The wind tunnel in all its forms has carried the burden of technical advance in aeronautics as well as in space. While the contributions of some facilities have the hallmark of greatness, the technical impact of others has been only transitory. The elements of wind tunnel greatness, distilled from 60 years of NACA/NASA tunnel operation, are fundamental- timeliness in meeting a technical need, excellence of design, research versatility, and direction by an innovative and technically competent staff.
Of these four elements, the most important is the staff. Ronald Smelt, in a recent Florence Guggenheim Memorial Lecture (Lisbon, Portugal, September 1978) pointed out that "...in every aeronautical center, it is noteworthy that once the resource was available, there grew up around the facilities a group of people who knew how to use them, and use them wisely.... Past history of aeronautical laboratories has clearly shown that the building of the superb team is of greater importance than the building of the superb facility."
The wind tunnels of NASA and their staffs constitute a national resource of great value. From the frail wood and fabric aircraft of World War I and the sputtering rockets of early pioneers, aerospace technology has progressed to supersonic transports spanning the oceans, space probes to the planets, and manned landings on the Moon. Soon, winged space vehicles will routinely return from orbit to a precision landing on spaceship Earth. The wind tunnels of NASA (and those of its predecessor NACA) have been in the forefront of this pioneering technology. Dedicated to the service of all mankind, these facilities and their staffs promise a future generation of flight that challenges the imagination.