From Engines to Energy—Lewis Research Center

Established during World War II as an aircraft engine research laboratory, Lewis became the third laboratory of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, following Langley and Ames.

From Engines to Energy—Lewis Research Center

Bruce Luiulin in 1960 at the Rocket Laboratory. Lundin investigated heat transfer and worked to improve the performance of World War II aircraft engines. From 1969 to 1977. he was Director of the Lewis Research Center. (NASA Glenn Research Center (NASA GRC|.)

Lewis engineers pursued aircraft engine research in the national interest —often over the objections of the engine companies, who per­ceived the Government as interfering w ith the normal forces of supply and demand. During the early years of the Cold War. the laboratory participated in engine research and testing to assist the engine companies in developing the turbojet engine. After the launch of Sputnik, the laboratory focused on a new national priority—rocket propulsion research and development. All work on air-breathing engines ceased for nearly 10 years. The return to air­craft engine research coincided with drastic reductions in staff, mandated by cuts in NASA’s large-scale space programs. The mass exodus of nearly 800 personnel in 1972 sparked an effort to redefine the Center’s mission and find new sources of funding. One year later, the Nixon Administration reduced the NASA budget by $200 million. This coincided with OPEC’s oil embargo and galvanized the Center’s Director, Bruce Lundin, to look for ways to use its propulsion expertise to help solve the energy crisis* [179] [180]

From Engines to Energy—Lewis Research Center

Lewis Research Center in 1968. (NASA Glenn Research Center (NASA GRC|.)

Lewis engineers were exploring a variety of alternative energy pro­grams, and Virginia Dawson characterized its new focus as “Lewis turns earthward.” These efforts began in the early 1970s with the NASA Volunteer Air Conservation Committee, headed by Louis Rosenblum and J. Stuart Fordyce. They were inspired by the tragic symbol of a polluted Cleveland, which became a national joke after the literal burning of its Cuyahoga River. Then Robert Hibbard began a graduate seminar with stu­dents from area universities, which focused on ways to develop cleaner engines and other environmental issues.4 In 1971, Lewis established its Environmental Research Office, set up monitoring stations throughout the city, and worked with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to study water pollution in Lake Erie. In the early 1970s, Lewis engi­neers also initiated research using its nuclear test reactor at Plum Brook Station, irradiating over 1,000 samples per year for the EPA.[181] [182] According to Dawson, emerging from these programs “were the seeds from which an

From Engines to Energy—Lewis Research Center

Windmill project conducted by Lewis Research Center (September 3. 1975). (NASA Glenn Research Center (NASA GRCJ.)

entirely new effort would grow”[183] These efforts were soon followed by investigations into alternative energy sources—wind, solar, and electric.

In 1974, Lewis received SI.5 million for a wind-energy program from the National Science Foundation and the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA). As a result, the Lewis-managed Plum Brook Station eventually built experimental windmills for research. With 2 massive 62-foot propeller blades, the first 125-foot windmill was capable of generating 100 kilowatts. At the time, it was the second largest windmill ever constructed in the United States. One engineer who worked on the Lewis windmills predicted that the country would soon see "hun­dreds of thousands of windmills generating electricity across the United States.”[184] The most impressive of those built by Lewis engineers w’as a commercial wind turbine generator in Hawaii in 1988. which was then the world’s largest.[185]

A program in solar cell technology development followed on the windmill project’s heels, along with increasing funding for various energy-related programs by ERDA and its successor, the Department of Energy.[186] Though Lewis lost out on a bid for a $35-million Federal solar research institute, its growing expertise in alternative energy was becom­ing well known. In 1978, Lewis’s engineers were consulted in building the world’s first solar-power system for a community —the 96 residents of the Papago Indian village about 100 miles northwest of Tucson. Louis Rosenblum designed the solar array and helped install it. His system replaced the Papago tribe’s kerosene lighting in 16 homes, a church, and a tribal feast house.[187] [188]

The creation of an electric automobile was another Lewis project. Known as the Hybrid Vehicle Project, its engineers researched several experimental concepts to achieve increased fuel efficiency and decreased emissions and address a growing national need caused by its energy depen­dence.1,1 These primarily electric vehicles were charged by an outside source. Lewis engineers completed their initial plan in 1975 and entered discussions with ERDA about how and when to begin research. One Washington Post article speculated that the Center’s work “could make electric vehicles practical and reduce U. S. dependence on foreign oil.”[189]

From Engines to Energy—Lewis Research Center

Electric urban vehicle at Lewis Research Center. (NASA Glenn Research Center (NASA GRC(.)

