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And worse, there was a realization that no longer was the airplane a simple linear design, a finished structure made up of component building blocks that had each been designed separately. The design of a supersonic airplane, and in fact, of any efficient highspeed airplane, was going to have to be an integrated whole, in which each component interacted with every other, and none could be changed without affecting the overall design, perhaps radically. This was the general statement of the prob- lem that faced Langley researchers as they entered their fourth decade of research.

At the end of the war, more than 3,200 were employed at Langley. During this third decade, the primary job at Langley was to refine the basic airplane that its earlier researches had made possible. The propeller-driven, all-metal airplane with a low wing, cowled engines, retractable landing gear, and flaps needed refinement. Engine power was on the rise, and corresponding improvements in airplane performance were possible. But the airplane had to be designed carefully, especially in detail, if maximum advantage was to be gained.

The NACA cowling was refined further for a higher speed range. A special flushriveting technique was developed to reduce the parasite drag of airplanes. One pursuit plane was plagued by a series of in-flight tail failures. Langley engineers isolated the problem, helped suggest a solution. The plane went on to be one of the fondly remembered fighters of World War 2. Another Army pursuit developed a “tuck”, a tendency to steepen its dive until it “tucked” past the vertical into a partially inverted attitude, and trouble began.

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Fifty Years of Aeronautical Research

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