Innovation at 100

Air travel, spaceflight, robotic solar-system missions: science fiction to those alive at the turn of the 20th century became science fact to those living in the 21st. 

America’s aerospace future has been literally made at our Langley Research Center by the best and brightest the country can offer. Here are some of the many highlights from a century of ingenuity and invention.

Making the Modern Airplane

In times of peace and war, Langley helped to create a better airplane, including unique wing shapes, sturdier structures, the first engine cowlings, and drag cleanup that enabled the Allies to win World War II.

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In 1938 Langley mounted the navy’s Brewster XF2A-1 Buffalo in the Full-Scale Tunnel for drag reduction studies.

Wind Goes to Work

Langley broke new ground in aeronautical research with a suite of first-of-their-kind wind tunnels that led to numerous advances in commercial, military and vertical flight, such as helicopters and other rotorcraft. 

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Airflow turning vanes in Langley’s 16-Foot Transonic Tunnel.

Aeronautics Breakthroughs

Aviation Hall of Famer Richard Whitcomb’s area rule made practical jet flight a reality and, thanks to his development of winglets and the supercritical wing, enabled jets to save fuel and fly more efficiently.

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Richard Whitcomb examines a model aircraft incorporating his area rule.

Making Space

Langley researchers laid the foundation for the U.S. manned space program, played a critical role in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, and developed the lunar-orbit rendezvous concept that made the Moon landing possible.

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Neil Armstrong trained for the historic Apollo 11 mission at the Lunar Landing Research Facility,

Safer Air Above and Below

Langley research into robust aircraft design and construction, runway safety grooving, wind shear, airspace management and lightning protection has aimed to minimize, even eliminate air-travel mishaps

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NASA’s Boeing 737 as it approached a thunderstorm during microburst wind shear research in Colorado in 1992.

Tracking Earth from Aloft

Development by Langley of a variety of satellite-borne instrumentation has enabled real-time monitoring of planet-wide atmospheric chemistry, air quality, upper-atmosphere ozone concentrations, the effects of clouds and air-suspended particles on climate, and other conditions affecting Earth’s biosphere.

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Crucial Shuttle Contributions

Among a number of vital contributions to the creation of the U.S. fleet of space shuttles, Langley developed preliminary shuttle designs and conducted 60,000 hours of wind tunnel tests to analyze aerodynamic forces affecting shuttle launch, flight and landing.

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Space Shuttle model in the Langley wind tunnel.

Decidedly Digital

Helping aeronautics transition from analog to digital, Langley has worked on aircraft controls, glass cockpits, computer-aided synthetic vision and a variety of safety-enhancing onboard sensors to better monitor conditions while airborne and on the ground.

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Aerospace research engineer Kyle Ellis uses computer-aided synthetic vision technology in a flight deck simulator.

Fast, Faster, Fastest

Langley continues to study ways to make higher-speed air travel a reality, from about twice the speed of sound – supersonic – to multiple times: hypersonic.

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Langley continues to study ways to make higher-speed air travel a reality, from about twice the speed of sound – supersonic – to multiple times: hypersonic.

Safer Space Sojourns

Protecting astronauts from harm is the aim of Langley’s work on the Orion Launch Abort System, while its work on materials and structures for lightweight and affordable space transportation and habitation will keep future space travelers safe.

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Unmasking the Red Planet

Beginning with its leadership role in Project Viking, Langley has helped to unmask Martian mysteries with a to-date involvement in seven Mars missions, with participation in more likely to come.

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First image of Mars taken by Viking 1 Lander.

Touchdown Without Terror

Langley’s continued work on advanced entry, descent and landing systems aims to make touchdowns on future planetary missions routinely safe and secure.

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Artist concept of NASA’s Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator – an entry, descent and landing technology.

Going Green

Helping to create environmentally benign aeronautical technologies has been a focus of Langley research, including concepts to reduce drag, weight, fuel consumption, emissions, and lessen noise.

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Intrepid Inventors

With a history developing next-generation composite structures and components, Langley innovators continue to garner awards for a variety of aerospace inventions with a wide array of terrestrial applications.

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Boron Nitride Nanotubes: High performance, multi-use nanotube material.

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