 2 years of work, the turboprop idea began to attract greater commercial and military interest and support. The Navy’s assistant com­mander for research and technology planned to incorporate it as a “viable candidate” for future long-range and long-endurance missions [343] [344] [345]

A Lockheed-California vice president lent his support to the project, saying it would result in performance improvement for military applica­tion and “provide important means for future energy conservation in air transportation.”4* In 1978. the vice president for engineering at United Airlines reported that, after the company’s management review on the ACEE turboprop project, it was “impressed with the progress made to date and the promise for the future.”4′ One year later, United Airlines president Percy A. Wood reiterated support for the program. Wood was “impressed” with the program and believed it was of “utmost impor­tance” for the Nation and would have a “major impact” on the future of air transportation.[346]

With the small-scale model testing complete and growing industry support, the project moved into its most labor – and cost-intensive phase — large-scale integration. The project still had serious uncertainties and prob­lems associated with transferring the designs from a small-scale model to a large-scale propfan. The Large-Scale Advanced Propfan (LAP) project initiated in 1980 would answer these scalability questions and provide a database for the development and production of full-size turbofans. As a first step, NASA had to establish the structural integrity of the advanced turboprop.[347] Project managers initially believed that in the development hierarchy, performance came first, then noise, and finally structure. As the project advanced, it became clear that structural integrity was the key technical problem.[348] Without the correct blade structure, the predicted fuel savings could never be achieved. NASA awarded Hamilton Standard the contract for the structural blade studies that were so crucial to the success of the program. In 1981. Hamilton Standard began to design a large-scale, single-rotating propfan. Five years later, construction was completed on a 9-foot-diameter design very close to the size of a commercial model, which was so large that no wind tunnel in the United States could accom­modate it. The turboprop managers decided to risk the possibility that the European aviation community might benefit from the technology NASA had so arduously perfected. They shipped the SR-7L to a wind tunnel in Modane. France, for testing. In early 1986, researchers subjected the model to speeds up to Mach 0.8 with simulated altitudes of 12,000 feet. The results confirmed the data obtained from the small-model propeller designs. The large-scale model was a success.

Another key concern was unrelated to technological capability. This was a social question concerning passengers: How receptive would they be to propeller-driven aircraft? Laminar flow control and supercritical airfoils could be integrated into an airframe design without the public realizing, for the most part, the technology was even there. Turboprops were different because the propeller was one of the more visible parts of the airplane and was regarded as being from the "old days” when noisy “puddle-jumpers” were flown at low altitudes in turbulence. If the public would not fly in a turboprop plane, all the efficiency savings would be lost flying empty planes across the country.

In response to this concern. NASA and United Airlines initiated an in-flight questionnaire to determine customer reaction to propellers. Both NASA and the industry were aware of the disastrous consequences for the future of the program if this study found the public opposed the return of propeller planes. As a result, the questionnaire deempha- sized the propeller as old technology and emphasized the turboprop as the continuation and advancement of flight technology. The first page of the survey consisted of a letter from United Airlines’ vice president of marketing to the passenger asking for cooperation in a “joint industry – government study concerning the application of new technology to future aircraft.”’1 This opening letter did not mention the new turboprops. The turboprop, inconspicuously renamed the “prop-fan” to give it a more posi­tive connotation, did not make its well-disguised appearance until page 4 of the survey, where the passenger was finally told that “‘prop-fan’ planes could fly as high, as safely, and almost as fast and smooth as jet aircraft.” This was a conscious rhetorical shift from the term "propeller” to “prop – fan” to disassociate it in people’s minds from the old piston engine technol­ogy of the pre-jet-propulsion era. Brian Rowe, a General Electric engineer involved in advanced propeller projects, explained this new labeling strat­egy. He said. "They’re not propellers. They’re fans. People felt that modern was fans, and old technology was propellers. So now we’ve got this modern propeller which we want to call a fan.”[349] [350] The questionnaire explained to the passenger that not only did the “‘prop-fans’… look more like fan blades than propellers,” they would also use 20 to 30 percent less fuel than jet aircraft did.

