Testing at the Rocket Systems Area would not have been possible without the services of an extensive team of individuals and support facilities. Researchers at Lewis’ main campus in Cleveland generally conceived the ideas for the test programs. They worked with Plum Brook Station’s [today, the Neil Armstrong Test Facility] Rocket Systems Division to determine the best site and establish the parameters for the test.
Management required a safety permit before it would approve a test. The researchers then worked with a site’s facility engineer, electricians, and mechanics to install the equipment, instrumentation, and data-recording equipment. The test was preprogrammed on computer punch cards. The Gas Handling Unit supplied the facilities with the necessary propellants and pressurized gas. The tests were conducted from remote control rooms, primarily the Control and Instrument Building, to mitigate the danger of high-energy propellants.
The Control and Instrument Building, referred to as H Control, was located on Ransom Road in the northwest region of the Rocket Systems Area. This 12,258-square foot reinforced-concrete building contained the control panels and data-recording devices for the Liquid Hydrogen Pump Facility (A Site), the Turbopump Facility (C Site), the Rocket Turbine and Controls Site (D Site), the Dynamics Stand (E Stand), the Hydraulics Research Laboratory (F Site), and the Fluorine Pump Research Facility (I Site). H Control contained the data-recording equipment for all of the Plum Brook facilities. The rectangular structure sent and received data from the test sites through over 13,000 overhead lines. Although the building supplied many sites, it could record data from only one test at a time. Operators could swap out interchangeable patchboard panels to decrease the lag time between tests. The staff could remotely view testing at the sites via closed-circuit television systems.
The 11,508-square foot B Control and Data Building was located near the center of the Rocket Systems Area. NASA added the building to provide safe operation of the High Energy Rocket Engine Research (B–1) and Nuclear Rocket Dynamics and Control Facility (B–3) test stands, and later of the Hypersonic Tunnel Facility (HTF) and the Space Propulsion Research Facility (B–2). Each of these sites had its own control room within the building. B Control possessed a number of data recording systems. The Rocket Systems Test Laboratory (J Site), Cryogenic Propellant Tank Facility (K Site), and the Pilot Plant (G Site) had their own on-site small control structures. H Control recorded the test data for these sites.
Gas Handling Area
The Rocket System Area required large quantities of hydrogen, oxygen, fluorine, nitrogen, and helium. The cryogenics liquids were used primarily to fuel the rocket engines, and the gases to pressurize and inert the systems. The Gas Handling Area, which was near a major railway route, consisted of four small structures and two permanent dewars located on Ransom Road just northwest of the Rocket Systems Area. These buildings created gaseous nitrogen, hydrogen, and helium, and they provided a storage structure. In addition, the Gas Handling Unit purchased liquid hydrogen from industrial suppliers. The center owned four railcar tanks that transported liquid hydrogen to the station from other states. The unit supplied the sites with the required gases or liquids via rail or truck-based storage tanks.
A massive 200,000-gal liquid-hydrogen storage vessel was located near the B–1 and B–3 test stands. A 200,000-gallon dewar, the world’s largest liquid hydrogen dewar at the time, was installed at the B Complex in 1963. The $382,000 tank was 37 feet in diameter with a volume of 26,800 cubic feet. Vacuum jacketed lines could supply 800 gallons per minute to the test stands.
Administration and Engineering Buildings
The Rocket Systems Area was supported by the staff in the Rocket Systems Division and Facilities Division. These people, along with the station’s management and civil engineers, were initially located in the former Plum Brook Ordnance Works’ (PBOW) 25,700-square foot Administration Building located near the main gate at the north end of the station. The single-story wooden E-shaped building contained 53 modest offices, four conference rooms, and a cafeteria in the basement. The Administration Building also housed the printing and computing machines.
In the mid-1960s NASA constructed the two-story 57,625-square foot Engineering Building to house personnel. The L-shaped building possessed 69 offices, four conference rooms, a library, cafeteria, and large assembly area. NASA continued to use the Administration Building even after the new structure was complete. Test engineers had offices in these buildings but spent much of their time out at the test sites.
Plum Brook Station relied upon a host of other structures for daily operations and to support the test facilities. These include the maintenance shop, garage, medical services building, locomotive shop, guard house, chemistry lab, substations, power houses, warehouses, and two water intake stations on Lake Erie. Most of these buildings were built during the Ordnance Works era.
In addition, the B Complex included a number of components housed in external structures which allowed the B-1 and B-3 facilities to study rocket engines in an altitude environment. The main components were the B Control and Data Building, Steam Plant, Pump and Shop Building, and propellant storage tanks.