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William Hewitt Phillips Papers

Identifier: Ms-2005-019

Scope and Content

This collection contains the papers of William Hewitt Phillips, an aerospace engineer for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and National Air and Space Administration (NASA) at Langley Research Center and chief of the Flight Dynamics and Control Division from 1970 to 1979. The collection includes lecture notes, reports and memoranda tracing the development of Phillips' theories while at Langley and spans from his work on World War II-era aircraft to the early U.S. space program and beyond, as well as his longstanding and active interest in model aircraft design and testing. These papers include calculations of various numerical values in relation to various aircraft and spacecraft, as well as drawings and other illustrations. The collection also contains a set of Phillips' official reports, files devoted to lectures delivered by Phillips, and notes from courses and lectures presented by others. Major topics in this collection include aircraft stability and control; gust alleviation; wing theories; types of planes; shuttles; airfoils; gliders; simulation of space operations (particularly the Lunar Landing Research Facility), and model aircraft.


  • 1918 - 2008


Language of Materials

The materials in the collection are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to research.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

The copyright status of this collection is unknown. Copyright restrictions may apply. Contact Special Collections and University Archives for assistance in determining the use of these materials.

Reproduction or digitization of materials for personal or research use can be requested using our reproduction/digitization form: Reproduction or digitization of materials for publication or exhibit use can be requested using our publication/exhibition form: Please contact Special Collections and University Archives ( or 540-231-6308) if you need assistance with forms or to submit a completed form.

Biographical Note

William Hewitt Phillips, known more familiarly as Hewitt Phillips, was born in Merseyside, England, in 1918, but moved with his parents at age two to the United States. He studied aeronautical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), obtaining an S. B. degree in 1939 and an S.M. in 1940. During his childhood, he developed an interest in model aircraft, and he maintained an active interest in the hobby throughout his life.

In July 1940, Phillips commenced service with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), where he was assigned to the Flight Research Division at Langley Research Center (Hampton, Virginia), specializing in the study of aircraft flying qualities and stability. Within this broader assignment, Phillips' task involved the improvement of World War II military aircraft flying qualities. Following the war, Phillips' research related to the development of jet-powered fighter airplanes, supersonic airplanes, stability augmentation and its effect on pilot control, automatic control, and gust alleviation. In 1947, Phillips married Viola Ohler, then head of Langley's editorial office. The couple had three children.

As the U. S. space program commenced, Phillips became chief of the Space Mechanics Division, supervising research in the areas of space rendezvous, navigation, and lunar landing and developing flight simulators for the Gemini and Apollo programs. To train astronauts for lunar landings, Phillips developed the Lunar Landing Facility. He later served as an analyst and consultant in the development of the space shuttle.

Phillips retired from NASA in February 1979 but continued in the position of distinguished research associate, performing original research on solar-powered aircraft, propellers, airfoil design and wind-tunnel studies of the use of canard surfaces for the space shuttle. He died in 2009.


28.5 Cubic Feet (57 boxes; 1 oversize folder)


The collection includes the papers of William Hewitt Phillips, NACA and NASA Langley Research Center aerospace engineer (and chief of Flight Dynamics and Control Division from 1970 to 1979), including lecture notes, reports and memoranda tracing the development of Phillips' theories while at Langley, spanning from his work on World War II-era aircraft to the early U.S. space program and beyond, as well as his interest in model aircraft.


The collection is divided into two series, each representing a separate donation.

Series I, comprising the 2004 donation of papers, to a large extent retains the original order in which it was received, though some minor changes have been made for the sake of consistency. The majority of the collection, consisting of subject files, is arranged alphabetically by topic. Phillips' formal reports are arranged chronologically. The arrangement and file titles of a few folders have been changed to provide consistency to the alphabetical order.

The files were originally housed in four cabinets, later transferred to six boxes by the donor, and finally transferred to permanent boxes during archival processing. The contents of each original cabinet had been arranged in a generally alphabetical order, but there was no overall arrangement among the individual cabinets. Thus, the alphabetical order of the original Cabinet 1 comprises Boxes 1-5; of Cabinet 2, Boxes 5-11; of Cabinet 3, Boxes 11-22; and of Cabinet 4, Boxes 21-25. Phillips' formal NACA and NASA reports are arranged separately, in chronological order, and are found in Boxes 29-32.

Following Phillips' formal reports is a collection of materials relating to other writings and lectures by Phillips, previously in no particular order but here arranged chronologically; a set of files from lectures and courses presented by others, also originally found in no particular order, is now arranged by name of presenter and completes the collection.

Series II, the 2010 donation, contains the same types of materials found in Series I. These papers had no original arrangement but instead consisted mostly of loose papers together with a few individual folders and printed materials. The materials have been divided among seven subseries:

Subseries A: Writings and Lectures. Included in this subseries are files relating to the output of Phillips' research, both in a professional capacity and as a model aircraft enthusiast. The files include not only drafts and published works, but background materials and correspondence. Arranged alphabetically by title or subject.

Subseries B: Subject Files. Arranged alphabetically, this subseries contains materials gathered by Phillips in the course of his research on various topics and his involvement in various professional- and hobby-related activities. Much of the material relates to Phillips' interest in model aircraft.

Subseries C: Correspondence Files. Though personal matters are sometimes discussed, the correspondence in these files relates largely to Phillips' work and his pursuits in model aircraft design, building, and testing. Arranged alphabetically by correspondent.

Subseries D: Photographs. Nearly all of the photos in this series are of Phillips individually or include him at various events.

Subseries E: Personal Life, Education, and Career. Included in this series are materials relating to Phillips' education at Belmont High School and the Massachusetts Institution of Technology. Also here are records and mementos from his NACA / NASA career, including his many awards. Documenting Phillips' personal life is a set of diaries that he maintained throughout his adult life.

Subseries F: Oversize Materials contains large photographs, awards, and Phillips's high school diploma.

Source of Acquisition

The William Hewitt Phillips Papers were donated to Special Collections and University Archives in 2005 and 2010.

Related Materials

Phillips, W. Hewitt, Journey in Aeronautical Research: a Career at NASA Langley Research Center (Washington, D.C.: NASA History Office, 1998). Call number: TL540 P54 J687 1998 Large Spec (in the Rare Book Collection at Virginia Tech Special Collections and University Archives.

See the William Hewitt Phillips Autobiography, Ms2008-080, also at Virginia Tech Special Collections and University Archives. This typescript draft entitled "Research at Langley: a Technical Autobiography" was later published as Journey in Aeronautical Research: a Career at NASA Langley Research Center.

Separated Materials

The following items were removed from the collection and cataloged for the Rare Book Collection:

Maxim, Hiram S. Artificial and Natural Flight. New York: MacMillan, 1908.

Byers, Bruce K. Destination Moon: A History of the Lunar Orbiter Program (NASA Technical Memorandum TM X-3487). Washington DC: NASA, 1977.

Rights Statement for Archival Description

The guide to the William Hewitt Phillips Papers by Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech, is licensed under a CC0 (

Processing Information

The processing, arrangement and description of the 2005 accession of the William Hewitt Phillips Papers commenced in September 2008 and was completed in February 2009. Processing of the second accession commenced in July 2014 and was completed in September 2014.

William Hewitt Phillips Papers, 1918-2008
Katie Cox, Student Worker, and John M. Jackson, Archivist
2014 (CC0 1.0)
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2020-10-12: Finding aid notes updated to new department standards. juliags
  • 2021-09-15: Miles Abernethy updated resource - removed double commas and fixed dates; LM Rozema made minor corrections.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech Repository

Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg Virginia 24061 US