The changing focus of the Center’s activities prompted rumors— emphatically denied—that it would become part of the ERDA. This even resulted in one report that asked “Should the Agency Continue an Aeronautical Propulsion Program at Lewis?”[190] [191] The Lewis engineers responded by unionizing, and in December 1974, instead of joining the American Federation of Government Employees, they created the new Engineers and Scientists Association and became part of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. They also looked for a way to return to the roots and the expertise of the Center—engine research. They found their major new mission in the growing national need to develop more efficient engines for commercial aircraft. The new emphasis on energy-efficient aircraft, unlike the ERDA projects, promised to keep Lewis firmly in NASA’s fold.14 Moreover, it brought high visibil­ity to the aeronautics side of NASA, long overshadow ed by the enormous budgets and prestige of the space program.

From 1973 to 1976, according to Donald Nored. the head of the Lewis ACEE programs, “there was much action at Lewis, at Headquarters, and within the propulsion industry addressing fuel conservation,”[192] Preliminary studies explored technology concepts that improved efficiency. At the time, Nored remembered, a strong national need fostered a climate that was favor­able and aggressive in its support of research. Concepts, ideas, and programs were plentiful, but Nored explained that the genesis of many of the origi­nal ideas was blurred because of the frequent interaction and “synergism in the activities.” Nonetheless, the period from 1973 to 1976 demonstrates the early articulation of ideas that eventually led to Lewis’s three main proj­ects in the ACEE program—Advanced Turboprops, a new energy-efficient engine, and engine performance improvements and deterioration studies.

National need prompted Lewis engineers to begin their fuel efficiency studies 3 years before ACEE’s inception. In April 1973.6 months before the OPEC oil embargo, the Energy Trends and Alternative Fuels study began at NASA Headquarters, with Lewis and Ames assisting. The goal was to iden­tify alternative fuel studies and project fuel usage requirements in the future. Abe Silverstein, Lewis’s former powerful Director, chaired the Alternative Aircraft Fuels Committee. By the end of the year, discussions centered on recommending programs more specifically for aircraft fuel conservation and conventional and unconventional modifications to aircraft engines.

In January 1974, a steering committee performed design studies, explored new fuel-conservation technologies, and suggested modifica­tion to existing engines. Its work concluded I month later, with a plan to establish an Energy-Conservative Aircraft Propulsion Technology pro­gram. an ambitious, 9-year plan, accompanied by a funding request of SI36 million. By April of that year, cost-benefit analyses were presented to Headquarters. A main component of the project was a new energy-effi­cient engine, which some speculated would be 30 percent more efficient than existing engines and could possibly be ready for service by 1985. This project eventually evolved into the Energy Efficient Engine program.

The Advanced Turboprop had its origins in an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) workshop in March 1974. After much discussion, the participants agreed that a 15-percent fuel savings was possible. The Engine Component Improvement program traced its beginnings to summer 1974, when Lewis engineers awarded a contract to American Airlines, allowing them to examine the airlines’ records to begin looking at how its JT8D and JT3D engines deteriorated over time. These records provided early clues as to the extent and cause of the performance decline of the engines. Pratt & Whitney also entered into a contract with Lewis to investigate similar issues and in January 1975 offered its findings on performance deterioration for its current engines. It was at this time that the Kramer Committee took the lead in coordinating NASA’s efforts in air­craft fuel conservation, working to establish one central program to orga­nize these activities. Kramer, according to Nored, was “very successful in guidance of the program. . . through the various Headquarters/OMB/ industry advisory board pitfalls that can squelch a new start.’”1 The ACEE program was underway, and Lewis engineers were anxious and enthusias­tic about their three aircraft propulsion projects.

Leave a reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>