Retired NASA engineer Todd Hodges

Searching Through History for a Better Future

Retired NASA engineer Todd Hodges recently spent time at the Linda Hall Library exploring technical documents that are at least 50 years old in search of new ideas in aeronautics.

Hodges worked for NASA in Langley, Va., and currently serves as a consultant. He spent three days before Thanksgiving poring through technical manuals in search of vertical take-off aircraft designs from the 1920s through the 1960s. Hodges considers that 50-year span the golden age of aircraft design, some of it so forward thinking the projects couldn't be built under the conditions and materials of the time.

"There were a lot of funky designs in the past and many are worth revisiting," Hodges said. "Today, we have new analytic techniques and composite materials to tailor material properties, which make these designs more feasible.”

Hodges’ first step was to contact the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, CA, to begin his search. The school was near a number of the world's largest aeronautics companies in Southern California before and after World War II, and Caltech’s wind tunnel was a testing site for most of those companies, Hodges said. The test results and other technical reports were then made accessible at Caltech’s library.

Caltech representatives directed Hodges to the Linda Hall Library. Earlier this year, Caltech sent the Library nearly four tons of technical reports and other materials for which the school no longer had shelf space. Much of that material was the subject of Hodges’ search.

Following his trip to the Linda Hall Library, Hodges plans to visit the Hiller Museum in San Carlos, CA, the Western Museum of Flight in Torrance, CA, and the North American Aviation archives in Wichita. He will share the designs and specifications with young NASA engineers at the Langley facility. He hopes the designs "stir the pot and stimulate creativity."