The questionnaire then displayed three sketches of planes—two were propeller driven, and the third had a turbofan. The passenger had to choose

The Wave of the Future—Advanced Turboprop Project

SR-7L Advanced Turboprop on gulfstream jet in 1987. (NASA Glenn Research Center.)

which one he or she would “prefer to travel in.” Despite all the planes being portrayed in flight, the sketches depicted the propellers as simple circles (no blades present), while the individual blades of the turbofan were visible. These were all subtle and effective hints to the passenger that the “prop-fan” was nothing new and that they were already flying in planes powered by engines with fan blades.

Not surprisingly, the survey yielded favorable results for the turboprop. Of4,069 passengers surveyed, 50 percent said they “would fly prop-fan,” 38 percent had “no preference,” and only 12 percent preferred a jet.*-‘ If the air­lines could avoid fare increases because of the implementation of the turbo­prop. 87 percent of the respondents stated they would prefer to fly in the new turboprop. Relieved and buoyed by the results, NASA engineers liked to point out that most of the passengers did not even know what was currently on the wing of their aircraft.[351] [352] According to Mikkelson. all the passengers wanted to know was “how much were the drinks, and how much was the ticket."[353] Equally relieved was Robert Collins, vice president of engineering for United Airlines, who concluded that this “carefully constructed passen­ger survey. . . indicated that a prop-fan with equivalent passenger com­fort levels would not be negatively viewed, especially if it were recognized for its efficiency in reducing fuel consumption and holding fares down.”[354]

Success spawns imitators. While NASA continued to work with Allison, Pratt & Whitney, and I lamilton Standard to develop its advanced turboprop. General Electric (Pratt & Whitney’s main competitor) was quietly develop­ing an alternative propeller system—the unducted fan (UDF). In NASA’s design, the propeller rotated in one direction. This was called a single rota­tion tractor system and included a relatively complicated gearbox. Since one of the criticisms of the turboprop planes of the 1950s (the Electra. for example) was that their gearboxes required heavy maintenance. General Electric took a different approach to propeller design. Beginning in 1982, its engineers spent 5 years developing a gearless, counter-rotating pusher system. They mounted two propellers (or fans) on the rear of the plane that literally pushed it in flight, as opposed to the “pulling” of conventional pro­pellers. In 1983. the aircraft engine division of General Electric released the unducted fan design to NASA, shortly before flight tests were scheduled.

This took NASA completely by surprise. Suddenly, there were two turboprop projects competing for the same funds. Nored recalled: “They

The Wave of the Future—Advanced Turboprop Project

The Dryden C-140 JetStar during testing of advanced propfan designs. Dryden conducted flight research in 1981-1982. The Lewis Research Center directed the technology’s development under the Advanced Turboprop program. Langley oversaw work on acoustics and noise reduction. The effort was intended to develop a high-speed, luel-efficient turboprop system. (January 1. 1981.) (NASA Dryden Flight Research Center [NASA DFRC|.) wanted us to drop everything and give them all our money, and we couldn’t do that.”” NASA Headquarters endorsed the “novel” unducted fan pro­posal and told Lewis to cooperate with General Electric on the unducted fan development and testing. Despite NASA’s initial reluctance to support two projects, the unducted fan proved highly successful. In 1985. ground tests demonstrated a fuel-conservation rate of 20 percent. Development of the unducted fan leapt ahead of NASA’s original geared design. One year later, on August 20, 1986. General Electric installed its unducted fan on the right wing of a Boeing 727. Thus, much to NASA engineers’ dismay, the first flight of an advanced turboprop system demonstrated the technical feasibility of the unducted fan system —a proprietary engine belonging to entirely General Electric, not a product of the joint NASA-industry team. Nevertheless, the competition between the two systems, and the willing­ness of private industry to invest development funds, helped build even greater momentum for acceptance of the turboprop concept. [355]

NASA engineers continued to perfect their single-rotating turboprop system through preliminary stationary flight-testing/* The first step was to take the Hamilton Standard SR-7A propfan and combine it with the Allison turboshaft engine and gearbox housed within a special tilt nacelle. NASA engineers conducted a static or stationary test at Rohr’s Brown Field in Chula Vista. CA. mounting the nacelle, gearbox, engine, and propeller on a small tower. The stationary test met all performance objectives after 50 hours of testing in May and June 1986. a success that cleared the way for an actual flight test of the turboprop system. In July 1986, engineers dis­mantled the static assembly and shipped the parts to Savannah, GA, for reassembly on a modified Gulfstream II with an eight-blade, single-rotation turboprop on its left wing.[356] [357] [358] The radical dreams of the NASA engineers for fuel-efficient propellers were finally close to becoming reality. The plane contained over 600 sensors to monitor everything from acoustics to vibration. Flight-testing —the final stage of advanced turboprop develop­ment—took place in 1987. when a modified Gulfstream II took flight in the Georgia skies. These flight tests proved that the predictions NASA made in the early 1970s of a 20- to 30-percent fuel savings were indeed correct.

