(November 30, 2007 Update: Concord's Special Town Meeting voted to overwhelmingly approve Article 8, and 711 Virginia Road has been added to the list of Demolition Delay Bylaw protected properties.)
At the upcoming Special Town Meeting on November 5th, Article 8 requests adding 711 Virginia Road ("Hangar 24") to the list of 58 properties already protected by the Demolition Delay Bylaw. The Concord Historical Commission hopes that the community will understand the value of preserving this unusual structure and approve this article. There is an active plan to create an Aerospace Technology Museum on this site. The Commission strongly hopes that as a town, we can provide a window to allow this plan to be developed.
The Commission believes that Hangar 24 is locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally significant because of its historic role, and because of its association with an historic person. We also feel that the structure is locally significant for the modifications that were made to it, and for its unique style. Hangar 24 is on the State Register of Historic Places and is eligible for inclusion on the National Register. In addition to employing local residents, the scientific innovations tested and refined at Hangar 24 have had national and international significance, have contributed to our national defense, and have spawned billion- dollar industries.
Time is of the essence: Massport has recently asked the Town and the Massachusetts Historical Commission to sign an agreement allowing Massport to demolish Hangar 24. When the Town Meeting voted in 1999 to add the demolition delay to our bylaws, it was precisely to give interested parties extra time to respond to just this kind of situation.
Secret History Revealed
One of the fascinating things about the history of Hangar 24 is that while events were unfolding, much of the work done there was of a classified nature. Even people who worked on one project didn't know the scope of what was going on at Hangar 24 as the other projects would have been kept secret even from them. Hangar 24 has an amazing history, much of which can be now told. The Historical Commission thinks this may be the first time that so many of the historical facts about Hangar 24 have been gathered together and placed before the community.
Somewhat whimsical in appearance, Hangar 24 was erected in 1948 and has been called both the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory and the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory; it has also been used by Lincoln Labs. It played an important part in all of the aerospace technology achievements by all three of these institutions.
Perhaps the most famous achievement made at Hangar 24 was the development of inertial navigation. For this work to be done, the hangar was extensively modified: wells were "bored to the depth of local bedrock" and concrete pilings were constructed to keep vibrations to an absolute minimum. The pilings were left in place after the intial project because even at that time, they were considered historically significant. Destruction of the hangar would destroy the historic setting in which these accomplishments were made.
Charles "Doc" Stark Draper
Hangar 24 is closely associated with Charles "Doc" Stark Draper (photo at left). A pioneering member of the first generation of aeronautical engineers, this "father of inertial navigation" led the effort that brought inertial guidance to operational use in aircraft, ships, submarines, and space vehicles. These technologies were tested and refined in Hangar 24. Draper received scores of honors and awards from all over the world, including the National Medal of Science, and the Langley Medal from the Smithsonian.
A former M.I.T. president described Dr. Draper as "a great teacher as well as an engineer whose technological achievements clearly placed him in the category of genius." The pre-eminent Draper prize is awarded by the National Academy of Engineering for engineering accomplishments that significantly improve the welfare and freedom of humanity.
Doc Draper was in the forefront of the technological revolution. The development of his computing sight, the Mark 14, during World War II was credited with the American victory over Kamikaze attacks at sea. In 1953, Draper and seven of his MIT associates made history by taking the first coast-to-coast flight guided entirely by an inertial guidance system.
During the 1960s, the Instrumentation Laboratory under Draper's supervision also designed instrumentation systems for the Apollo missions to the moon. Into the 70s, Draper led the development of guidance systems for the Polaris, Titan and Trident missiles, Skylab, and the space shuttle among others.
Revolutionizing Air Traffic Control and More
At the same time, Lincoln Labs developed technologies at Hanscom that revolutionized civilian air traffic control. The most important is the Traffic Alert Collision Avoidance System, enabling aircraft to avoid midair collisions. Nearly 2,000 planned near-miss encounters were flown from Hangar 24 in support of this critical mission. This technology is now required world-wide on all commercial aircraft.
In 1986, MIT and Anheuser-Busch constructed a human-powered aircraft, the Daedalus, which flew 69 miles from the Isle of Crete to the Greek mainland, re-enacting the mythical flight of Daedalus and Icarus. This craft was built at Hangar 24; a replica of is on display in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
Did You Work at Hangar 24?
This project would love to hear from people who worked at Hangar 24, or were involved with it in other ways. Your stories, memories, and information could provide vital missing pieces to the historic record of this fascinating place and the events linked to it. Please contact Save Our Heritage if you'd like to help!
Demolish or Preserve Hangar 24?
Massport's interest in demolishing Hangar 24 was a call to action for those who value its historical significance. The proposal to create an Aerospace Technology Museum on this site has gathered tremendous momentum, and a steering committee is in formation to guide the project. Insufficient time may be the only thing that could prevent the successful creation of this museum.
A museum on this site will benefit Concord in many ways. The location is close enough to the National Park to be a walkable destination for tourists, and it will encourage visitors to link the American Revolution to the our country's more recent technological revolution and the role Concord has played in it.
The list of elected officials, organizations, institutions, and individuals who support the formation of this museum is long and impressive. There may not be another flight facility in America that has been the scene of more profoundly important developments in both military and civilian aeronautic and astronautic engineering. The Concord Historical Commission urges Town Meeting to extend demolition delay protection to this historic property.
Many thanks to Save Our Heritage for starting and seeing through this preservation project to date, and for providing so much of the historical research.
Art Credits: Page designed by Windfall. Images courtesy of Save Our Heritage.