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Center Names Evolve to Honor People and Achievements in Research

Aerial view of NASA hangar roof.
When the NACA became NASA, the agency started casting its vision and resources toward space. The roof of the Flight Research Building, or hangar, at the Lewis Research Center was painted to reflect this change shortly after the formation of NASA in October 1958.

NASA’s John H. Glenn Research Center comprises two locations–Lewis Field in Cleveland, Ohio and the Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility 60 miles west in Sandusky. The two sites were independently established in 1941 and formally merged in 1963. The names of both locations have changed multiple times over the years.

Lewis Field

The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) established the center in 1941 as the Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory (AERL). During the war years, the laboratory focused its research on aircraft engines, both the traditional piston engines and the emerging turbojets.

In 1947 the NACA updated the site name to the Flight Propulsion Research Laboratory as research expanded to both aircraft and missile propulsion. The facility was rededicated as the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in September 1948 to honor the NACA’s former Director of Aeronautical Research, George W. Lewis.

On October 1, 1958, the NACA was incorporated into the new NASA space agency, and the lab was renamed the Lewis Research Center. Lewis was one of three research centers among NASA’s ten sites.

In March 1999 the center was renamed NASA’s John H. Glenn Research Center to honor astronaut and Senator John Glenn, who had recently retired from Congress and returned to space on the shuttle. For the first time, the Cleveland campus was referred to by a different name—Lewis Field–than the center itself.

Armstrong Test Facility

In early 1941, the War Department established the 9,000-acre Plum Brook Ordnance Works (PBOW) near Sandusky, Ohio to manufacture munitions for World War II. The facility was named for one of several streams (the Plum Brook) that run through the property. The PBOW ceased operations in September 1945.

In 1946, 2,800 acres were transferred to the Ravenna Arsenal and renamed the Plum Brook Depot. The remainder of the PBOW property remained vacant as custody shifted from the War Assets Administration (1946) to the General Services Administration (1949) and to the Ravenna Arsenal (1954). 

In July 1956, the NACA leased 500 acres at the PBOW to build a test reactor facility. Three years later, NASA leased another 2,725 acres to construct its Rocket Systems Area test sites. NASA initially referred to these remote sites as the Plum Brook Facilities. The name was officially changed to Plum Brook Station in 1962.  In March 1963, the military officially transferred both the PBOW and Depot property to NASA.

In 2020, Congress passed legislation changing Plum Brook Station to the Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility.

Glenn Timeline:

1941 – 1947       Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory

1947 – 1948       Flight Propulsion Research Laboratory

1948 – 1958       Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory

1958 – 1999       Lewis Research Center

1999 – present   John H. Glenn Research Center

Armstrong Timeline:

1941 – 1963       Plum Brook Ordnance Works

1946 – 1963       Plum Brook Depot

1958 – 1962       Plum Brook Facilities

1963 – 2020       Plum Brook Station

2020 – present   Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility

John and Annie Glenn are seated on a parade float at NASA Glenn
Astronaut and Senator John Glenn and his wife Annie ride a float in a parade celebrating the renaming of the center.

Robert S. Arrighi
NASA’s Glenn Research Center