The control room for space missions in Houston is probably the best, most widely known example of a control room. It is an operations center used in support and execution of flight and space missions.

Historically, what was the first instance wherein a test team used a control room or operations centers for flight operations support?

This question answers why a control room exists, and this question answers who gets to be in there.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It depends on how you define support; voice only or first use of radio-transmitted telemetry? $\endgroup$ – bjelleklang Aug 15 '18 at 11:32
  • $\begingroup$ How about providing an answer or examples of both? $\endgroup$ – Mark Jones Jr. Aug 15 '18 at 12:16

This article would seem to suggest that use of radio telemetry started being used sometime during the mid-fifties.

Then you reduce these rolls of oscillograph readouts and learn to read the data, you will know more about what happened during a flight test than the pilot, the engineer and the designer. These rolls of paper are like novels. It is up to you to get the meaning, then sense the plot and determine whether flight objectives were satisfied.

The quote above is from chapter 5 of "Failure is not an option" by Gene Kranz, describing his first introduction to flight testing in 1954 when he started working for McDonnell Aircraft. As the quote would indicate, data processing happened after the flight was over and that there was no kind of control room monitoring the progress of the flight. An exception was for incidents such as one also described by Kranz, where a B-52 had lowered a missile from the bomb bay in order to fire it. The missile would neither fire or retract, but as the bomber had enough fuel the engineers had enough time to discuss various options.

I suspect that the first form for flight operations support would have been the chaseplane, although this is outside what you are asking.

The next closest thing I've heard about is Mercury Control, which was used to monitor and support flights during the Mercury Program.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think you're looking way too late here - the concept of a control room was around well before that. As a top of my head example - RAF Fighter Command as an example of real time tactical operations using radio telephony, RADAR and other sources to command and control the RAF's fighters. $\endgroup$ – Dan Aug 15 '18 at 15:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ But were RAF fighter command use those to support test flights? The impression Kranz and others make is that real-time monitoring was a brand new concept when they started with Mercury, but that they built that based on lessons learned during aircraft testing. $\endgroup$ – bjelleklang Aug 15 '18 at 16:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ What about V-2 development and testing? After all, those were the same engineers who went on to work on the US space program. The flight duration was shorter, however. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Sep 15 '18 at 10:02
  • $\begingroup$ V-2 might be the first, or at least one of the first. According to a reference in Wikipedia some telemetry was received from a remote site, but it doesn't say what. This also makes sense, as a big difference between testing aircraft and rockets is that the aircraft usually lands intact in one piece. If you know you're getting the hardware back, why bother adding lots of extra weight to transmit data when it can simply be recorded (in much more detail). Rockets on the other hand usually try to disassemble themselves into as many and as small pieces as possible, so recovery is less likely... $\endgroup$ – bjelleklang Sep 15 '18 at 21:30

That depends on how far you are willing to stretch the definition but a case can be made for as far back as 1903/1904. The Wright Brothers used a small building to support the initial flights of their early powered aircraft. It can be seen here in this photo although this also makes a good candidate for the first hanger in history.

enter image description here

A case could be made that Wilbur Wright also served as the first ground support individual in the history of powered flight.

enter image description here

(December 17, 1903) ...Wilbur Wright running alongside to balance the machine, has just released his hold on the forward upright of the right wing... starting rail

The ability for an aircraft to communicate with the ground and have remote operation coordination occur dates back to 30's when radios became popular on aircraft. So its conceivable that ground support for testing was a reality around then.

In his 1935 speed record flight Howard Hughes had a ground support crew, timing, filming and coordinating the flight. While they were not in a room per say you could call them a kind of mission control. This is the best image I can find of the group:

enter image description here

As far as standardizing it, developing the best methods, and honing the operation of, NASA gets most of the credit for modern mission control.

  • $\begingroup$ I think it's a "stretch" to use the First Flight as an example. Wilbur did little more than watch. The Howard Hughes reference is good, but was it the first? And if you claim NASA gets the most credit for standardizing, I would like a reference. But as the other answers in this thread suggest, NASA employees brought their experience with them from previous employers. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jones Jr. Dec 14 '18 at 11:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.