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 [graphic] National Register Bulletin Guidelines for Evaluating and Documenting Historic Aviation Properties

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U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service


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Physical inspection and records search are necessary for the documentation of the individual characteristics of the property. National Register forms will provide a general outline of the data required. Search for information about the historic context of the property, the property's association with important events and people, and the period during which the property was significant.

Among the published sources about historic airplanes are several valuable reference series. From 1927 to 1939, the Department of Commerce issued an "Approved Type Certificate" or A.T.C. to manufacturers for each type of aircraft certified as airworthy. Joseph P. Juptner compiled information about each A.T.C. aircraft, arranged by A.T.C. number, in a nine-volume series entitled U.S. Civil Aircraft Series. The "Putnam" series, published by Putnam in Great Britain and reprinted in the United States by the Naval Institute Press, presents information about aircraft manufacturers and their aircraft, one manufacturer per title; see, for example, René J. Francillon's Lockheed Aircraft since 1913. The books in the Putnam series also explain the respective manufacturers' model designations and constructor's numbers (CNs) or serial numbers (SNs), as well as the military designations for military equipment.

The historian R.E.G. Davies has extensively recorded the development of commercial aviation in Airlines of the United States and other books. Henry Ladd Smith also investigated commercial aviation for his books Airways and Airways Abroad. Such publications contain information about airlines and the airplanes flown. Similarly, books on military aviation provide data not only on the military organizations, but also about military aircraft; for example, see Peter B. Mersky's U.S. Marine Corps Aviation, William T. Larkins' U.S. Marine Corps Aircraft, 1914-1959, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers' United States Navy Aircraft since 1911, or Maurer Maurer, Aviation in the U.S. Army, 1919-1930.

Archival collections also contain documentary sources. If the military serial number of an aircraft is known, there might be a corresponding serial number card on file in the Archives of the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. If the civil registration number is known for aircraft Federally registered between 1926 and 1946, two sources can be checked-the U.S. Registered Aircraft Project at the National Air and Space Museum's Archives and records at the Federal Aviation Administration's Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City. The Federal Aviation Administration maintains records of airplanes by the civil registration or "N-number" and by the manufacturer's serial number, also known as the "C/N" or constructor's number. Information on production, construction, and materials also may be found among the records of the Aircraft Production Board of World War I and other records in the Army Air Forces record group at the National Archives. Industrial archives, like that of the Boeing Company in Seattle, preserve engineering drawings, technical publications, and other industrial records of products and processes.

The various military services and the many manufacturers adopted different systems, and changed systems, of designating aircraft and aircraft equipment. An explanation of the U.S. Naval aircraft designations-type or class designations, manufacturers' identification letters, Navy suffix letters and prefix letters, mission symbols, and what each designation means-appears in the front of United States Navy Aircraft since 1911, by Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers. For the U.S. Army aircraft designation systems, see the appendix of U.S. Army Aircraft since 1947, by Stephen Harding. The Coast Guard designations are explained by Arthur Pearcy in U.S. Coast Guard Aircraft since 1916.

Different systems were also employed to designate models of engines and other aircraft equipment. For samples of designations of engine models, see Model Designations of USAF Aircraft Engines, issued by the Air Force Air Materiel Command, and Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Engine Model Designations and Characteristics, regularly updated by the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Division of United Aircraft Corporation after 1945, including jet engines in later years.

The military services maintain history centers and museums that can provide guidance to a researcher or access to records. The Naval Historical Center, with its Naval Aviation History Branch, is located at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. The National Museum of Naval Aviation is at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. The History and Museums Division of Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, is located at the Marine Corps Historical Center, also at the Washington Navy Yard. The Marine Corps Air-Ground Museum is located at the Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Virginia. The Air Force Historical Research Agency is at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, and the United States Air Force Museum is at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. The Historian's Office of the Coast Guard is at Coast Guard Headquarters, Washington, D.C. The Army Corps of Engineers, which constructed many aviation-related facilities, maintains a Historian's Office in Washington, D.C.

Information may be found in sources not clearly identified as aviation. As one example, the Stone & Webster collection, located in the Historical Collections at the Baker Library, Harvard University, includes completion cost reports for construction projects done for the Curtiss Airports Corporation. Before 1931, Stone & Webster completed 22 Curtiss airport construction projects at the Miami Airport and Sea Plane Base, the Oklahoma City Airport, the Valley Stream Airport on Long Island, the Los Angeles Airport, and other airports around the country.

