Warminster, Pennsylvania
~History~

Naval Air Development Center
- Johnsville -
    

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Warminster, Pennsylvania.

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and rich history of our town.

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Brewster Aircraft Corporation -circa 1942


Naval Air Development Center, Johnsville - circa 1990

from a speech by Captain William L. McCracken

In 1939 the Brewster Aircraft Corporation purchased this property from the Greenfield Farm and transitioned it into an aircraft manufacturing plant.

WWII was in full swing in Europe and Asia and there was a great demand for aircraft by the countries currently involved in the conflict plus the needs of this country to prepare for possible entry into the conflict. Brewster needed to expand its existing facilities in NY and NJ to meet this demand.

The Brewster Buffalo and Buccaneer aircraft were among the first high performance monoplanes of the early 30’s. However, by 1942 they were no match for the Japanese Zero and the German Messerschmidt.

In 1944, the Navy purchased the Brewster Plant and transitioned this property into the Naval Aircraft Modification Unit. Here large quantities of Aircraft were modified for use in the war. Also the development of guided missiles began here.

With the end of WW II, it was a time to downsize and reorganize the Navy and there was no longer a need to modify aircraft for war use. There was, however a need to centralize the research and development activities in naval aviation. Based on the research that had begun on guided missiles, this base established the Pilotless Aircraft Laboratory. Other research and development activities were started here including the Aeronautical Electronic and Electrical Laboratory and the Aircraft Armament Laboratory. In 1947, the base transitioned into the Naval Air Development Station.

More aviation research activities and facilities transferred here from Boston, Lakehurst, Philadelphia and Washington DC. In 1949, this base became the Naval Air Development Center- The principal Navy Research, Development, Test and Evaluation Center for Aircraft, Airborne anti-submarine warfare and aircraft systems.

In 1950, using the Typhoon computer, the world’s largest analog computer, the Aeronautical Computer Laboratory was established and soon this base became the leader in computer analysis and flight simulation.

There was now a rapid growth in technology. We had jet aircraft breaking the sound barrier and flying at unheard of heights with pilots now exposed to an unknown environment.

This property with its bedrock so close to the surface was the ideal location to build the Dynamic Flight Simulator or Centrifuge and this base became the Center for Aviation Medical Physiology. The Dynamic Flight Simulator was first used to run simulations for the X-15 rocket aircraft. Then the original astronauts came here to train for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space missions. Space was also an unknown environment and NADC had the Physiologists and facilities including the Centrifuge to test the astronauts to their physical limits. CAPT Allen Sheppard stated at a conference on space travel that the most important facility in his training was the Dynamic Flight Simulator at NADC. This facility continued its use as the primary test facility and trainer for naval aviators in a high G environment. If you remember in the movie, TOPGUN, Maverick loses his F-14 aircraft and his partner Goose when his F-14 went into a flat spin. NADC used the Dynamic Flight Simulator to duplicate a flat spin in the F-14 and taught pilots how to get out of it. NADC also developed the ejection seats that kept the aircrew alive even if they ejected while upside down at low altitude.

Then, with pillars on this wonderful bedrock, the inertial navigation facility was built. The Navy moved its navigation Center here from Brooklyn and NADC became the Center for Navigation for all Navy aircraft, submarines and Ships. This laboratory is still in use today as part of the Applied Research Laboratory of Penn State University.

In the 50’s we were in the cold war. The greatest threat to the United States was the Soviet Union’s very large submarine force and the new threat it had with submarine launched missiles. In 1958, NADC established the Anti-Submarine Warfare Laboratory. This laboratory was the center for all airborne Anti-Submarine technology development. Here the sonobuoys and sensors were developed that met the Soviet threat. NADC developed sonobuoys that could listen for submarines passively, could send out active signals to bounce off the submarine hull, computers that could identify submarines from the signals, radars that could pick up the small periscope of the submarine, a Magnetic Detector that could sense the change in the earth’s magnetic field from a submarine and even a laser the could penetrate water to see a submarine. As the Soviet submarines got quieter, our sonobuoys and technology got more sensitive and smarter. With Soviet missile carrying submarines off of each of our coasts, NADC technology gave us the ability to keep an aircraft on top of them at all times.

NADC employed 2600 civilians including 1600 scientists and engineers, along with 300 military stationed here.

Before there was a Silicon Valley or Research Triangle, in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s this was the research Center for Aviation.

With all the new technologies being developed at laboratories and universities, NADC scientists determined which new technologies had possible applications to Naval Aviation.

As an example, when digital computer technology was being developed at MIT and at the University of Pennsylvania, NADC was prototyping aircraft with a computer to reduce the workload of pilots and operators. By the early 70’s NADC was developing and delivering to Naval Aviation the largest real-time computer programs in the world.

There were over 30 major laboratories housed in NADC.

Every aspect of Naval Aviation was developed and prototyped here:

Starting with the safety and survivability needs of the pilots and crew: this includes clothing, helmets, ejection seats, survival gear. The use of NOMEX as a fire retardant material in flight suits was developed here. NADC is credited with significantly increasing the survival rate in helicopter crashing at sea with crash worthy seats, lights to lead disoriented crew members out of the helicopter and even oxygen bottles to provide air to the individual crew members while they escaped.

NADC developed and prototyped the electronic equipment, including avionics, displays, communication, navigation, computers. The GPS receivers used by all of the services were developed here. You can thank NADC for your car’s navigation systems.

The sensors: radar, infrared, laser, optical, night vision were proven here first. Many of these technologies started out as a concept. NADC scientists would prove a concept could work by building a prototype and testing it on one of our test bed aircraft. Then if it proved out, it went to industry where it was manufactured for use in naval aviation. One of our systems, the stabilized telescope was very effect in Afghanistan. A P-3 aircraft could fly at a high altitude and with the telescope could tell troops on the ground what or who was behind the rock in front of them.

And of course the aircraft itself: structure, materials, lubricants, paints, control surfaces. I can remember keeping one of the Blue Angel’s aircraft in our structural test rig to continuously bend and stress it to ensure that it would be able to handle the stresses it would face in the Blue Angel’s demonstration program.

It is no secret that NADC was home to many classified projects. And NO, we didn’t have any alien space ships here.

And for those curious about the upside down aircraft we had on pillars out in the field. Those were used for antenna placement tests. The aircraft could be moved into different attitudes to ensure that a part of the aircraft wasn’t blocking an antenna and causing it to lose critical information.

All this helped to win the cold war.

The people of NADC served their Nation well.

 
 

 


Last Updated Sunday, December 16, 2012

Website Design, and Annotated Photographs
2009 Robert C. Goodyear

 

Naval Air Development Center - NADC Johnsville
Warminster, Pennsylvania - PA - History