Chapter 3: Transonic Wind Tunnel Development (1940 -1950)
[117] In today's large federal research agencies any program of comparable scope and importance would be managed by a Program Director and his staff in agency headquarters. Several committees of outside "specialists" would be involved with senior agency managers to define a structured program. Program definition would be followed by promotions, approvals, negotiations for funds, and finally by the start of work at the agency's centers and its contractor establishments.
By contrast, the NACA wind tunnel development program described in Chapter III was almost entirely unstructured. Management assumed that research ideas would emerge from an alert staff at all levels, rather than from outside sources. On a problem of major proportions such as transonic facilities any scheme for research that survived peer discussions and gained section and division approvals was likely to be implemented. In almost every instance the individual who proposed the idea for the research was made personally responsible for its execution. Thus each project was carried out by the one most highly motivated to make it succeed. The interest and zeal of such researchers is seldom seen on the staffs of today's project offices which are likely to be assembled from individuals who happen to be available from recently completed previous assignments.
Large structured programs require frequent reviews, coordination with other agencies, and repeated justifications. These functions are major time consumers and generators of enormous volumes of paperwork. Very little of this was required in the simple NACA system. Occasional chats with his division chief or department head, or a brief verbal report at [118] the monthly department meeting were about all that was required of the NACA project engineer. The paperwork burden was almost nil; in many cases the final technical report was the only significant paperwork-surely the ideal minimum.
The ambitious Rocket-Model Program at Wallops Island and the High-Speed Research Airplane Program were exceptions to the simple pattern of the smaller projects. They required interagency coordination which necessarily involved more formal management structuring. Even so, by comparison to current practice the management of these programs was delightfully simple, direct, unobtrusive, and inexpensive.