Field documentation of an aviation property is also important. The Historic American Buildings Survey and the Historic American Engineering Record, known jointly as HABS/HAER, maintains professional standards for the documentation of architectural and engineering properties. HABS, founded in 1933, focuses on architectural heritage, and HAER, established in 1969, on engineering heritage. The HABS/ HAER collections include photographs, measured drawings, and written histories of buildings and engineering sites recorded by HABS/HAER over the years. These records are at the HABS/HAER Office, within the National Park Service, and at the Library of Congress. HABS/HAER surveys cover properties listed in the National Register, like the Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida, and properties not listed on the National Register, like the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. HABS/ HAER creates benchmark documentation that can serve as the basis for cultural resource management decisions, and that can support a nomination to the National Register. Also, HABS/HAER develops techniques and technologies, like photogrammetry and computer-aided-drafting, for documenting the historic built environment. HABS/ HAER is thus a resource for information about aviation properties as well as a resource for methods of documenting properties.

Aviation archeology is a specialty within both historical archeology and industrial archeology; thus, guidelines can also be found in literature not specifically related to aviation, like the textbook Industrial Archaeology: Techniques, edited by Emory L. Kemp. In general, archeological techniques for surveying and documenting a site can be applied to aviation sites. The technical data recorded needs to be appropriate to the technology being recorded; a wind tunnel, for example, requires different terms and measurements than an airplane or a factory site, but the tools and techniques remain the same. Techniques for the study of submerged shipwrecks can be applied to ditched aircraft now resting under water; see, for example, National Register Bulletin: Nominating Historic Vessels and Shipwrecks to the National Register of Historic Places.


A historic property can only be understood when it is evaluated with its historic context. National Register Bulletin: How to Complete the National Register Multiple Property Documentation Form provides guidance on how to develop a historic context. Discuss the different themes, geographic parameters, and periods of the property's significant development, and the different levels of significance-local, State, or National. For trends in aviation history, see the standard surveys, such as Roger E. Bilstein's Flight in America.

Primary literature, as well as the secondary literature, can illuminate different aspects and contexts of aviation. For the development of Federal airways in the 1930s, for example, see the Air Commerce Bulletin, published by the U.S. Department of Commerce from 1929 into 1939, and historian Nick A. Komons' book Bonfires to Beacons. In the same series as Komons' book are Turbulence Aloft about the Civil Aeronautics Authority, 1938-1940, and the Civil Aeronautics Administration from 1940 to 1953; Takeoff at Mid-Century about the Civil Aeronautics Administration and the Federal Aviation Agency, 1953-1961; Safe, Separated and Soaring about the Federal Aviation Agency and Federal Aviation Administration, 1961-1972; and Troubled Passage, 1973-1977. These books address issues of civil aviation, including commercial and private flying, as well as civil-military relations, and each volume is extensively documented with references to original source material. Refer to the bibliography at the end of this bulletin for a more complete listing of source of information on aviation history and properties.


Determination of the characteristics that make the property a good representative of a type is necessary to judge the significance of a property. Physical inspection of the property is essential. Date each important characteristic, and describe its condition. Relate each characteristic to the historical theme or period that gives it significance.

For an airport, for example, list the dates of construction, the principal engineers, the length of the runways, the surface materials, the control tower, hangars, terminals, and other buildings, the communication system, historic aircraft at the airport, and alterations to the property. Place the airport in the context of airport development in general as well as the history of flying at that location. Check historical, architectural, engineering, archeological, and cultural features for both significance and integrity. Using such information, determine what characteristics of the property are important.

For aircraft, list the aircraft's type, name, and builder. Include the vernacular name if there is one. Provide the aircraft's construction date and date of modifications other than those that are part of routine maintenance. Define the aircraft's historic characteristics (those design features associated with the designation). In addition to the physical features, performance specifications should also be listed (weight, speed, range, etc.). Historic characteristics also include field modifications and paint schemes from the aircraft's service life. What were the historical influences (such as design, materials, style, or function) on the aircraft's appearance? For example, an explanation should be given for the adoption of the "gull" wing design of the F4U Corsair. Describe what changes have been made over time and when. Explain how these changes have affected the important characteristics of the aircraft.


Evaluation of the significance of the property should be based on the National Register Criteria; see National Register Bulletin: How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation. The evaluation should consider the context of aviation history. In civil aviation, important topics or contexts might be general aviation and private flying, commercial transportation, airmail, crop dusting and other agricultural uses, fire fighting, sports flying, aerial surveys and exploration, aerial photography, and research. In the field of military aviation significance might be derived from the military mission, whether combat (attack, bomber, fighter, etc.), observation and reconnaissance, training, utility (including cargo and transport), or research. Aviation research and development and production themes may appear significantly in both civil and military aviation. The evaluation of significance must also address the question of level of significance. Is the property significant to the history of the locale, State, or Nation?


Evaluation of the property's integrity is essential to understanding the importance of the property. What features are important to the property's significance historically, archeologically, architecturally, culturally, or in terms of engineering importance? The evaluation should assess the features that need to be retained to preserve the integrity of the property. Review all seven aspects of integrity. Refer to guidance on evaluating integrity above.


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