Langley Research Center

NASA Langley Research Center
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NASA Langley Research Center aerial view (2011).jpg
Aerial view of NASA Langley in 2011
Agency overview
Preceding agency
  • Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory
JurisdictionUS Federal Government
HeadquartersHampton, Virginia, United States
Employees1,821 (2017)
Agency executives
  • Dr. David E. Bowles, Director
  • Clayton P. Turner, Deputy Director
  • Cathy H. Mangum, Associate Director
NASA Langley Research Center Map.jpg
Map of NASA Langley Research Center

Langley Research Center (LaRC or NASA Langley) located in Hampton, Virginia, United States, is the oldest of NASA's field centers.[1] It directly borders Langley Air Force Base and the Back River on the Chesapeake Bay. LaRC has focused primarily on aeronautical research, but has also tested space hardware at the facility, such as the Apollo Lunar Module. In addition, a number of the earliest high-profile space missions were planned and designed on-site.

Established in 1917 by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the research center devotes two-thirds of its programs to aeronautics, and the rest to space. LaRC researchers use more than 40 wind tunnels to study and improve aircraft and spacecraft safety, performance, and efficiency. Between 1958 and 1963, when NASA (the successor agency to NACA) started Project Mercury, LaRC served as the main office of the Space Task Group.

In June 2015, after previously serving as associate director, then deputy director, Dr. David E. Bowles was appointed director of NASA Langley.[4]


A variety of research aircraft at NASA Langley in 1994

After US-German relations had deteriorated from neutral to hostile around 1916, the prospect of U.S. war entry became possible. On February 15, 1917, the newly established Aviation Week warned that the U.S. military aviation capability was less than what was operating in the European war.[5] President Woodrow Wilson sent Jerome Hunsaker to Europe to investigate, and Hunsaker's report prompted Wilson to command the creation of the nation's first aeronautics laboratory, which became NASA Langley.[6]

In 1917, less than three years after it was created, the NACA established Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory on Langley Field. Both Langley Field and the Langley Laboratory are named for aviation pioneer Samuel Pierpont Langley.[7] The Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps had established a base there earlier that same year. The first research facilities were in place and aeronautical research was started by 1920. Initially the laboratory included four researchers and 11 technicians.[8]

LaRC's 14-foot (4 m) × 22-foot (7 m) subsonic wind tunnel

Langley Field and NACA began parallel growth as air power proved its utility during World War I. The center was originally established to explore the field of aerodynamic research involving airframe and propulsion engine design and performance. In 1934 the world's largest wind tunnel was constructed at Langley Field with a 30 × 60 foot test section; it was large enough to test full-scale aircraft.[9][10] It remained the world's largest wind tunnel until the 1940s, when a 40 × 80 foot tunnel was built at NASA Ames Research Center in California.[11]

Early in 1945, the center expanded to include rocket research, leading to the establishment of a flight station at Wallops Island, Virginia. A further expansion of the research program permitted Langley Research Center to orbit payloads, starting with NASA's Explorer 9 balloon satellite in mid-February 1961. As rocket research grew, aeronautics research continued to expand and played an important part when subsonic flight was advanced and supersonic and hypersonic flight were introduced.[citation needed]

Langley Research Center can claim many historic firsts, some of which have proven to be revolutionary scientific breakthroughs. These accomplishments include the development of the concept of research aircraft leading to supersonic flight, the world's first transonic wind tunnels, the Lunar Landing Facility providing the simulation of lunar gravity, and the Viking program for Mars exploration.[12] The center also developed standards for the grooving of aircraft runways based on a previous British design used at Washington National Airport.[13] Grooved runways reduce aquaplaning which permits better grip by aircraft tires in heavy rain. This grooving is now the international standard for all runways around the world.