NASA photo

In this photograph taken in 1942, an engineer at the Ames Research Center performs wind tunnel testing on a scale model of a new torpedo/dive bomber under development for the US Navy. Ames Research Center, named in honor of Joseph S. Ames, one of the founding members of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), was established in 1939 at Moffett Field in California. Working in a facility that boasted the world’s greatest collection of wind tunnels of varying sizes, researchers at Ames assisted in the development of many of the aircraft that helped America prevail in World War II. Following the war, researchers at Ames made groundbreaking discoveries in subsonic, transonic, supersonic and hypersonic flight and did critical work in the development of swept-wing aircraft.

A North American F-86 Sabre is lowered into a full-sized wind tunnel at Ames (NASA photo)

The facility was renamed the NASA Ames Research Center in 1958 following the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and its work has since expanded into the fields of computational fluid dynamics, flight simulation technology, information technology, research into air traffic management, and helicopter and tilt rotor aircraft. The Center also provided support to space programs such as Pioneer, the first spacecraft to leave Earth orbit, Viking, which provided the first clear images of the Martian surface, and the Lunar Prospector, which was instrumental in proving the existence of water at the poles of the Moon. It’s pioneering work continues today.

The National Full-scale Aerodynamics Complex as it appears today (NASA photo)
Full sized Douglas BTD Destroyer in the 40x80 wind tunnel at Ames

But what about that gull-winged torpedo bomber? That is a scale model of the Douglas BTD Destroyer, a truly mammoth carrier-borne aircraft that was designed in response to a 1941 request from the US Navy for a single attack aircraft to replace both the Douglas SBD Dauntless and the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver. Designed by noted Douglas engineer Ed Heinemann, the Destroyer featured a laminar flow wing and, in a first for a carrier aircraft, a tricycle landing gear. It was powered by a massive 18-cylinder Wright R-3350 Duplex-Cyclone radial engine, the same engine that powered the Boeing B-29 Superfortress and Lockheed Constellation, and could carry 3,200 pounds of bombs or two 1,947-pound torpedoes. The Destroyer took its maiden flight on April 8, 1943, and the first production aircraft were delivered in June 1944. However, with the surrender of Japan coming just a little more than a year later, the Destroyer never saw combat, and only 28 were delivered before the project was canceled. Nevertheless, Heinemann and Douglas continued work on the BTD, eventually developing it into the single-seat Douglas A-1 Skyraider, one of the greatest attack aircraft ever built.

US Navy

If you enjoy these posts, please join in the conversation and let me know. If you missed an episode, you can find them all at Wingspan.