Photo: National Academy Archives
One of the first studies undertaken on behalf of the government by the newly established National Research Council was a 1917 investigation into the problem of static charge build-up on airships. Experience had shown that certain mixtures of hydrogen and air could be exploded by a small spark of electricity. For the hydrogen-filled airships of the day, this could lead to disaster. The first step in solving the problem was determining how much static build-up could occur under which conditions, and this is what experimenter George Winchester attempted to do for the Research Council. The photograph shows an electroscope installed in an airplane at the experimental flight station at Langley Field, Virginia. Winchester used the instrument to conduct experiments measuring static charge build-up on diverse balloon fabric samples taken up in the plane for exposure to actual flight conditions at different altitudes.