Skip to main content Smithsonian Institution

Additional Online Media

Catalog Data

National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Langley Research Center  Search this
National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Langley Research Center  Search this
North American Aviation, Inc.  Search this
Whitcomb, Richard, 1921-  Search this
5.85 Cubic feet (13 boxes)
Collection descriptions
Archival materials
The supercritical wing concept was developed by Dr. Richard T. Whitcomb of the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Whitcomb's airfoil was designed to delay formation of shock waves at high speeds.
Scope and Contents:
This collection contains documents gathered from Langley Research Center on the development of the supercritical wing concept and the F-8 test bed program. The material primarily consists of notes and reports covering the wind tunnel development, flight testing, and evaluation of the concept. The collection also includes general and press information about the program.
Series and Subseries Organization:
The NASA F-8 Supercritical Wing Collection is divided into four series: Series 1 - Background Information The Background Information Series contains publicity material, articles, general information, and technical reports. The technical reports are then arranged chronologically. Series 2 - Wind Tunnel Testing Test reports of the Wind Tunnel Testing Series are arranged numerically, and reports are arranged alphabetically by folder title. Series 3 - Development and Flight Testing The Development and Flight Testing Series begins with work statements and requests for proposal (RFP) information. These are followed by notes arranged in chronological order. Developmental technical reports are in alphabetical order by folder title. The flight test reports are arranged chronologically. These reports are then followed by photographs. Series 4 - Evaluation of the Supercritical Wing Evaluation reports on the Supercritical Wing Series are in chronological order
Biographical Note:
Richard T. Whitcomb (1921- ) was born in Evanston, Illinois. His family later moved to Worcester, Massachusetts, where Whitcomb attended public schools. He received a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1943. Following graduation he accepted a position with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, the forerunner of NASA) at Langley Laboratories, Virginia. Whitcomb devoted much of his career to research in the problems of supersonic flight. In the early 1950s Whitcomb discovered the transonic area rule concept. This rule amounts to a sensitive balance of fuselage and wing volume, which minimizes drag at transonic speeds. This concept was applied to post World War II fighters and resulted in operational military aircraft capable of supersonic flight. Whitcomb earned international acclaim through his accomplishments with the area rule concept and the supercritical wing. Until his retirement from NASA he worked on aircraft energy efficiency and new winglet configurations.
Historical Note:
The supercritical wing concept was developed by Dr. Richard T. Whitcomb of the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Whitcomb's airfoil was designed to delay formation of shock waves at high speeds. In comparison with conventional wing cross sections, the supercritical wing was flattened on top, delaying the formation of shock waves and moving them further aft along the wing to increase total wing efficiency. To compensate for the lift lost with the flattened wing top, the rear lower surface was shaped with a deeper, more concave curve. The Mach number (the speed of the aircraft calculated as a percentage of the speed of sound) at which the relative airflow reaches the speed of sound at some point on the airframe is called the critical Mach number. Below the critical Mach number the flow is said to be subcritical, and above the critical Mach number it is called supercritical. The initial wind tunnel tests of the supercritical wing indicated that the new airfoil shape could allow highly efficient flight near the speed of sound of approximately 660 mph at cruising altitudes. Initial designs for the supercritical wing were produced in 1964. The development of the supercritical airfoils included three phases: slotted (1964-1966); integral (1967); and thickened trailing edge integral (1968-1969). Flight testing of the supercritical wing began in 1971 and ended in December 1972. A Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) F-8 aircraft modified with the supercritical wing was used in these tests, making its first flight on 25 March 1955. The LTV F-8 was a single place land or carrier based supersonic aircraft equipped with radar to provide an all-weather capability. Its most unusual feature was the hydraulically operated variable incidence wing. The blunt leading edge of the supercritical wing led to better takeoff, landing, and maneuvering characteristics. Subsonic transports, business jets, STOL (short takeoff and landing) aircraft, and remotely piloted vehicles made use of the supercritical wing technology, using less fuel and flying more efficiently than aircraft with conventional wings. The F-8 Supercritical Wing Collection was received by the National Air and Space Museum in July 1984 from NASA's Langley Research Center. The collection was assembled originally by Dennis W. Bartlett Richard Whitcomb's colleague at Langley's 8-Foot Transonic Dynamics Tunnel. The material in the collection came from the offices and warehouses of the tunnel facility.
NASA, gift, 1984, XXXX-0104, unknown
No restrictions on access
Permissions Requests
Vought F-8 (F8U) Crusader Family  Search this
Airplanes -- Flight testing  Search this
Aerodynamics  Search this
Transonic wind tunnels  Search this
Aerodynamics, Transonic  Search this
Periodicals  Search this
NASA F-8 Supercritical Wing Collection, Acc. XXXX-0104, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.
See more items in:
NASA F-8 Supercritical Wing Collection
Archival Repository:
National Air and Space Museum Archives