Events

March 5, 2014

What’s in a name: NASA Research Center had many in its history

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Peter Merlin
Armstrong Flight Research Center

This aerial photo depicts the original hangars and administrative buildings that were built in 1954 as they appeared in 2001 at what now will be known as the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, redesignated in honor of the late Neil A. Armstrong.

NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center has been redesignated as the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center as of March 1, 2014, in honor of the late Neil A. Armstrong, a research test pilot at the center prior to his joining the NASA astronaut corps and becoming the first man to set foot on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.

Although the redesignation of NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center as the Armstrong Flight Research Center may take some getting used to for some long-time employees, it is hardly a unique event. In fact, the center has undergone no less than 10 name changes since it was first established by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, NASAís predecessor, on Sept. 30, 1946.

The facility had humble beginnings as a detachment of the NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Va., that was deployed to Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base) at Rogers Dry Lake in the heart of Californiaís Mojave Desert. The NACA Muroc Unit was comprised of scarcely more than a dozen members: engineers, technicians, pilots, and administrative personnel assigned to test the Bell X-1, the first supersonic airplane.

The remote desert post was initially intended to be temporary but on Sept. 7, 1947, NACA director of aeronautical research Hugh L. Dryden officially established a permanent facility named the NACA Muroc Flight Test Unit. For the next two years it was managed by Langley until becoming independent on Nov. 14, 1949, at which time it was renamed the NACA High-Speed Flight Research Station.

This view of the center, taken from above the taxiway that connects the center to the main flight line at Edwards Air Force Base, shows the center as it appeared in 1992.

Increasing numbers of projects and personnel necessitated relocating the entire facility to the northern end of the lakebed. The new location was inaugurated on July 1, 1954, as the NACA High-Speed Flight Station.

Establishment of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Oct. 1, 1958, mandated a simple name change to the NASA High-Speed Flight Station. A much more significant change on Sept. 27, 1959 amended the name to the NASA Flight Research Center, elevating the facility to full center status and reflecting the broader scope of aeronautical research being undertaken there.

On March 26, 1976, it was formally named the NASA Hugh L. Dryden Flight Research Center in honor of Hugh Drydenís substantial contributions to aeronautics and his efforts to transform the former NACA into the core of the new agency, ensuring that NASA would become a worldwide leader in air and space exploration.

Five years later, in response to congressional budget cuts, some of the agencyís aeronautics organizations were consolidated. As a result, the center lost its independent status and became the Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility under the management of NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., on Oct. 1, 1981.

This institutional pairing ended on March 1, 1994, when the Dryden Flight Research Center once again became independent. NASA administrator Dan Goldin explained that this change reflected the agencyís commitment to reduce layers of management and empower organizations to better carry out their missions.

Exactly two decades later on March 1, 2014, NASA redesignated the center as the Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center and the center’s test range as the Hugh L. Dryden Aeronautical Test Range, honoring the legacies of two men without whom NASA as we know it today might not have existed.




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