National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

Design and Construction (1947 – 1952)
PSL as seen during its construction

The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) was formed in 1915 to coordinate aeronautical research in the United States. Its laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio specialized in aircraft engines and offered many engine test facilities. In the late 1940s the NACA realized it needed yet another, larger facility to test the newest jet engines. Design of the Propulsion Systems Laboratory (PSL) began in 1947, and construction followed in September 1949. The first test was run in October 1952.

     New Altitude Test Facilities Aid Improvements of Turbojets (PDF, 352KB)
     New Lab to Expand Research Articles (PDF, 360KB)

Engine Testing at the NACA
Engine test in Prop House
Prop House

Aircraft engines had been largely ignored by the NACA for the first twenty years of its existence. It was the realization of Germany’s propulsion advancements in the late 1930s that prodded the NACA to open a new laboratory specifically to study engine systems. This new Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory (AERL) in Cleveland, Ohio became operational in 1942.

The first major facility to come online was the Engine Propeller Research Building, or Prop House, in May 1942. The Prop House contained four 24-foot-diameter test cells that could run 4000-horsepower piston engines in ambient conditions. The Altitude Wind Tunnel (AWT), which was completed in early 1944, was a much more complex and useful facility. It could run the same size engines in conditions that simulated altitudes up to 50,000 feet and at speeds up to 500 miles per hour. The AWT was so successful that its schedule soon became backed up for months on end. It was decided to quickly build two static engine test stands in the Engine Research Building. This Four Burner Area could also run full-size engines at simulated altitudes up to 50,000 feet. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, the jet engine was rapidly growing in power and size. A more powerful test facility was needed.

     Altitude Wind Tunnel Website

Jet aircraft in Altitude Wind Tunnel
Altitude Wind Tunnel
Jet engine in Four Burner cell
Four Burner Area
Large J71 turbojet on stand in shop
Larger Turbojets
Designing the PSL
Building Overview
Building Overview

Engineers at the lab began planning in 1947 for a new facility that combined the test cell concept of the Four Burner Area with the massive infrastructure of the AWT. It would be part of a comprehensive plan to improve the altitude testing capabilities across the lab by linking the exhaust, refrigeration, and combustion air systems from all the major test facilities. In this way, different facilities could be used to complement the capabilities of one another. Ten million dollars were allocated for the new PSL chambers. Within five months, veteran engineer Eugene Wasielewski converted the recommendations of the lab’s Research Facilities Panel into design specifications. The Burns and Roe Company worked closely with the NACA engineers to create the master drawings from these specifications.

The overall concept of PSL was relatively simple, but integrating the massive systems and having them perform at the desired levels was very complicated. The facility consisted of two test chambers, exhaust gas coolers, an equipment building to house the exhausters and compressors, an access building, cooling tower, pump house, and an office building. It also included a compressed air system that supplied combustion air, an altitude exhaust gas system, research equipment installations, a cooling water system, electrical power system, as well as basic utilities, an intercommunication system, control rooms, roads, and a fire protection system.

     Preliminary Proposal for PSL (1948) (PDF, 4.97MB)
     Wasielewski Retirement Article (1956) (PDF, 320KB)

Eugene Wasielewski
Aerial View of PSL
Aerial View of PSL
PSL building layout drawing
PSL Layout
Original Construction
PSL Construction
PSL Construction

PSL was projected to cost $11,830,000, which included almost $3 million for the exhaust system. The plan was to build the facility in two phases. The second, more powerful phase would be added shortly after the facility became operational. The Sam W. Emerson Company, which had built many of the lab’s buildings in the early 1940s, was selected to perform much of the basic construction work. The Elliott Company and the Ross Heater Company worked on the design of the massive compressors and coolers.

Construction began in late summer 1949 with the installation of an overhead exhaust pipe connecting PSL to the Altitude Wind Tunnel and Engine Research Building. Excavations for PSL began in September. In the spring of 1950, the facility’s supports were erected and the two large exhaust gas coolers were installed. Work on the Access Building then began with the large test section pieces arriving in early 1951. Construction of the Equipment Building began in earnest in early 1951. The exhausters and compressors were added in the spring of 1952. The facility was completed in September 1952, three years after construction began.

Construction Footage
PSL Construction 2
PSL Construction
Initial Excavations
Initial Excavations