On the heels of the successful tests of both the General Electric and the NASA-industry team designs came not only increasing support for propeller systems themselves, but also high visibility from media reports predicting the next propulsion revolution. The New York Times predicted the “Return of the propellers” while the Washington Times proclaimed, “Turboprops are back!’v, l> Further testing indicated that this propulsion technology was ready for commercial development. As late as 1989, the U. S. aviation industry was “considering the development of several new engines and aircraft that may incorporate advanced turboprop propulsion systems.”[359] But the economic realities of 1987 were far different from those predicted in the early 1970s. Though all the problems standing in the way of commercialization were resolved, the advanced turboprop never reached production, a casualty of the one contingency that NASA engineers never anticipated—fuel prices decreased. Once the energy crisis passed, the need for the advanced turboprop vanished. Oil cost S3.39 per barrel in 1970. It was $37.42 per barrel in 1980. By 1988. it had dropped to $14.87 per barrel, and ACEE programs such as Laminar Flow Control and the Advanced Turboprop lost their relevance.[360] [361] As the energy crisis sub­sided in the 1980s and fuel prices decreased, there was no longer a favor­able ratio of cost to implement turboprop technology versus savings in fuel efficiency. As John R. Facey, Advanced Turboprop Program Manager at NASA Headquarters, wrote, “An all new aircraft w ith advanced avion­ics, structures, and aerodynamics along with high-speed turboprops would be much more expensive than current turbofan-powered aircraft, and fuel savings would not be enough to offset the higher initial cost.”[362]

Yet managers of the Advanced Turboprop program, such as Keith Sievers, were convinced that the NASA-industry team had made a signifi­cant contribution to aviation that ought to receive recognition. Although NASA won several Collier trophies, which are regarded as the most pres­tigious award given annually for aerospace achievement for innovations related to the space program, it had produced no winners in aeronautics for almost 30 years. If the turboprop could win such an honor, it might justify the importance of this work. In hopes of winning the Collier Trophy, Sievers began mobilizing the aeronautical constituency that had participated in turboprop development. Although NASA Headquarters initially expressed some reluctance to press for the prize for a technology that was unlikely to be used, at least in the near future, the timing was perfect. There was little competition from NASA’s space endeavors, since staff members in the space directorate were still in the midst of recovering from the Challenger explosion. As a result, in 1987 the National Aeronautic Association awarded NASA Lewis and the NASA-industry Advanced Turboprop team the Collier Trophy at ceremonies in Washington, DC, for develop­ing a new fuel-efficient turboprop propulsion system/’4 The winning team

The Wave of the Future—Advanced Turboprop Project

John Klineberg holding the Collier Trophy (May 13. 1988). (NASA Glenn Research Center (NASA GRCJ.)

included Hamilton Standard, General Electric, Lockheed, the Allison Gas Turbine Division of General Motors. Pratt & Whitney, McDonnell – Douglas, and Boeing —one of the larger and more diverse groups to be so honored in the history of the prize.

Some specific technologies that were designed for the turboprop proj­ect are in use today. These include noise reduction advances, gearboxes that use the turboprop design, and solutions to certain structural problems.

such as how to keep the blades stable.[363] [364] Today, the technology remains “on the shelf,” or “archived ” awaiting the time when fuel conservation again becomes a necessity. When interviewed in the mid-1990s, NASA engi­neers involved in the Advanced Turboprop Project remained confident that future economic conditions would make the turboprop attractive again. When fuel prices rise, the turboprop’s designs will be “on the shelf." ready to provide tremendous fuel-efficient savings. But NASA engineers did not build their careers around technologies that were ultimately neglected. Donald Nored sentimentally reflected on the project, waved goodbye to the future of turboprops, and said, “We almost made it. Almost made it.”f’6